TMO's Fall Gear Guide

Finding the right tech gear for school, whether you are still enjoying summer or are already back in class, can be a chore. Since you already have enough to do just to get ready for reports, homework and extracurricular activities, The Mac Observer took the time to put together a list of some our favorite gear for the back to school crowd.

If you ready to pack up and head away for school, be sure to check out our guide for traveling with your laptop and protecting your personal data, too.

MacBook Pro
Apple's MacBook Pro mixes the power of a desktop computer with the portability of a laptop in a sleek aluminum case. It's powerful, durable, and can handle most any task you throw at it from online research to video and audio editing. It's available with 13-inch, 15-inch and 17-inch display options, is priced starting at $1,199. and its portability means you can work on assignments at school, home, or the local coffee shop. For the budget conscious, Apple's white 13-inch MacBook is still available for $999.

Good For: College, high school, and on-the-go work

Apple's iMac offers desktop computing horsepower in an all-in-one form factor that saves your precious desk space at prices starting at $1,199. It's available with a 20-inch or 24-inch display, includes FireWire 800 and USB 2.0 ports, Apple's iLife suite, connects to your wireless network without any hassle, and can handle reports, photo editing and multiple family members just fine.

Good For: Families, Elementary and high school

Mercury On-the-Go FireWire 800/400 + USB 2.0
Other World Computing's Mercury On-The-Go hard drives are compact and cool looking, and affordable, too with prices starting at $99.97. Thanks to its triple interface set up, it can connect to Macs with FireWire 800, FireWire 400 and USB 2.0 ports for easy data transfers, and the drives are bus powered, so you don't need to carry along an extra power supply. 7200 RPM models are available, too, for users looking for the best performance in a pocket-size package.

Good For: Portable data storage, Backups

Audioengine A2 Speakers
Audioengine's speaker lines have consistetly gotten great reviews at The Mac Observer and, but we've focused on the larger, Audioengine A5, which are just too big for a dorm room desk. For those wanting great sound for the iPod or Mac, but are limited on space, we therefore recommend the Audioengine 2 speakers (A2). These are among the very best 2" speakers we've heard, and well worth the $199 price tag. If you have some extra floor space, you can add the company's S8 subwoofer - designed specifically to compliment the A2s - for thumping bass sure to put you on a first-name basis with your DA.

Good For: College students who want their music to sound great, but don't have a lot of desk space.

Tango X2 iPod Speaker System from XtremeMac
Another type of speaker solution that many students will find appealing is some sort of iPod or iPhone docking station with built-in speakers. Bob LeVitus reviewed the Tango X2 system, and praised it for its, "compact size, excellent sound, rear-ported subwoofer, AM/FM radio, wireless remote." It also displays the time, allowing it to double as an alarm clock when used with an iPhone or iPod touch.

Good For: College students light on space, looking for a dock, speakers, clock, and AM/Fm radio in one.

iCube II from Boynq
If you have even less space, Dr. Mac also thought highly of the iCube II from Boynq. It's small, has good (but not great) sound quality, and is inexpensive. It lacks some of the features of the Tango X2, but again, it's smaller and cheaper.

Good For: College students on more of a budget who want a compact iPod docking station with speakers.

iPod touch
Apple's iPod touch lets you surf the Web, keep up on your email, check your schedule, find the local pizza place, play games, and it even plays music and videos, too. In many ways, the touch is like a little Mac in your pocket because so many apps can sync data with it, is priced starting at $229, and it doesn't require monthly service fees like the iPhone -- an important consideration for budget-strapped students.

Good For: Entertainment, organization

Livescribe Pulse
Taking notes is a fact of life in high school and college, so why not use a pen that makes your job easier? Livescribe's Pulse smart pen can record lectures while you write and transfers the audio and your written notes back to you Mac later. Written notes and audio sync up thanks to time stamps, so it's easy to match up what your teaches said with what you wrote. It's priced starting at $149.95, and the included software lets you print out your own note sheets, so you don't have to buy the custom printed paper the Pulse uses to record your writing.

Good For: College, High School lectures

Spire Mojo
Carting your laptop around campus is just another reality in the world of education, and Spire's Mojo messenger bag handles that task with style. It costs $59, and includes a padded compartment that fits up to 17-inch laptops, several organizational pockets, an MP3 player pocket that's big enough to fit an iPhone, and reflective patches so you'll still be visible after late night study sessions. If back pack-style laptop bags are more your speed, check out TMO's Spire Torq review.

Good For: On campus, around town, and lugging books and gear

We've been focusing on hardware goodies, but let's not forget the software! Things from Cultured Code, available for both Mac and iPhone is one of our favorite organizers and ToDo list apps on the market -- we gave the iPhone version an Editor's Choice awards at Macworld 2009 when it was introduced. If you need help remembering your homework assignments and other tasks, not to mention the all-important party schedule, you'll find Things to be indispensible. Better yet, it will autosync between your Mac and iPhone or iPod touch, allowing you to go back and forth between your computer and your iPhone without thinking too much about it. If you need even more task management horse power, Omni Group's OmniFocus is a great option, too.

Good For: College and High School Students wanting to stay organized and manage their ToDo lists.

Though currently officially unreleased, BusyCal's freely-available public beta is head-and-shoulders above Apple's bundled iCal. They call it iCal Pro, and we agree. The user-interface is streamlined, it handles large numbers of events without sacrificing speed, and includes customizable graphics and even a built-in weather overlay. Moreover, recurring To-Dos are supported, something long missing from iCal. BusyCal will also sync seamlessly with Google Calendar, your iPhone, MobileMe, and even iCal, meaning you can try it out with no risk whatsoever. The public beta is free, and once released BusyCal will be $39.

Good For: College, High School (especially with a schedule full of extra-curricular activities)

Office 2008 for Mac Home and Student Edition
Need to write a report? There's a good chance your instructor expects you to use Microsoft Office for at least part of the project, but instead of shelling out $400 to get the app suite, pick up a copy of the Home and Student Edition. It costs $149.95 and includes full versions of Word, Powerpoint, Excel and Entourage. If that's still too expensive, or you want an alternative to Office, check out Apple's iWork '09. It includes Pages, Numbers and Keynote, can open and save Microsoft Office documents, and costs only $79.

Good For: Reports, research and presentations