While some students will continue online learning this year, others will go back to school. Here are a few items to help protect kids during a pandemic.
Cost-conscious students (and their parents) may be looking to stretch their dollars even farther this year, given the fact that more than 16 million Americans are still out of work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – not to mention those who have also been hit with pay cuts or unpaid furloughs because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Whether students will be studying at home, in the classroom or both, they still may need some back-to-school purchases. If the shopping list includes laptop or smartphone accessories – like cases and screen protectors, wireless mice, and various cables – don’t discount your local dollar store, as you might just be surprised what you can find for a buck or two.
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We regularly scour the electronics aisles at a few locations to see what we can find. This time around, we visited Dollar Tree and Family Dollar, along with two chains in Canada (Dollarama and 99¢ Depot). Be aware, not all dollar stores have the same products, but often you’ll find a very similar one under another brand name. The following are a few gadgets that make the grade.
Not mousing around
A laptop’s integrated trackpad may be used comfortably for a few minutes, but those who spend hours on a computer might want to consider a wired or wireless mouse. Fortunately, you don’t have to break the bank on either.
For just $2 you can find Tech-1’s Retractable USB Mouse, a small accessory available in white and gray or black and gray. It plugs into an available USB (Type-A) port on your Windows PC or Mac – no drivers needed – and you can pull on the retractable 30-inch cord to give yourself more slack, if need be. Its symmetrical shape means it’s ideal for right- or left-handed users.
For $1 more, Tech-1 also has a larger and wireless mouse, which includes a teeny transceiver to plug into an available USB (Type-A) port.
Light it up
Unless you’re using a tablet with a backlit screen, reading an ebook or paper textbook in a dimly-lit environment can be a pain. That’s when a book light can come in handy. You can pick up the GE LED Book Light in blue, pink and other colors, and clamp it onto your e-reader, paperback or hardcover.
While there are book lights for even less, this $2 product is much brighter, durable, adjustable, and with a 10,000-hour LED bulb life, says the company.
Note: two AAA batteries are required but not included (you can pick up an 8-pack of Sunbeam Batteries for a buck).
Fashion meets function
At Dollar Tree and Dollarama, I found an assortment of zippered Built BYO (“Bring Your Own”)-branded neoprene laptop and tablet sleeves ($1-$2). With multiple colors and designs (including polkadots or stripes) to choose from, these sleeves vary in size – to fit a 7-inch tablet all the way up to a 15-inch laptop. Their soft inner lining and stretchy outer “wetsuit” skin protect your tech from the bumps and knocks of everyday life.
Also found for about the same price were some XtremeMac iPad Case options, too, which are also fashionable and functional accessories, and worth the small investment.
Make an HDMI connection
If you’re squinting to see your schoolwork on a small laptop screen, why not take advantage of that flat-screen television you have at home? Well, for just $1 or $2 (depending on the store), you could pick up a five-foot Vibe HDMI cable.
An HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) cable can be used to connect laptops to your TV, monitor, or projector – and send uncompressed, high-definition video and sound to your home theatre components. The cables can also be used to connect a cable box, video game system, streaming or Blu-ray player, or AV receiver to your TV.
Do the math
Why spend more on a calculator than you need to? The Tilt Top Calculator from Studio ($1) has an easy to read and adjustable eight-digit display (which can be propped up for a better view), large buttons, an auto-power-off feature, and handy palm rest for lengthy sessions (math homework, perhaps)?
No need for batteries, as this is a solar-powered model found at most dollar stores.
Scientific calculators – and one in the shape of an electric guitar – were also offered at a couple of dollar stores.
Protect n’ charge
Finally, there are many smartphone cases and screen protectors – only for the most popular brands, of course – which you might consider if you’re walking around with an unprotected Apple or Samsung device (the two most-supported mobile device makers).
In addition to fitted silicone cases, others had fabric and were “folio”-style, which are opened to access your screen.
Screen protectors, which prevent scratches or cracks, are either plastic or tempered glass.
Your local dollar store is also a good place to find inexpensive charging cables for your smartphone, so be sure to pick up a spare one or two to keep in your backpack or dorm room – whether it’s a Lightning connector (iPhone), USB-C (newer Android phones) or microUSB (older Android phones).
Follow Marc on Twitter: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast.
Going back to school amid COVID-19 outbreaks means uncertainty and fear for students and teachers, but staying home presents problems too.
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