Photography / Hands-on Review

Holiday 2012: Awesome Gifts for Students


Do you need ideas for some awesome holiday gift ideas for students? When you cornered them and asked what they wanted, did you draw a blank? Perhaps they offered to send you a list of gift ideas later, when something came to mind. In the likely event that the list never arrived, we’ve compiled that list of student-friendly suggestions for you in this article. The reality is that there are myriad things that students want for the holidays, they just can’t remember them in the heat of the moment. Try it on yourself: list the ten best songs of all time. See? You likely have a strong opinion about what should be on that list, but it’s still hard to think of them when you’re on the spot.

The gift ideas below are broken into separate categories, and we tried to include items for lots of different kinds of people: photography students, video game fanatics, gadget-obsessed technology users, music lovers, etc. You may even forget about the student you’re shopping for and make a list of stuff that you want. Besides, it’s never too late to go back to school, so remember, the student we’re talking about may as well be you.

Cool Cameras

Everyone loves the instant photo fun that Polaroid cameras provided in the past, and those good times can still be had with the Polaroid Z2300 Instant Digital Camera. Unlike instant-film cameras of yore, which used a chemical process to develop images before your eyes, the Z2300 features a built-in inkless printer that can crank out the photos of your choosing in less than a minute. It’s a 10-megapixel camera with a 3” LCD screen, that’s capable of shooting 720p movies with sound, and it saves files to micro SD cards. The Z2300 is available in Black or White, and comes with ten ZINK photo paper sheets. The more you can print, the more fun this camera will be, so be sure to round out the gift with an extra pack of Zink paper or two. Having an additional battery is probably a good idea, too.

The coolest gifts are the ones that can be used to update status on social media sites, and thus, the Nikon COOLPIX S800c lives up to its name. This is a point-and-shoot camera that runs Google’s Android operating system, and it’s controlled via its 3.5” OLED touch screen. The S800c is essentially a smart phone with a 25-250mm NIKKOR lens with a 10x optical zoom—it’s just lacking the telephone component. Students can download apps from Google Play, and use the S800c to surf the Web when they’re connected to a Wi-Fi network. They can play games and upload images directly to the Internet, as well as utilize apps to enhance their photography and travels. There are hundreds of photo-related apps that do everything from edit photos to remind you when the "golden hour" takes place so you can capture the best natural light. Apps are also available that can enhance traveling: maps, foreign language translation aids, etc. This thing does Angry Birds, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. Students will want it.

Young people aren’t known for their grace, especially when it comes to gingerly handling delicate electronics. If the person you’re buying a gift for is prone to destroying everything placed in their care, you should consider giving them a rugged camera. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4 is a good option here, because it’s water-, shock-, freeze- and dust proof. It features a 12.1 megapixel 1/2.33 CCD sensor, a 28mm wide angle Leica lens with a 4.6x optical zoom, and it can survive an impact from a drop of more than six feet (2 m), so even if your student is exceedingly tall, it will continue to operate after it slips from their butterfingers. In addition to stills, the DMC-TS4 shoots full HD videos, has built-in GPS, a compass, an altimeter and depth indicator and it can even read barometric pressure. There’s also a built-in, time-lapse photography mode, which is a feature that’s popular with the kids these days.

Wireless Internet access is as important to students as oxygen, so it makes sense to set them up with a camera that has Wi-Fi capabilities. A simple yet powerful network-connected point-and-shoot camera option is the Canon PowerShot ELPH 320 HS. The Wi-Fi connectivity enables them to wirelessly share images and videos directly to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube—or share them with a computer without having to remove a memory card or connect cables. A free Canon CameraWindow app is available, which makes it possible to share pictures with Apple iPhones, iPads and the iPod touch. This camera features a 16.1 megapixel 1/2.3” CMOS sensor and 35mm equivalent 24-120 mm lens. The ELPH 320 HS is available in Sliver, Black, Blue and Red.

If the student you’re buying for likes to stand out from the crowd, or they just have an eye for interesting forms, we have a good camera for them. The Sony Cyber-shot TX20 manages to be water, dust and shock proof, without visually resembling a tank. The industrial design of the TX20 is playful and inviting, and it features a 16.2 megapixel 1/2.3” Exmor CMOS sensor and a 25-100mm 35mm equivalent Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens with a 4x optical zoom, and a 3” touch screen display. The TX20 is available in a range of fun colors: Black, Blue, Green, Pink and Orange. Another option that will appeal to this kind of user is the Pentax K-01. It’s a mirrorless camera that’s compatible with a wide range of lenses, and comes with a 61mm (35mm equivalent) pancake lens. The K-01 has a 16.26 megapixel APS-C-sized senor with a 921k dot LCD monitor. Designed by Marc Newson, an acclaimed designer who is close friends with Apple’s Jony Ive, the K-01 features a machined aluminum frame and soft, rubberized accents. It’s available in Yellow, Black and White.

Students have always been fond of intense sports and stunts, so why not supply them with a small camcorder that will let them capture their hijinks and share them with the world? The GoPro Hero3 Silver Edition is an ultra-compact action camera that records very impressive looking, high-definition video, and includes a waterproof housing for depths up to 197’ (60m), built-in Wi-Fi and multiple mounts and hardware. You can connect the Hero3 to your smart phone or tablet with the GoPro app, which makes it possible to control the camera remotely, and view live video from the camera on your device. The Sony HDR-AS15 is another point-of-view (POV) action camera option that shoots HD video and has built-in Wi-Fi. A PlayMemories Mobile app is available that enables you to transfer and upload your videos directly to the Web, so your adventures can start going viral immediately after they occur. The HDR-AS15 also includes a waterproof case rated for depths of 197’ (60 m) and multiple mounts.

Photo Doodads

The camera of choice these days is often the smart phone in your pocket, and if you or the student you’re shopping for happens to use an Apple iPhone 4 or 4S, you can easily incorporate a tripod into your mobile photography with the Gary Fong Tripod adapter for iPhone 4. This is an incredibly simple adapter that lets you mount an iPhone to a tripod. All you have to do is slide your iPhone 4 or 4S into the adapter, and attach its base to the 1/4"-20 thread on a tripod. More often than not, the simple way is the best way.

Nearly everyone takes digital photos these days, but surprisingly few of us have a way of printing them out. It may seem archaic to share hardcopies of photographs in our digitally-dominated world, but there’s a simple joy in nice prints that even the youngest students appreciate. Canon makes a very affordable compact photo printer called the Selphy CP900 and it’s available in Black or White. Even though it’s easy on the wallet, the Selphy features built-in Wi-Fi for wireless printing, and a 2.7” tilt-up color LCD screen for previewing images. A replenishment pack of Canon Paper & Ink would be an excellent accessory gift.

There are lots of useful little accessories that you can get a for people who are into shooting still images and video, but flexible mini-tripods are likely the most universally appreciated problem solvers out there. These are miniature tripods that can be easily carried in a backpack, and in addition to acting as mini-tripods that you can rest on flat surfaces, they have bendy legs which enables you to secure them to tree branches and poles, or hang them from just about anything. Magnus has a nice line of these tripods, which are available in three different strengths. The TinyGrip can support up to 1.1 lb (0.5 kg), and is available in Black, Yellow, Red, Blue and Green. The MaxiGrip can support weights up to 2.2 lb (1 kg), and it’s available in Black, Blue, Red, Green and Yellow. The Magnus MegaGrip can support cameras up to 3.3 lb (1.5 kg).

Anyone who shoots video indoors or out can usually benefit greatly from a video light, which makes the VidPro LED-36 a nice, budget-friendly gift that students will dig. As its name suggests, the LED-36 has an array of 36 LED lights. If you have multiple LED-36s, they can be connected together to make a larger light source. It comes in a kit that includes two Lithium-Ion batteries and a charger, as well as a camera shoe arm extension. The light has a built-in diffuser, which helps to minimize harsh shadows.

Backpacks and Camera Sacks

Students and backpacks are inseparable, but these days, instead of thick books, students are more likely to be schlepping around laptops, tablets and other svelte electronics. The problem is that most backpacks are so large that you look like you’re hiking the Himalayas, when you really just want to get from point A to point B with some basic belongings. Incase Designs is a manufacturer that makes some very smartly sized backpacks that aren’t too big or small. They can comfortably hold a 15” laptop and a 10” tablet, and have space for more stuff as well, and they do a nice job of distributing the weight. The Terra Campus Pack features a natural canvas exterior, padded shoulder pads and a mesh back panel that breathes. This bag is also available in Powder Gray.

Most backpacks have lots of different pockets to store various objects, but, unfortunately, you often end up rifling through your bag like a crazy person trying to find something that you need. There’s an interesting solution to this problem called Grid It, which offers an alternative to pockets. Grid It is an organization system that consists of a panel with a weave of elastic bands. You slide different objects under the elastic bands to hold them in place. You can fit all kinds of stuff in the bands, such as smart phones and devices, small notebooks, pens, cables, chargers, mice, drives, etc. The Grid It panel then slides into your backpack or bag, making all of its contents easily accessible. It’s available in two sizes: a 12” size for backpacks and laptop bags, and a 7” size for purses and smaller bags.

Tote bags aren’t just something you get for free when you donate money to PBS or attend a trade show. Many people appreciate the form factor and ease that totes provide, and thus, a market for premium tote bags exists. Incase Designs has a very smart bag called the Terra Tote which features a sleeve designed to hold a 13” MacBook Pro. The base is padded to further protect the contents, it comes with a removable shoulder strap, has a soft cotton lining, a snap closure and a zippered pocket. The Terra Tote is available in Natural Canvas, Charcoal Chambray and Cream/Fiery Red. If you just need a nice sleeve to protect a laptop computer, Incase has some compelling offerings as well. The Terra Sleeve is designed to hold an 11” MacBook Air, and it features soft foam padding and a zipper enclosure that has oversized teeth. It’s available in Blue Denim, Powder Gray, Charcoal Chambray and Natural Canvas. There’s also a Terra Sleeve available that’s designed for a 15” MacBook Pro which has the same features, and it’s available in Charcoal Chambray and Natural Canvas.

If the student on your list just needs a small bag that can hold a compact point-and-shoot camera, or they need something that can contain a full-sized DSLR complete with a battery grip and a telephoto lens, you can bet that we’ve got what you’re looking for. Ruggard has some nice denim cases like the DEP-210, which are small enough to be attached to a belt, and are a great choice for the the t-shirt-and-jeans type of person. Australian manufacturer Crumpler has some really well-made camera bags that are available in both subdued and loud colors. The humorously named 4 Million Dollar Home bag, which is available in Black or Navy & Rust, has a shoulder strap and features enough space for a DSLR, a couple of lenses and accessories. It’s water resistant and has hook and loop silencers. National Geographic offers a range of camera bags that have a very rustic look. The NG A2540 Africa Series is a popular choice. It’s a medium sized-satchel that has a removable padded insert for a DSLR camera. The exterior of this bag is a low-profile brown, while the insert features a lively African-art pattern. A loop on the back enables you to fasten it to a telescoping luggage handle.

Gizmos for Gadgets

Smart phones, tablets and other mobile electronics are undoubtedly the hottest things in the universe right now, so naturally, gadget accessories make great gifts. And what would accent a high-tech gadget better than a vintage-style telephone handset? Though it may appear to be a total novelty, the Native Union Pop Phone is more than just a sight gag. Indeed, it’s a vintage-style telephone handset that plugs into your smart phone or computer, so you can talk on the phone or Skype the old-fashioned way. It’s more than a gimmick because a traditional handset truly is comfortable to use. It makes hands-free chatting more enjoyable (as long as you don’t mind the stares), and it allows you to keep that sometimes hot and uncomfortable gadget away from your face. The Pop Phone is available in Black, Orange, Red, Blue, Purple, Green and Yellow.  

Nearly every Apple gadget featured the same 30-pin dock connector for the past eight years; however, many of the new Apple products released in 2012, such as the iPad mini and the iPhone 5, have a new dock connector called “Lightning,” which is both smaller and incompatible with older 30-pin dock products without an adapter. Since there are still untold of millions of Apple gadgets in use that have 30-pin docks, a gift of this connector format is still the way to go for many students. For example, the first, second and third generation of iPad can all take advantage of the Apple iPad Dock, which, as its name states, is a simple dock for an iPad. Another common need for iPad users is to be able to plug SD cards and USB devices into it, and the 30-pin iPad Camera Connection Kit makes this possible. In a word (or three), you can stuff a stocking with it.

If you know someone who wants to learn how to play piano, and they have an iPad, iPod touch or iPhone with a 30-pin connector, a company called Ion has an interesting solution with their Piano Apprentice product. It’s a 25-key keyboard with an integrated iPad-friendly dock. The idea is that you download a free, dedicated Piano Apprentice app from the Apple App Store and connect the 30-pin Apple device to its dock. The app features a piano that you can freely play, and it has built-in lessons that teach you how to play piano and read sheet music. The keys on the physical keyboard are illuminated, and light up red when pressed. You can learn new songs by following the keys as they light up. The keys are also touch sensitive, meaning that the harder you press them, the louder the note will be. The Piano Apprentice runs on batteries and features built-in speakers.

Apple devices always come with a charger, which consists of a cable and a small white power cube that plugs into an outlet. It’s simple and effective, however, you often end up being forced to lay your valuable Apple gadget on the floor while charging, which is both unsafe and unsanitary, especially when you’re away from home.  A company called Bluelounge offers a great solution to this problem. The MiniDock is a clever power accessory that lets you charge your device without letting it touch the floor. One end of the MiniDock plugs into your white Apple power adapter cube, the other plugs into the 30-pin dock connector on your Apple gadget, making it possible to plug your device directly into the outlet, without a cable. The MiniDock is also angled, so your iPhone or iPod touch will sit facing upward in portrait mode. It can become a high tech night light of the first order. Unfortunately, 30-pin iPads are a bit too heavy to be used safely with the MiniDock.

The iLuv RockWall is a charging accessory for Apple products that relies on USB connectors, instead of 30-pin or Lightning ports, so it will work with any generation of gadget. The RockWall is a relatively simple dual USB wall charger, with a dedicated 10.5 Watt USB output to charge an iPad, and a 5 Watt USB output for charging iPhones or iPods. It can swivel 90 degrees, which allows you to point the charging cables upward, or direct them outward to free up space when connected to a power strip.

While we’re on the topic of power strips, I’d like to tell you about an accessory that was specially made for them. Generic power strips are found in nearly every kind of dwelling, from dorm rooms to nursing homes. Their visual presence is universally unattractive, especially when they’re used in high-visibility areas, like entertainment centers and underneath desks. Bluelounge makes a simple accessory called The CableBox, which is a handsomely designed container that’s designed to hide power strips and other unsightly tangles of electrical wires and wall warts, for the sole purpose of making your life less visually cluttered and chaotic. The CableBox is available in Black or White. If you go this route, you run the risk of the student sarcastically quipping “Gee, thanks for the awesome accessory box for my power strip.” If they don’t want it, you can masterfully negotiate a gift swap, because, let’s face it, you need at least two of these things yourself.

While we’re on the topic of covering up electronics with cases, it would be tragic to have a discussion of gadget accessories without mentioning the obligatory iPhone case. Since the iPhone 5 is arguably the hottest handset on campus, a few good choices for cases that will protect it are the kickstand-equipped STM Arvo Case for iPhone 5, the blue-jeans-wearing Joy Factory Denim Case for iPhone 5, which is complete with a back pocket (like the ones on your dungarees), or the hard plastic XtremeMac Microshield Accent. All of these cases offer access to all of the iPhone 5’s controls and ports, and feature a rear window for the camera lens and flash.

Student-Approved Sonics

The dream of sending music wirelessly to speakers is a staunch reality these days, and for young people, it’s quickly becoming the norm. If a wireless speaker system is at the top of your student’s list, one of the most popular models available is the Jawbone Jambox, which is available in eye-catching color/styles like Black Diamond, Blue Wave, Red Dot and Grey Hex. As cool as the design and marketing for this product may be, gimmicks like these are not what have won the Jambox so many fans. People love them because they’re easy to use, they sound great and they’re really compact. The Jambox features a built-in rechargeable battery that gets up to 10 hours of life from a full charge, it has a built-in microphone so it can be used for conference calls on speakerphone, you can stream Bluetooth audio up to 33 feet, and it’s compatible with Apple, Android and other devices.

There are more budget-friendly Bluetooth speaker options available, such as the Beacon Audio Phoenix, which is available in Blue, Red or Black. The Phoenix gets eight hours of life from its built-in battery, it can sync via Bluetooth with almost any Bluetooth-enabled device, and it has a range of approximately 30-35 feet. The Creative Labs D100 is another budget-minded Bluetooth speaker option, but instead of having a built-in rechargeable battery, it can run on four AA batteries or be plugged into a power outlet. An even more affordable way to go is with the iHome iDM12. It’s a Bluetooth speaker with built-in rechargeable batteries, and it has a detachable magnetic stand for an iPad. The iPad stand looks like part of the device. You can remove it, prop an iPad up on it, and beam music wirelessly from the tablet to the iDM12. Why? Because you just can, that’s why.

Surround sound speaker systems really create an immersive experience when it’s time to unwind and watch movies, and there are some really cost-effective 5.1 surround kits available that students will appreciate. Instead of hooking into an A/V receiver, these systems are ideal for students because they were designed to connect to the soundcard of a computer. The Creative Labs T6160 is a 5.1 desktop speaker system for video games, TV and movies. It features five satellite speakers and a subwoofer, and it has a wired remote control for adjusting the volume. Another option with a little more oomph is the Logitech Z506 surround sound speakers, which again feature five satellite speakers and a subwoofer, with a more substantial 75 Watts of power.

Whether the student on your list has been playing music for a long time or they’re just starting, they may be interested in recording their own tracks using DAW software on their Mac or Windows computer. Even a space as cramped as a student’s desk is big enough to comfortably hold a basic computer-recording setup. There are complete kits available that supply you with everything you need to create excellent-sounding recordings. The Focusrite/AKG Recording Bundle includes the especially nice Scarlett 2i2 USB interface, an AKG Perception 220 condenser microphone, a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M20 headphones, as well as other key tools and accessories. B&H also offers two kits that feature the M-Audio Fast Track audio interface, which comes with Pro Tools SE recording software. The Fast Track Starter Kit comes with the interface, an Audio-Technica AT2020 condenser microphone, ATH-M20 headphones and, again, the other key tools and accessories. The Røde Studio Recording Hot Bundle also comes with the Fast Track interface, the Røde NT1-A condenser microphone, M-Audio AV40 active monitor speakers, and all the necessary goodies. First stop, dorm room, next stop, American Idol.

Computer Accoutrements

Wi-Fi has become a necessity of life for most folks, so naturally, supplying your student with a decent wireless router is a no-brainer gift idea. The Apple Airport Express is a reasonably priced option that’s incredibly easy to set up and maintain, and it’s got some really neat features that students will be able to figure out easily and use. For example, if they have a computer printer that lacks wireless capabilities, they can connect it to the Airport Express and be able to print wirelessly via the Apple device. It also has an audio output, which means that powered speakers can be connected to the Airport Express. This makes it possible to stream music wirelessly to the speakers via AirPlay from Apple gadgets, like the fifth-generation iPod touch.

It’s unrealistic to expect a barrage of letters and postcards from the kids when they're away at school. Instead of keeping in touch with pen and ink, you can go all modern and have video chats. With a webcam like the Microsoft LifeCam Cinema connected to the USB port on your computers, you’ll be able to see and hear each other surprisingly well, no matter how far away you may be geographically. The LifeCam is Skype certified, so you can be assured you won’t encounter any unnecessary troubles, and it features autofocus, a noise-canceling microphone, face tracking, and it can be manually rotated 360 degrees. A more budget-friendly option is the Logitech C210 webcam, which doesn't offer as high resolution, but is still easy to use and it features a built-in microphone. 

In an ideal world, students would spend 90% of their free time studying, and the extra 10% would be spent playing oboe in the school band. Like it or not, lots of kids like to burn through their free time playing video games, and likewise, gaming-related gifts will be appreciated. One way to go is to get them a game-friendly mouse, such as the Windows-compatible Logitech G700, which features 13 ergonomically placed controls that can be programmed to trigger single actions or complex macro commands.

Most speakers face outward, so their sound is focused forward. The Razer Ferox Mobile Gaming & Music Speakers feature drivers that resonate in an omnidirectional pattern, so you can hear them equally from any side. Plus, they have built-in batteries so they can be used for gaming on the go. If playing games on tablets is their thing, the Turtle Beach Ear Force M5Ti is a nice little combo gift that includes a pair of stylish, over-the-ear headphones with 40mm drivers and a built-in mic, and a ballistic nylon tablet case that can comfortably hold a full-sized Apple iPad.

Thanks for checking out this B&H InDepth article. If you have any lingering questions about any of the awesome products discussed in this article, we encourage you to submit a Comment below, or contact a B&H Sales Associate via live chat, over the phone or in our SuperStore. We actively monitor all of the incoming comments, and will respond to you as quickly as possible. Happy holidays!  

Items discussed in article