Six Back-to-School Gadgets That You Probably Shouldn’t Buy

By on July 23, 2013

While there are plenty of gadgets that are useful to high school and college students, there are a handful that simply aren’t great options anymore. We’ve broken down what you shouldn’t be spending your money on and options to replace that older tech. Check out our list of gadgets you shouldn’t buy for a student this year:

Desktop Computers

There’s a reason desktop sales are plummeting year after year. People don’t want to lug giant computers off to college. Flashback to 1997: I was more than happy to haul my sweet 133 MHz Pentium Packard Bell down to college. Having a computer in the dorm at that time was a luxury, especially for taking advantage of illegal downloads. However, these days students are taking their laptops and tablets to class to take notes, something that’s clearly impossible with a desktop computer.

desktop computer with lcd monitor, keyboard, speaker and mouse,

While desktop computers still provide a superior gaming experience, it’s not going to be ideal for the majority of high school and college students. Look for some solid laptop deals on Ben’s prior to the start of the school year. Also, Microsoft is running a crowdsourcing project to allow students to hit up friends and family to help pay for a new laptop computer. Microsoft kicks in the first 10 percent, however it will be at full retail price.

Check Ben’s for Laptop Deals

USB Drives

Prior to cloud storage, having access to a USB drive was vital as a student. While this is an inexpensive gift idea, it’s going to collect dust due to nonuse. Beyond simply emailing documents to yourself, cloud storage like Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive and Google Drive allow you to access files from any Internet connected location. These services also provide significantly more storage space than the standard USB drive.

Flash Drive gadget

If you are interested in picking up a more useful type of physical storage, consider a portable hard drive over a USB drive. The latest batch of drives, like the Western Digital My Passport Ultra, are nearly as thin as a smartphone and hold a minimum of 500GB of data. It’s ideal for backing up a hard drive, especially a good idea when working on a semester-long project for a class.

Check Ben’s for Portable Hard Drive Deals


I loved having a printer in my room during college; however, it was also a giant pain. Beyond the insane costs of printer ink (third party options weren’t as readily available as they are today), the printer would constantly jam and spit out endless error codes. I would still end up having to go down to the computer lab from time to time in order to print off my most recent paper.

Printer Ink

Fast forward to today, and computer labs are much more common on high school and college campuses. In addition, professors and teachers are shifting to digital copies over physical ones. If your student’s school uses a service like Blackboard, it may be a requirement that all assignments are submitted digitally. Even if they have to pay for printing somewhere, it’s still going to be considerably cheaper than keeping a printer stocked up with ink.

Point & Shoot Cameras

It’s not surprising that the smartphone has replaced standard point & shoot cameras. There’s no reason to carry around a second camera when a smartphone accomplishes the same thing. In addition, camera applications have surpassed user interfaces on point & shoot cameras, both in features and responsiveness. That being said, a DSLR is far superior to a smartphone camera in nearly every way.


Unless your student is studying photography and needs a DSLR, skip the traditional point & shoot camera and take a look at the most recent batch of smartphones. Nokia is doing some interesting things with picture quality in the Lumia line, but your best bets are probably going to be the Samsung Galaxy S4, Apple iPhone 5 or HTC One. Be aware that iPhone 5 prices will drop when Apple announces the new model later this year. If you can wait until October, you can purchase the latest model or the iPhone 5 at a discount.

Check Ben’s for Smartphone Deals

Alarm Clocks

I can’t remember the last time I used my alarm clock over my smartphone. I can pop into the alarm application and set a time for the morning in just a couple seconds. That’s a task that takes significantly longer on my alarm clock, especially when I blow past the time when setting it for the morning.



If you really want to purchase an alarm clock for your student, simply purchase an App Store or Google Play gift card for them. Paid alarm apps are usually between $1 to $4. My personal favorite is called Wake for the iPhone. Wave Alarm is also popular for Android users.

Purchase App Store Gift Card /  Purchase Google Play Gift Card

Voice Recorders

Once again, the smartphone has replaced another device. Popular over the last 20 years, digital voice recorders have been useful for recording lectures in class in order to review class content prior to a test. However, this can be accomplished by using the default voice recorder application on an iOS or Android smartphone.


Consider purchasing a Livescribe pen for your student. Transcribing notes into a digital form can be invaluable. You can also spring for some smartphone applications that have more robust features like cloud storage and quality settings. Be sure to check out Smart Voice Recorder for Android and Voice Recorder HD for the iPhone / iPad.

Purchase App Store Gift Card /  Purchase Google Play Gift Card

Be sure to check out our Back-to-School Deal Hub for all your shopping needs.

About Mike Flacy

By day, I'm the Editor-in-Chief for The CheckOut in addition to being the content manager for Steve's Digicams and High-Def Digest. During my free time, I love to write about pop culture, home theater, digital photography, social media, mobile technology and cool gadgets!


  1. Erv Dinh

    August 7, 2013 at 11:46 am

    A good tablet/hybrid might be a great soluttion for portablity, but I agree, it’s easily stolen, just have to be careful.

  2. Let me tell you a story about a man named Jed Poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed Then one day he was shootin’ at some food Up from the ground came a bubblin’ crude Black gold, Texas tea The next thing you know ol Jed's a millionaire Kinfolk

    August 1, 2013 at 10:57 am

    There’s a saying “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” You may not have a lot of space in a dorm room but you might as well make the best use of the space possible.

    You’ll be happier watching TV/movies/YouTube/etc on a larger screen monitor, and typing on a desktop keyboard, listening to music on larger speakers. You can just plug these into your laptop, and a USB HDD, but as saert mentioned laptops might be stolen, or broken, and many don’t support multi-monitors. A small desktop system can house your bulk storage HDD and (especially if you’re in an apartment) a general rule of thumb is if something is large enough you can’t hide it in your coat it is much less likely to be stolen. Even if you usually have trusted friends over, you can’t predict who they’d bring to a get together.

    You don’t have to do without the same computing experience at school unless you just can’t squeeze it all into the back of an economy car to move it (though moving trucks are pretty cheap compared to tuition).

    Cloud storage may be larger than a flash drive but is very slow in comparison. Use both, but if you have the desktop on (you aren’t paying a power bill) then you can set it up as your own personal online cloud.

    Laser monochrome printer. Refilled with bulk toner the operating cost is around $6 /2K pages.

    Camera. There’s a large assortment of cameras better than on a smartphone before you arrive at DSLR and it’s amazing what a midrange compact camera can do these days, automagically. Granted you’ll still be using the smartphone most of the time but when you want a high quality picture that won’t cut it.

    Alarm clock. My first year of college I had a roommate who scheduled very early classes. First thing I did was cut the speaker wire on his alarm clock so it wasn’t waking me up. Eventually I managed to get him to move out so we both ended up with single occupancy rooms at no extra cost. Win/win. The point is to have redundant wake-up methods.

    Voice recorder. If you are depending on your smartphone for everything then you run into battery dilemmas. Carry a recharge pack? Always have the laptop with you? Both would work, but a voice recorder is smaller and of little monetary value so you can just set it near the professor without as much worry about having to watch it like a hawk to be sure no one steals it. In larger classes a phone 100′ away but in front of you does a better job of recording the snoring student next to you than the professor.

  3. saert

    July 26, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    big desktop computers will not get stolen lost or broken,better at playing games

    printers,try and use the school one,but they are cheap buy non brand ink

    point and shoot cameras still have a place,small phones get dropped

    usb drives,you don’t have to log on,you can use any computer,32gb $15
    stick your photos on it,when the cloud company shuts down in 20 years time,you still have your stuff,you could also back up your computer no monthly fee,copy your friends homework

    alarm clocks very handy ,you come in drunk,you don’t have to set it
    you can see the time in the dark,i am always losing my phone,also you can switch off your phone at night so no one can call you,buy one for $8 wake up to music,did you set up your phone ok,to play music,

    voice recorder.i don’t use,but you can record reminders,etc

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