Summer may still be in the air, but school is starting soon, which means it's time to go shopping — for technology.

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Summer may still be in the air, but school is starting soon, which means it’s time to go shopping — for technology.

Clothes, books and school supplies are the old standbys, of course, but tech products — computers, electronics and gadgets — are just as important. Whether your kid is returning to grade school or heading out to college, here are some tech items to consider.

Computer: Computers are probably the most important tech tools around. And these days, you have a wide range of prices and features.

Laptops are a good choice, especially for college students, because they can be taken to class, the library or the local cafe. Apple’s Macbooks — the company’s entry-level notebooks — have been especially popular among the student crowd, and for good reason: They’re easy to use, stable and much more resistant to viruses than Windows machines. They start at about $1,000 with an educational discount.

If that’s too costly, there are numerous Windows-based notebooks you can get for less than $1,000.

Software: You’re probably going to want to buy at least two software packages to go with any new computer — an office suite and a security program.

Microsoft’s Office is still the standard for writing papers and putting together spreadsheets. But it’s expensive, starting at $400 if you buy it off the shelf. College students can get a slightly slimmed-down version for about $150 for Windows or Mac computers.

With all the viruses, spyware and spam on the Internet, a security program is more important than ever these days. Macs are less vulnerable, but could get more so as they become more popular — giving hackers more reason to write Mac-only viruses.

Symantec’s Norton (about $45) and McAfee (about $35) have been the traditional standard-bearers in security suites for PCs, though Kaspersky’s Anti-Virus package (about $60) is starting to gain recognition. For Macs, Norton offers an anti-virus program for about $20, and Intego has an entire line of security programs starting at about $50.

Computer backpack: Because your student will most likely be lugging her laptop around quite a bit, she’ll need something to carry it in. Accessory makers have come out with backpacks specifically designed for laptops. They have extra padding and come in a range of sizes and styles. Best Buy offers more than a dozen types starting at about $32.

For those who don’t want to look “dorky” sporting an extra-thick pack, vendors offer a variety of padded sleeves that can be carried inside a regular backpack. San Francisco-based WaterField makes 40 different sizes of customizable sleeves starting at around $40 through its Web site at

External hard drive: Laptop hard drives tend to quickly fill up with music, movies — and term papers, of course. With an external hard drive, a student can offload some of that data to save space on the main drive.

Another, more important, reason to have an external drive is for backup. The last thing you want as a student is to lose the paper you’ve been working on because of a hard-drive failure.

In recent years, drive makers have come out with slimmer, lighter models designed specifically for laptops. Western Digital, for instance, offers the My Passport line of drives, which range in size from 160 to 320 gigabytes and cost $70 to $120 online.

USB flash drive: E-mail servers often block large files, and even when they don’t, such files can take a long time to download over the Internet. That’s where flash drives come in, helping students who need to share a file with a project partner or who want to print a document from a computer center without lugging along a laptop.

The good thing is that they’re cheap: You can find a 2-gigabyte drive, such as the SanDisk Cruzer Micro, for $15 or less online.

All-in-one printer: Some teachers now accept class reports via e-mail, but much class work is still submitted on paper, meaning students need a printer.

Look for an all-in-one model that also makes photocopies and scans documents or photos, and costs about the same as a stand-alone printer.

Canon and Hewlett-Packard each offer several models of all-in-ones for $100 or less, among them the Canon Pixma MP210, which can be found for as little as $55.

iPod: OK, so your student will probably use an iPod far more for listening to music than for any kind of academic purpose. But don’t dismiss the idea that the ubiquitous music devices can have real educational value.

Students can now find 50,000 lectures, lessons and speeches from university professors around the nation for free on Apple’s iTunes music store. At schools such as the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University, the downloadable lectures have been a boon both to the lazy who’ve missed a class and the industrious who want to review a lecture before an exam.

Apple’s iPods run from as little as about $50 for the low-end, screenless iPod shuffle, to $500 for the top-of-the-line iPod touch.

iPod speakers: These are just the thing to allow your student to listen to his music — or podcast lectures, of course — in his bedroom or dorm room. Lower-end models, such as Altec Lansing’s inMotion iM600 ($112 and up) tend to be smaller and more portable. Higher-end ones, such as Bose’s SoundDock Portable Digital Music System (about $400) tend to offer better sound.

Regardless of price, you can find features such as a built-in FM tuner or an alarm clock. Look for speaker systems that will work with a variety of iPod models, including the iPhone and iPod touch; otherwise, newer devices may not work well with the speakers.

Cellphone: The older students in your life most likely already have a phone. If not, they’re probably begging you for one.

Apple’s new iPhone 3G ($199 and $299, depending on the model, with two-year contract) is all the rage. But it can make a good educational device, thanks to Apple’s new applications store, which offers plenty of academically useful applications, such as scientific calculators and language training programs.

But there are other useful and fun cellphones out there, including T-Mobile’s Sidekick (from about $150 to $300, depending on the model) and the Samsung Instinct (about $130 after rebate).

Digital camera: Your student will probably want to record his moments with friends, trips and parties — and share them online. While most cellphones these days have cameras built into them, the pictures they take generally can’t match those from a stand-alone camera.

The nice thing is that with all the competition from cellphones, point-and-shoot cameras have been coming down in price. You can find a lightweight 7-megapixel camera, such as Canon’s PowerShot SD750, which has plenty of shooting modes and takes good pictures, for less than $200.