September 11, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Must-have college tech

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NEW YORK--Here at New York University, undergraduates are known for being an avant-garde, creative bunch. But like many college students, their appetite for the hottest gadgets is reined in by tight student budgets and a hectic lifestyle.

"I think I have the cheapest Motorola (cell phone) that came with the (carrier) plan," said NYU sophomore Catherine Hall.

College students are back on campus and their favorite gadgets, from iPods to camera phones, are back with them. Not surprisingly, late summer and early fall inevitably see a barrage of advertisements for nifty gadgets that retailers tout as must-haves for a new generation of students who have grown up with PCs, cell phones and the Internet. But according to NPD Group analyst Steve Baker, the actual bestsellers are reliably basic.

College tech

"Back-to-school tends to be a pretty regimented season," Baker said. "Every year, you're going to sell a lot of notebook computers, high-end calculators, now a lot of iPods and other music devices, phones, things that are mobile. Those tend to be the things that do very well for college students."

Of course, there are a few new gadgets on campus this year. At the University of California at Berkeley, students are toting around flash drives: Not only can they keep their papers, problem sets and typed notes close at hand and work on them from dorm, classroom or library computers, but they can also safeguard their academic work from the hard-drive crashes that spawn many a college horror story.

At the University of Arizona, a gadget that hit the market about a year ago is becoming increasingly popular. It's called the "classroom clicker," and it allows students to give instant feedback to professors in large lecture halls. And at NYU, undergraduates are eager to talk about the gadgets that supplement their social lives, such as cell phones, music players and video-game consoles.

But for many on college campuses, it seems, the reality of being a cash-starved student means craving the fanciest gadgets but buying the most affordable.

Cell phones, iPods
Students admire the stylish LG Chocolate and Motorola Q, but some say they are more likely to go for a handset that's practical and budget-friendly. While T-Mobile USA holds up its Sidekick III personal organizer as the ultimate student gadget, it's hard to find students using it at NYU. In fact, the majority of handsets seen around school are inconspicuous clamshells, perhaps because many students are still on family phone plans and don't have a whole lot of freedom to pick and choose.

Still, some students do prefer to add some style to their cell-phone choice. "I've seen a lot of Razrs," observed Hall's roommate Allix Geneslaw, a Spanish major from New Jersey who uses the slim Motorola phone. Indeed, a few students walking around Washington Square Park--a central point of NYU's urban campus--are chatting on Razr phones, mostly the standard black model, although the flashier pink version can be seen here and there.

CONTINUED: The right player, the right PC…
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