Entertainment Gifts and Creative Tools for Students

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Finding the right holiday gift for a high-school or college student can be daunting. Innovations in consumer electronics over the past decade have completely changed the landscape in which kids learn, communicate, create, and find entertainment. New creative tools and portable entertainment options exist today that were science-fiction fantasies only a generation ago. Just trying to figure out what’s hip and what’s useful can be overwhelming, due to the mind-boggling volume of new products coming off the assembly line every year. To make things easier, we’ve broken this holiday guide into two basic sections: entertainment and creative tools. If you’re looking for a gadget to keep the student on your holiday shopping list entertained or if you’re in search of the ideal gift to help them gain an academic edge, then you’ve come to the right place.

Entertaining Electronics for Students

College dorm rooms are notoriously small, and you usually have to share one with a roommate. How you choose to decorate and set up your half of the room requires some creative thinking as well as some sacrifices. What do you bring and what do you leave behind? One way to make it work is to upgrade some of your home and portable entertainment electronics. You might consider taking advantage of smaller devices that offer multiple functions.

If space is a valuable and limited commodity, it might be wise to leave the giant 50-inch TV at home and invest in something more manageable. Magnavox makes two compact TV models that are also equipped with DVD players. The 22-inch 22MD311B and the 19-inch 19MD301B are both LCD HDTVs that feature 720p HD 1366 x 768 resolution, easily accessible side-panel HDMI inputs, and built-in DVD players. Both models also feature 2W stereo speakers and VESA wall-mount compatibility. The built-in DVD player supports DVD, DVD-R, DVD-RW, CD, CD-R, and CD-RW disc playback for playing movies and music. With Energy Star qualification, both of these models provide financial and energy savings.

Besides watching movies and TV shows together, listening to and sharing music with friends is a vital part of the dorm experience. A college student today would laugh at the bloated and ugly bookshelf stereo systems that used to be popular. Today, those institutional-looking sound systems have been replaced by great-sounding, better-looking, and more compact Bluetooth speakers—many of which are also portable.

These new speakers use Bluetooth technology to stream music wirelessly from any Bluetooth-enabled smartphone or tablet. The first model we’ll look at is the iLuv Mo'Beats HD rechargeable Bluetooth speaker with an integrated viewing cradle. The Mo’Beats speaker supports Bluetooth wireless streaming to dual full-range speakers with SRS WOW audio technology for a wider, more lifelike sound. The built-in viewing cradle will hold virtually any tablet or smartphone in either portrait or landscape orientation. This model also features a 3.5mm stereo mini-jack audio input for playing music from a non-Bluetooth device like a portable CD player, laptop, etc. The Mo’Beats speaker is portable as well, thanks to its integrated lithium-ion rechargeable battery.

A Bluetooth speaker provides a portable music option for sharing music with friends, but it isn’t a great option for going back and forth between class, traveling home for the holidays, or just relaxing in your dorm room when your roommate is studying for an exam. These are all situations in which you’d benefit from the privacy afforded by a pair of headphones. No matter whether you prefer more compact and sweat-proof headphones for working out, powerful bass-heavy headphones for listening to hip-hop, or stylish and colorful headphones to match your outfit, B&H has a vast selection of over-the-ear and in-ear headphone options to satisfy every taste.

If you spend just as much time at the gym or jogging around campus as you do sitting in class, the Bose SIE2 and SIE2i sport headphones provide a brilliant amalgam of Bose-quality audio and sport-specific performance. The only difference between the SIE2 and the SIE2i is that the SIE2i headphones feature an in-line microphone and remote control designed specifically for use with the Apple iPhone and iPod. The SIE2 has a standard cable with no in-line remote or microphone. The standard SIE2 sport headphones are available in green only, while the SIE2i sport headphones with the iPhone/iPod in-line microphone and controls are available in a variety of exciting colors including green, blue, orange, and purple.

Both the SIE2 and SIE2i are equipped with proprietary Bose TriPort headphone audio technology, which yields authentic audio playback with rich low end that’s not overpowering, and clear, natural highs. Plus, the in-ear design and the Bose StayHear ear tips keep the headphones in-place—even during strenuous workouts. Both headphones also feature a sweat-resistant and weather-resistant hydrophobic acoustic coating for working out in virtually any weather conditions. The SIE2 and SIE2i both come with the Reebok Fitness Armband as well, which is designed to hold an iPhone 5 or similarly sized smartphone or MP3 player. The armband will comfortably hold your mobile device in place on your arm while you jog, lift weights, hike, walk, or bike.

The SIE2i’s in-line microphone and remote afford convenient one-touch control over the music on your iPod or iPhone. You can skip to the next track, adjust the volume, answer calls, and end calls—all with the push of a button. Obviously, the in-line microphone and the answer/end call function works for the iPhone only, but the in-line remote control is designed to operate a variety of select Apple devices, including the iPhone and many iPod models.

For a more stylish, bass-heavy pair of over-the-ear headphones, the Beats by Dr. Dre Studio high-definition isolation headphones are perfect for walking to class, traveling home to visit the family, and just about any other activity where you want to enjoy your favorite music and look good doing it. The Studio headphones are available in a multitude of colors including red, green, orange, pink, purple and white. You should be able to find the perfect color for every student on your holiday shopping list.

The Beats by Dr. Dre Studio headphones feature active noise cancellation, which is powered by a pair of AAA batteries. They’re also equipped with soft, breathable ear cups that are designed to provide all-day comfort. The logo on the side of the headphones doubles as a mute button as well, which is another example of the Beats by Dr. Dre synergy between technology and style. The Studio headphones are also equipped with two removable cables, one of which features an in-line microphone and remote control that allows you to answer calls, end calls, skip songs, and adjust the volume of your music or phone calls. The in-line microphone and remote will work with your iPhone as well as a variety of other smartphones. Each cable features high-performance, gold-plated 3.5mm connectors.

Another possible gift idea is a backpack. B&H offers a wide selection of backpacks including the Incase Design Corp CL55301 Nylon Backpack and the Crumpler Karachi Outpost Camera & Laptop Backpack, which is available in a handful of unique colors including Midnight Blue, Rifle Green, and Brick. Both backpacks present ideal setups for the university or high-school student. They each feature a variety of interior and exterior pockets to hold all your mobile gadgets for enjoying entertainment on the go, your camera equipment for film or photography class, and your laptop and/or tablet for mobile computing, class presentations, and taking notes.

The Incase Design Corp CL55301 Nylon Backpack is an understated yet highly specialized backpack that features a faux-fur-lined main interior laptop compartment capable of fitting up to a 17-inch Apple MacBook Pro. It also features an interior slip-in pocket designed to hold your Apple iPad or other similarly sized tablet. This model has a durable nylon exterior, which is designed to withstand the wear and tear of a typical student’s lifestyle. The pack is also equipped with multiple interior and exterior pockets for small accessories, padded back panels, a dedicated zippered iPhone/smartphone pocket, a padded top-loading handle, and breathable-mesh backpack shoulder straps with an integrated airflow channel for ergonomic support that also keeps you cool.

Let's include a bag from Crumpler as well, because you'll appreciate the company’s originality, great bag names, and humble beginnings as a manufacturer of durable messenger bags designed specifically for the riders who—at that time—were employed by Crumpler’s owners' own bike-courier company. Their first foray into “viral” marketing was to spray-paint the Crumpler logo onto city bike paths. What’s not to love?

If you’re looking at two products that are nearly equal, you have the power to choose the one that makes your world better. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Crumpler’s Karachi Outpost Camera & Laptop Backpack. This backpack is designed to carry a DSLR camera, a laptop, and accessories. It’s a handy accessory for the creative film or photography student. The Karachi Outpost features a lockable main compartment with a floating floor, extendable drawstring hood, and a completely removable padded camera cradle that has eight adjustable dividers and four elastic straps that can be accessed from the rear of the pack.

There’s also a padded internal sleeve for an iPad or similarly sized tablet, as well as plenty of room for a standard notebook or laptop. The pack exterior is made from water-resistant 600D nylon, while the drawstring interior section features 70/160D nylon, for additional protection from the elements. The Karachi Outpost’s other features include a removable side strap for carrying a tripod, left- and right-side stuff pockets, a front cargo compartment with an internal mesh pocket, a rear soft-lined hood pocket for your sunglasses or smartphone, a double-weave top grab handle, and a hidden elastic rain cover. There’s also reinforced joint stitching on all stress points and a length-adjustable harness with vented back padding, air mesh shoulder padding, and a removable chest belt to keep you comfortable and cool whether you’re walking to class or hiking a mountain.

Creative Tools for Your Favorite Student

If you’ve been reading through this guide and so far you’re not sure that the student on your holiday shopping list would be satisfied with any basic home or portable entertainment gifts, perhaps something designed to stir their creativity would make a more preferable holiday gift. If a TV/DVD combo, Bluetooth speaker, or new pair of headphones isn’t on the holiday wish list of the young and aspiring artist or creative student in your family, then this is the section for you.

First, let’s take a look at a few camera options that seem especially suited to high-school and university students. One of our favorites is the Fujifilm X-M1 Mirrorless Digital Camera equipped with the XC 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS Lens. This setup is available in three color choices: an attractive and vintage-looking silver model, a stealth-like all-black model, or a classic brown model with an aged, leather-wrapped, vintage feel. One reason we like the X-M1 is because it embodies an interesting aesthetic marriage between today’s modern mirrorless lens systems and the retro styling of a vintage 35mm camera.

Now, let’s look under the hood. The X-M1 combines retro rangefinder styling and professional handling with a modern, 16.3-megaixel APS-C X-Trans image sensor and support for Fujifilm’s interchangeable X mount lenses. For still-image capture, the camera features a maximum resolution of 4896 x 3264. For video capture, the X-M1 supports Full HD 1920 x 1080p and HD 1280 x 720p recording at 30 fps. Other features include a lightweight magnesium-alloy body, a high-resolution 3-inch tilting LCD monitor, high-speed autofocus, JPEG/RAW image capture, and a variety of film-simulation recording modes.

This particular X-M1 model also comes with a powerful XC lens that features an f/3.5 - 5.6 aperture and a 35mm equivalent 24-76mm focal length that’s ideal for both wide-angle and telephoto shots. The lens provides optical image stabilization as well, which counteracts camera shake and promotes blur-free images—even when shooting in low light with slower shutter speeds. The lens also has a stepping motor for smooth and accurate autofocus. Plus, its three aspherical elements and one extra-low-dispersion element reduce aberrations and distortion.

If you’re shopping for a student that just wants to capture high-resolution images and video while spending time with friends, take a look at the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-TX30. It features an 18.2-megapxiel Exmor R CMOS image sensor and a BIONZ image processor that work together so you can capture still images at a resolution up to 4896 x 3672 and Full HD 1920 x 1080p video at up to 60 fps. The camera’s Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 5x optical zoom lens features a 35mm equivalent 26-130mm focal length and an f/3.5 - 4.8 aperture. The lens supports an additional 2x Clear Image Digital Zoom as well.

Novice photographers will also appreciate the DSC-TX30’s shot-enhancing features, including Optical SteadyShot image stabilization, enhanced Intelligent Auto function, Face Detection, Tracking Focus, Magnifying Glass Plus mode and more. The camera even supports a variety of cool and unique shooting modes including fast 10 fps burst shooting, Sweep Panorama mode for full 360° panoramic shots, Background Defocus and more. Plus, a 3.3-inch OLED touchscreen monitor facilitates fast shot preview and instant playback of images and video.

The DSC-TX30 is also built to withstand punishment. It’s waterproof to a depth of 33 feet (10 m), so you can take it on your spring-break snorkeling adventure. It’s freeze proof down to a temperature of 14°F (-10°C), in case you’re planning a winter-break skiing/snowboarding trip to the mountains. And, the camera is shockproof from falls as high as 5 feet (1.5 m). Everything about the DSC-TX30 is designed for the student looking to capture high-resolution images and video with minimal effort. Even the camera’s exciting bright pink, black, or orange color options are designed to evoke youthful energy.

The last camera option we’ll look at in this buying guide is for the creative student who is ambitious enough to build his or her own 35mm SLR film camera. Lomography’s Konstrucktor Do-It-Yourself 35mm Film SLR Camera Kit is exactly what it sounds like. The kit comes with all the components needed to construct your own 35mm film camera, including a 50mm f/10 fixed-aperture detachable lens and decals to decorate the camera’s exterior.

The completed camera is designed with manual focusing only, as well as 1/80 second, “N,” and bulb exposure settings for advanced creative control and multi-exposure capability. It also features a 1/4-"20 tripod thread and a hooded waist-level reflex viewfinder with a flip-up magnifier for precise composition and focusing control. The completed camera will expose any kind of 35mm film as well, so consider purchasing a three-pack of Lomography 35mm ISO 800 Color Negative (Print) Film and a roll of ISO 400 Ilford HP5 Plus 1135-24 Black-and-White Negative (Print) Film as stocking stuffers to accompany the Konstrucktor kit.

Besides giving you the fulfillment and experience of building a complete 35mm camera in less than two hours, the Konstrucktor kit is also designed to provide novice photographers and photography students with an immersive introduction into the inner-workings of a traditional 35mm SLR camera. Students will learn about the mechanics of recording an image on film as well. If you’re convinced that the entire 35mm camera-building process will spark a creative fire inside the student on your holiday shopping list, you may want to pair the Konstrucktor kit with Lomography’s Smartphone Film Scanner as well. This way, when they head back to school with their newly constructed 35mm SLR camera and film, they’ll be able to take pictures and then use the Smartphone Film Scanner to scan any type of 35mm film images directly into their smartphone for sharing with friends and family through social media.

The scanner uses a AA battery-powered backlight to illuminate the film, while its specially designed smartphone holder positions the phone precisely, so you’ll be able to scan film images accurately into your smartphone. Once scanned into your smartphone memory, the free downloadable Lomoscanner App will convert those film negatives into positive images that you can then share on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The Lomoscanner App can automatically animate 35mm movie film and stitch together panoramic frames as well.

Whether you’re shopping for a high-end digital camera, a quality point-and-shoot, or a unique entertainment gadget, B&H has something for everyone this holiday season.