When setting up a new college student's first dorm room, a parent imagines all the necessities for living that his child enjoys at home and tries to fit them into a 10-by-15-foot box.
Mom and Dad figure that bedsheets, microwave ovens and throw pillows are going to be required, but the truth is their kids will be more preoccupied with where to hang the flatscreen TV and how the Internet hookup works.
Jenna Patterson of Newburgh, N.Y. is heading off to college, but which school will be best for Jenna, and how her family will pay for it, are issues Jenna and her parents have yet to resolve. In this installment of this FOX series, Jenna stops production of the series to check her cell phone messages.
So what does that mean for parents? It means that when it comes to their dorm rooms, the most important things to their kids are toys. Not wooden choo-choo trains and paper dolls, but carbon-fiber notebook computers and sneakers with computers in them.
Some consumer-electronic gadgets are purely for entertainment, but many others are for communication (phone calls and e-mails back home), a healthy lifestyle (hitting the gym) and maybe even a little studying.
With so many devices out there to choose from — some of which parents don't even know exist — it's hard to figure out what you need to make your kid's first semester enjoyable. So sit back, relax and let us do the work for you.
Mobile ESPN Samsung ACE cell phone (new customers, $99, existing customers, $149, both with 2-year agreement or contract extension)
The Samsung ACE, the second phone to carry the cable sports network ESPN's proprietary high-speed cell-phone service, is a sports-tuned version of the popular BLADE model offered through Sprint Nextel, upon whose EV-DO mobile broadband network Mobile ESPN piggybacks.
The phone itself is extremely thin and sleek, but the star attraction, without question, is the sports content it provides. You can set alerts for favorite teams, specific games, breaking news, fantasy updates and video highlights.
It's like having a personalized version of ESPN.com on your phone — perfect for sports junkies who can't bear to be away from their teams, even for the few hours a day that they're in class.
Mobile ESPN even features the be-all and end-all of bar bets, "The Answer Guy," a feature which allows you to ask any sports-related question (and some non-sports questions) and receive an answer via text message within 10 minutes.
All plans come with included sports content and start at $39.99 per month; charges for premium content vary, and the "total sports package" is $24.99 per month on top of the talk time.
LG 23LX1RV 23-inch LCD high-definition TV set with built-in DVD player ($899 list price)
LG's 23LX1RV is a jack of all trades: It's a 23-inch widescreen HDTV, a computer monitor and a DVD player that handles DVDs, DVD-RW's, DiVX video files, standard CDs, MP3 audio and Windows Media files.
In an apartment or dorm room where space and clutter is always a concern, LG's unit keeps everything simple.
Still, it's important to note that, as with all digital-television technology, you will only see an improvement in picture with digital content.
This doesn't mean you have to have HD, but it does mean a standard analog input (such as basic cable without a digital receiver) will NOT look good on these kinds of sets. You'll need digital input via cable, satellite, DVD or antenna.
And, like many high-definition TVs, the LG is really a monitor only — it doesn't have a built-in tuner, nor a slot for a Cable Card, which would take the place of a cable box.
But if you're spending money on an HDTV, it doesn't cost much more to get high-definition digital cable or satellite, or a digital antenna and tuner for broadcast digital signals.
Casio EX-S600 digital camera ($250 list)
It's impossible to take a picture if you don't have your camera on you. And the larger the camera, the less likely you are to have it in a candid situation, especially for males or females who don't carry handbags.
That's why the EX-S600, which is barely larger than a stack of 10 credit cards, is the perfect camera for a college student.
Amazingly thin, yet surprisingly sturdy, with a 3x optical-zoom lens, a 6-megapixel CCD and a movie mode, it's so small that you could put it in your pocket and it would feel no more out of place then a thin wallet.
Plus, it comes in multiple colors — if you're into that sort of thing.
Fretlight FG-421 Standard Interactive Learning System electric guitar ($499)
One of the few items on our list without competition, Optek Music System's Fretlight looks like just another Stratocaster clone — until you notice the LED-laden fretboard that actually teaches you how to play.
When hooked up to a Windows PC (a Mac version is in beta-testing phase), the LEDs light up to show you where your fingers should be.
Along with the instructional DVD, the guitar (which is stunningly beautiful and well-made) comes with software and a DIN-8-to-USB cable to hook up to the computer.
The Fretlight also operates as a full-function guitar, but you'll have to buy your own analog cables, pedals and amps. It could be your one-way ticket to becoming the next aspiring singer-songwriter crooning Dave Matthews Band covers in the local watering hole.
Acer Ferrari 5000 notebook computer ($2,299 list)
When it comes to Windows-based laptops, once you've seen one, you've pretty much seen them all.
So what makes a computer like the Acer Ferrari 5000 a must-have? Probably the most compelling reason possible: all of its fancy gadgets.
First, the basics. It has AMD's latest 2Ghz Turion 64 X2 64-bit twin-core processor. What does that mean? It's fast (although all of that speed does generate an exorbitant amount of heat).
It has 2 gigabytes of 667-megahertz DDR2 memory. And the 160-gigabyte hard disk is one of the largest available for a notebook.
All that may be impressive to tech geeks, but kind of boring to the rest of us.
Now the fun stuff: Its slot-loading DVD super-multi dual-layer drive plays and records pretty much any kind of writeable optical-disc media. It'll even play the new high-definition HD DVD discs, though it won't burn them. The integrated Wi-Fi card supports 802.11a/b/g, so it'll work with any wireless router.
Gamers will love the ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 graphics card, whose 256 megabytes of dedicated DDR3 memory is upgradeable to 512 megabytes. The HDMI video output is perfect for connecting to a larger HD display. It also has a regular VGA connector and S-video output, so you can hook up your trusty CRT monitor or television, if you so desire.
In addition to the standard PC Card and ExpressCard 34 slots, several USB 2.0 ports and Ethernet port and modem, the Ferrari 5000 also has extra goodies such as a Bluetooth VoIP handset that recharges in the PC card slot, a Bluetooth mouse that recharges via a USB cable while the mouse is operational, a 1.3-megapixel camera built into the top of the screen, and a four-pin FireWire port.
Shure e4c sound-isolating earphones ($319 list)
Let's face it. Everyone has an iPod. Even those who consider themselves "subversive" and reject iPods at least have some sort of MP3 player, which is why there are none on this list.
But all things considered, it is pretty asinine to spend $400 on an MP3 player that you listen to through the cheap tinny earphones that come in the box.
That's why Shure's e4c headphones are worth their hefty price tag.
The in-ear phones isolate almost all external noise simply by being inserted, and with any volume at all, make even the most annoying noises a distant memory.
They're perfect for airplanes, and unlike noise-canceling headsets, which generate sound of their own to counteract ambient noise, they're extremely tiny and easy to carry.
The package also includes many different kinds of earpieces, virtually guaranteeing you'll find a pair that fits perfectly.
The best way to describe the way they sound is to imagine a symphony being played for you in an empty concert hall. The highs ring clearer, the bass is unmuffled, and you almost immediately hear layers of your music you didn't even know existed.
And don't let the price tag scare you: While $319 is the official manufacturer's suggested retail price, these earphones can be found at many online retailers for less than $180.
Roxio Easy Media Creator/Toast Titanium disk-burning software ($79.99 after mail-in rebate)
Even the newest, slickest laptop would be nothing without software to run. Having a CD burner is almost mandatory, but to take advantage of the Acer's DVD burner, you'll want Roxio's Easy Media Creator.
You can use the software to make backup copies of DVDs, burn digital movies you've shot to playable DVDs or even burn video clips you've downloaded to watch on your DVD player — all in high-definition video.
You can even create photo slideshows and movies in 16x9 widescreen format for your widescreen HDTV. There are lots of DVD-burning programs out there, but Roxio's is by far the easiest to use.
Toast Titanium, Roxio's Macintosh burning software, includes all the same features, and is fully integrated with Mac OS X's iLife suite. Working seamlessly with iMovie, iTunes and iPhoto, it makes it as easy as possible to export all of your digital media — which is pretty much required for a Mac user.
Symantec Norton SystemWorks /Internet Security ($69.99 each, one-year subscription included)
A no-brainer — now that always-on Internet connections are the norm, having anti-virus and anti-spyware software is a must.
When used together, SystemWorks and Internet Security protect your e-mail, let you shop and bank online securely, restore your computer from system failures, remove junk, retrieve accidentally deleted files, keep your identity secure and let you download without fear of viruses.
Yes, you could just download a free virus scanner or firewall like your roommate did, but when he gets the Windows Blue Screen of Death, despite his "free" virus scanner telling him he's clean, you'll be glad you sprung for the real deal.
Every semester you'll hear about some kid losing his entire hard drive to some vicious virus infection that could have been prevented. Don't be that guy.
SanDisk Cruzer Titanium USB flash drive (1GB, $74.99; 2 GB, $119.99)
In case you haven't noticed, burned CDs are yesterday's news, and for the Internet generation, floppy disks might as well be punchcards.
So how do you transport those important documents from home to the computer lab to the copy shop to your friend's house and back again?
USB keys, pen drives, jump drives — whatever you want to call them, they've become almost as pervasive as iPods.
What makes SanDisk's offering stand out from the pack is its Liquidmetal casing (named because the metal is not solid in its original state), which SanDisk claims is two times stronger than titanium.
In addition, there's U3 smart technology, which allows you to install Windows programs directly onto the drive, so when you take the flash drive with you for use on another computer, you've already got your own software.
Maxtor OneTouch III external hard drive, Mini Edition (100GB, $199)
If you've ever had a hard drive burn out, become corrupted or get accidentally overwritten, you already know that losing all of your files, whether they're music, movies, word documents or presentations, is like losing personal possessions in a fire.
Think of the Maxtor OneTouch III as a fire-proof safe, backing up all of your important data with the push of a button.
What sets the Mini Edition OneTouch III apart from other backup drives is its portability.
The size, heft and bulk of regular external drives relegate them to desktop use, even though most college students use laptops.
This one uses a laptop hard drive that's about the size of a small paperback book, making it easy to toss in a bag or backpack.
Altec Lansing inMotion iM9 speaker system ($200)
Like many other iPod accessories, the perfect iPod speaker system has been tried many, many times, but still hasn’t been achieved.
While the iM9 doesn't quite get there, it does offer versatility to serve a college student's needs. The speakers provide enough punch to hook up to a computer, and with an iPod slipped in the center console, it works as a personalized alarm clock.
The iM9 requires 4 C batteries to be portable, which makes it cumbersome, but the fact that it even has the ability to be thrown in the included backpack and taken along to the beach or pool puts it at the top of the iPod speaker list.
Sony PlayStation Portable video-game console ($249 as part of 'value pack'; $199 for system only)
Sony may be losing the home-console race to Microsoft and its Xbox 360, but it easily has the best portable system on the market.
The PSP's widescreen display (4.3 inches diagonally) and game selection easily put it out ahead of the competition.
The geek-friendly PSP is about as close to a full-functioning computer as a handheld video-game console can get, which explains why it is most popular with teenagers and young adults, while the single-function Nintendo DS is more popular with children.
The PSP's Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, built-in Web browser, media player and ability to play movies released on the UMD (Universal Media Disc) format provide it with the ability to perform almost any task one would ask of a personal computer.
For users who don't require the ability to take their entire music library with them at all times, the PSP is the perfect iPod replacement. Watching videos on the iPod's 2.5-inch screen pales in comparison to what the PSP's gorgeous screen can display.
Adidas 1 running shoes ($250 list)
It may seem odd to feature a pair of sneakers on a must-have gadget list, but the Adidas 1s are just as home here as they would be in a sports apparel guide.
Besides, spending all your time indoors with all the other gadgets featured here would make you a pretty out-of-shape college student.
The sneakers feature a 20-megahertz microprocessor in each shoe's insole, in addition to a series of mechanical gears that, in an amazing feat of technical wizardry, work together to adjust the level of cushioning the shoes provide based on the runner's speed and the surface being run on.
Unlike Nike's iPod-integrated sneaker, the Adidas 1s might actually benefit your body.
Tested on the jogging track of Central Park's reservoir here in Manhattan, the change in cushioning was definitely noticeable.
It takes a minute for you to adjust to the fact that your shoes are adjusting, but it definitely makes for a pleasurable running experience.
Be warned, however, that the included instruction manual reminds you that the shoes do contain a computer, and that running in a hurricane or swimming with the shoes on is not recommended.
Runners with wide feet should also be warned to buy at least a half-size larger than their normal sizes, as the Adidas 1s tend to be a bit narrow.
But if you can get over the idea of having sneakers with batteries that have to be turned on before your workout, the Adidas 1s are definitely the most technologically advanced shoes available.