Essential Back-To-School Tech

Students, break out your school supply lists. Parents, get your wallets ready!

According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend a whopping $55 billion dollars on back-to-school supplies this year, with electronics topping the list.

How can you be sure you're getting the best?

Regina Lewis, AOL consumer adviser, pointed on "The Early Show" to her top picks of some of the most popular products on the market for every student on your list.

For starters, how can a parent know what's essential and what's a luxury?

Lewis said, "I think a home computer for a family with school age children is a nice asset to have, especially as the kids get older and there's more research and paper writing involved with their school work."

Lewis said parents should also consider if a child needs his or her own computer.

"I think that honestly has a lot to do with how much you (the parent) needs to have full access to the main household computer and how disruptive sharing is going to be," she said. "Are you going to be missing work deadlines while they make homework deadlines or vice versa? Overall, anything beyond a computer, is generally a want versus need. I do think it's easy to fall into an overkill trap, especially if you walk into an electronics store without a list, are not working backwards from what the device will constructively do. Ask your kids this question and you'll immediately be able to discern what's constructive and what's sheer entertainment. Often it's a mix and that's when you have to gauge where you're willing to fall in the need versus want spectrum."

Lewis also suggests parents making kids give away, trade in or sell old electronics before they get new ones to help offset the cost and keep the overall number of electronics you have at any given time in check.

A resell site site she recommends is

Lewis suggested these products on "The Early Show":

EReaders are useful if they get your child more engaged in reading, Lewis said. With younger kids, she said, eReaders tend to be more interactive and draw them in. For older kids, there's efficiency in having access to 10,000 text books via one device. She added there can also be cost savings, too, as the electronic version of books are often cheaper.

Lewis said eReaders can also be a life saver in the clutch when you hear the dreaded, :I forgot my book at school and the book report is due tomorrow."

Simply download the book, Lewis said, and you have an instant solution and no more excuses!

Lewis said, "Directionally, I think eReaders are going to take off, so it's a useful medium for young people to become accustomed to."

VReader (young students, ages 5-7)
The VReader by V-Tech - $60

From VTECH comes the V.Reader Animated E-Book System. Children will discover the joy of reading while seeing well-loved characters like Shrek and Disney Fairies in stories with vivid animations. It takes different storybook cartridges and each includes a fully narrated and animated story, eight reading skill games, and a story dictionary. The titles include ones that elementary-age kids will recognize, like "Toy Story 3," Shrek, Scooby Doo, etc. (Cartridges are $16.00 each.)

KINDLE DX $359 (tweens & high-schoolers)
Great for kids who are a little bit older, they can store a lot of the books they are required to read at school on the Kindle. The DX's 9.7-inch screen, measured diagonally, allows more content to be shown at a time than on the traditional Kindle, with its six-inch screen. Textbook pages are among the reading fare that can most benefit from the extra real estate; charts, diagrams, and their associated explanations will be less likely to be broken among multiple pages.

iPad (college students)
Apple iPad start at $500.00

The iPad makes more sense for college students who will be toting it around and using it to take notes in class and even downloading some of their textbooks electronically. iPads are more flexible than a laptop, offer a longer battery life when compared to even the longest running netbooks, have large touch-screen display, has enhanced multimedia functionality that it provides by way of its 720p high-definition video capability, and can be used for web browsing, e-mail, e-books, and movies and games. Over 10,000 of the most widely adopted college textbooks are now available for the iPad via CourseSmart. But make no mistake, this device is a luxury. If you already have a new laptop computer on your back-to-school list, it could be hard to justify to mom and dad also making the iPad purchase.

For Lewis' laptop picks, go to Page 2.