Okay, this is it. Back to school, again. Whether it's your first college semester or you can see graduation on the horizon, these tools will make the next few months infinitely more bearable.
This isn't 2003; you no longer need to carry a cumbersome spiral-bound notebook that will either get lost/torn/burned by your psycho ex the week before finals (thanks again Kate!) or filled with leaky pens and mechanical pencil graphite. Instead, load up one of these apps onto your laptop (Mac, Windows) and share your notes among your devices and classmates.
- Evernote (Android, iOS, Win, Mac) is the BMOC of note-taking programs. It seamlessly distributes pictures, text, and video between your computer and mobile devices, allows you to clip web data, organize, and then share it. EverNote is freemiumware; coughing up the extra $45 a year nets you added security systems, offline notes, and increased storage capacity.
- Simplenote (iOS only) is a dedicated, bare-bones iOS app. It only allows you to take text notes and is ad-supported unless you fork over $20 a year for the premium version.
- Extensive Notes (Android) is free note-taking app with more features than you'll know what to do with. It converts measurements, logs appointments, generates passwords, scans bar codes, and a litany of other things in addition to taking notes and making to-do lists.
If you've got an older Android tablet or phone, be sure to upgrade the stock keyboard with SwiftKey 3 (Android). The $4 investment is well worth the time it'll save you. And if you're unlucky enough to be stuck with an 8 am class this term, you'll do well to bring an audio recorder like the Zoom Q2HD or iQ5 in case you doze off.
Write It Right
Don't be that guy. Write your term papers like you actually live in the 21st century. Microsoft Office and Google Drive are solid choices for Windows and Android, both offering a wide range of functionality from their respective software suites.
Google's offering is free, though, while Office will run you $80 for a 4-year subscription. Still,that's a pretty good deal compared to the $140 it would cost for you to keep it beyond your college years. Windows users should also check out an incredibly helpful text-editing app—especially for those studying the computer sciences—called Notepad++ (Win).
There's nothing stopping an Apple user from employing Google Drive in the browser, of course, but if you're looking for a dedicated, local text editor, take a look at iA Writer ($1 iPad, iPhone, Mac), an elegant and understated text editor that forces you to focus on the writing, not self-editing, and Editorial ($5 iOS), which automates many basic typing functions so that text-editing on a tablet isn't the nightmare it once was. And if neither of these are to your liking, find one that is. Text Expander ($5 iOS, Mac) is another text-automation program but works in a variety of other platforms, allowing you to set custom shortcuts for commonly used phrases, scripts, and animated GIFs.
Read on the Cheap
Textbook sales have got to be one of the biggest scams on a college campus. You shell out hundreds of dollars for them, use them for 12 weeks, and then sell them back for pennies on the dollar. And with tuition costs steadily rising around the country, this mandatory reaming doesn't sit well with many. So instead, buy a Kindle Fire HD, or install the Kindle app (Android, iOS) on your own tablet and hope that your classes are listed on Amazon's Textbook Rental service. Since that's really what you're doing anyway, just renting them.
Be a Math Blaster
What, you thought you were through with math just because you passed your SAT? Not a chance. Even the most liberal of liberal arts programs often have a math requirement, which means if you're not numerically inclined you're going to need a helping hand. Most lectures you can probably get away with using one of these mobile apps:
- Quick Graph ($3 unlocked, iOS) offers a huge array of computational and visualization features, including VGA output for sharing your groundbreaking equation with the rest of the class.
- Free Graphing Calculator (Free, iOS) offers a full graphing scientific calculator with unit conversion and data-tabling functions.
- Algeo (free - Android) is a simple yet powerful android calculator app designed specifically to assist with common algebra and calculus problems including symbolic differentiation, definite integrals, and Taylor-series calculations.
- Mathlab Graphing Calculator ($5 unlocked, Android) is built to match, and in some cases exceed, the capabilities of dedicated scientific graphing calculators. For $5, it's worth trying out, especially if it means you can forgo the purchase of a handheld unit.
Habla Something Other Than English
Unless you passed your AP language requirements, get set for remedial foreign language studies. Rote memorization, huzzah! Of course you could always spice up your language lessons with some supplemental online courses. They're free and they're way more fun than vocabulary flashcards. Your two best options are going to be:
- Duolingo, which is a crowd-sourced learning platform that delivers a semester's worth of college-level learning in a fraction of the time.
- Live Mocha, which offers you the option to pay for lessons in cash or earn them by assisting and tutoring other students. Never pass up free tutoring.
Share Your Media
It's great that you've got your notes synced between your devices, but what about the rest of your documents, music, movies, and pirated GoT episodes? Depending on your platform, Google Drive, iCloud, and SkyDrive are the official options for Android, Apple, and Microsoft, respectively. Dropbox (Android, iOS) and simply Box (Android, iOS, Win 8) clients should be on your system no matter what platform you prefer—you can never have enough free storage.
If you're looking for a hardware solution for your sharing needs, give the SanDisk Connect a look. For $50 - $100, depending on storage and streaming capacity, these wireless USB drives can not only act as remote hard drives but also as streaming media servers, allowing you and up to six other people watch your ill-gotten HBO originals.
The best way to churn our papers and alienate roommates is the crank the volume up to 11. Here's what you'll need to make all your favorite obscure bands shine.
If you've got a lot of Apple products in your life, you'll want to look at the Pioneer XW-SMA3 portable speakers; you'll be able to do your music justice in your room or in the quad. If bluetooth on a budget is more your speed, check the $70 Soundfreaq Sound Spot.
Conversely, if your roommate isn't a big fan of Death Metal, you should probably pick up a pair of headphones instead. The Harmon Kardon CL is a quality-made headphone but is a bit pricey for a college student's budget at $200 a pop. The Sol Republic Tracks deliver slightly lesser sound compared to the HKs but are half their price as well.
Now all you need to do is figure out how to keep your electronic menagerie charged throughout the day and you might just make it through this semester with minimal brain damage. [Technology Guide - FastCo - LifeHack Top Image: Creativa, Notes Image: wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock, Text Editors: Taiga, Dorm Room: Vasin Lee, Readers: Kyle Wagner , Reference: Dmitry Elagin, Maths: Mathlab, Language: racorn]