Thrifty Tech: Holiday Gift Guide for The College Student in Your Life

college kid  happy with laptop - gift guide for college studentChristmas is only a few days away, so if you haven't bought gifts for the college student in your life, now is the time. It's not always the most intuitive shopping excursion, seeing as how college students are in need of new technology for school, work and entertainment. And there are so many options--cameras, all these crazy motion-detection gaming devices, readers--and it's all so expensive!

In this edition of Thrifty Tech, let's talk about price. We're going to break down our suggestions of what to buy that college student, and we're going to break it down by budget--the cheap, the pricey and the expensive. Let's get started. (And for more suggestions, such as for laptops and smartphones, check out our sister site Engadget's Holiday Gift Guide.)For Photo Enthusiasts

Have a college student studying photography? How about a student who's a hobbyist with cameras? Either way, here are a few ideas for what to pick up for that special someone. (Again, check Engadget's guide for more great digital cameras.)

The cheap:Stocking stuffers from (prices vary). Photojojo offers a variety of great gifts for photographers--both practical things and goofy gifts. They have a variety of lenses that can be attached to a camera phone, they have a "tripod" that attaches to the top of any ordinary plastic bottle, and they have a coffee mug that's shaped like a camera lens.

The pricey:Lomography toy cameras (prices vary). The next step up, logically, is a basic point-and-shoot digital camera, but if you're buying for a photo enthusiast, you might already be covered on that front. For film-based photography nerds, toy cameras can be a great gift idea. You can find toy cameras with various lenses at Urban Outfitters, but Lomography is a great place to find toy cameras in many different formats. Many of the cameras run for about $50, and some are much more expensive than that.

So much money: A DSLR camera (around $350 at the low end, usually a lot more). This is where things get expensive. DSLR cameras cost a lot of money, but ultimately, they're worth it. For the best resolution and for manual settings, a DSLR is the way to go. Of course these things are expensive. CNET has a guide of some of the best DSLR options on the market. The cheapest options it points are Sony cameras, including this one, which you can buy from Wal-Mart for $350.

For Film Enthusiasts

Ah, the film enthusiast. Whether they're working on the next great popcorn movie, a documentary or just working on their broadcast degree, it's important to note video camera options out there.

The cheap:UltraHD Flip Video ($150) and the GE DV1 HD ($99). When it comes to video, the "cheap" is still reasonably pricey. However, between $100 and $150 for an HD video camera isn't too bad. Flip is the standby, but as Engadget pointed out, GE's USB HD camera shoots in 1080p and underwater, at that. Not bad for a camera that's $50 cheaper.

The pricey:Samsung HMX-H100 HD Flash Memory Camcorder ($399.99). While the Flip and GE cameras are convenient pocket cameras with enough storage for a couple hours of video, there are a few small HD cameras that still pack quite a bit of storage using Flash Memory. This one is on Amazon for $400, which, while a lot of money, is about $600 cheaper than some of its peers.

So much money:Final Cut Studio ($999). Short of spending thousands of dollars on a new camera, a copy of the Final Cut suite is a pretty big gift. It comes equipped with editing software Final Cut, Motion, Soundtrack, Color, Compressor and DVD Studio. Keep in mind, however, that for beginners, editing software like iMovie comes free with any Apple computer and there's Final Cut Express, which goes for $200 and gives access to basic video editing.

For the Digital Reader

It's a subject we've discussed here on Thrifty Tech time and time again--digital readers. With schools looking to them to house textbooks and to help students with assignments, it's important to note the prices of these things.

The cheap: Kindle ($139) and Nook ($149). Here are the primary two basic original e-readers. No flashy screens, fancy apps or 3G networks--just two basic black-and-white e-ink readers.

The pricey:Nook Color ($249). This is where things start to get a bit more fancy. The Nook Color does what you'd expect--it reads in color with an LCD screen. Here, you've got more compatibility with magazines, children's books and textbooks.

So much money:iPad (from $499). "It's magic." You've heard it time and time again. And it's not just a reader, per se, but also a Web browser, movie screen, gaming device, giant iPod and about a million other things. Yes, it's much more expensive than the Kindle, but can the Kindle let you watch an episode of "Man V. Food" on Netflix?

For the Gamer

Here's where we start to get less academic--this is for the students who love video games. Now obviously, this isn't going to help their education, but come on. It's the holidays.

The cheap:PSN, XBLA and Wii Points cards (varies). No matter which of the big three gaming systems your family member owns, there are great downloadable games on each of them. Whether they want the stuntman game Joe Danger for their PS3, the oddball platformer Super Meat Boy for Xbox Live, or a copy of an old Mario game for the Wii, points cards make it happen.

The pricey:One year of Netflix streaming ($95.88). OK, so this could be filed under the film enthusiast category, as well, but all of the main systems come with the capability to stream Netflix. The movie service has made it possible for you to purchase an entire year's subscription as a gift. Now if you want to purchase less than that, they've got you covered (from one month at $7.99 to six months at $47.94).

So much money:Kinect ($150) or Playstation Move ($100). And here, we arrive to the big, hot gift items of the season for gamers. For Xbox owners, there's the Kinect--the full-body motion sensor that turns you into a human game controller. For Playstation 3 owners, there's the Move, which is, basically, an advanced version of the Wii's motion control system. Both come with games (Kinect Adventures and Sports Champions, respectively). Also, be aware that the Navigation Controller for the Move is sold separately for $30.

For the Dorm

And here, we arrive to the dorm room. Your college student is going to need some tech to deck out the dorm, so don't just settle for a black light poster or a shoe organizer.

The cheap:Lap desks (prices vary). So it might be cheesy, but dorm rooms are tiny, and sometimes, it's easier to have the laptop in bed than it is to go to a study room or, heaven forbid, clear off the desk right next to the bed. The lap desk keeps your lap from burning up and encourages dorm life laziness. Plus, they're pretty cheap, with some running for about $10.

The pricey: An iPod dock/alarm clock (prices vary). Since nearly every phone has a built-in alarm clock, not many students have an old-fashioned alarm clock. So why not grab them a dock for their iPod or iPhone or whatever mp3 player they're using? That way, they can rock out in the day and get woken up like a pro in the morning. iHome is a pretty good brand, and the iHome iP90 ($85) isn't a bad buy at all.

So much money: Noise-canceling headphones (prices vary). These can be an amazing gift, especially if the student has an especially obnoxious roommate. There are a few good ones out there, such as Dr. Dre's Beats heaphones ($299) and the Bose QuietComfort headphones ($299).
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