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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.

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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.

Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in over-buying/over-spending with laptops, so you really need to evaluate up front what the intended use is.

Disney Laptop (young students, ages 6-9)
Disney Netbook by ASUS - $290

Younger students are going online, too, but may need a little more hand-holding and of course, some adult supervision. Asus partnered with Disney for this laptop. It comes with over 24 built-in parental control options, and it's preloaded with lots of free software geared towards children. It also had built-in WiFi, it's very portable and lightweight. Not a bad buy for under $300.00.

Toshiba Laptop (tweens & high-schoolers)
Toshiba Satellite - $680

Big 16-inch screen, seven hours of battery life, lots of memory (four gigs of RAM) and a 500 gigabyte hard disk. This laptop still falls into what you could consider a budget laptop at just $680.00. And it's a Consumer Reports top pick. It also offers facial recognition and a dedicated number pad. The touchpad also supports multi-touch.

Sony Laptop (college)
Sony VAIO Blue Label from Best Buy - $1,049

Best Buy has launched a series of Blue Label laptops from Dell, Sony and Toshiba that are designed to meet the needs of college students. On top of more processing power and built-in software, one of the No. 1 needs of college students is portability, and all the laptops in this line are less than 1.3" thick and weigh 4.4 - 5.5 lbs. They come pre-installed with Microsoft Office and provide longer battery life (up to five hours) for students who take notes in class but may not be sitting next to a power outlet. They also come with a back-light keyboards for typing in low-light, such as late at night when your roommate is trying to sleep.

Bonus Items:

Ninentendo Math Cartridge (young students, ages 6 to 10)
Ninentendo DS Learning Cartridges - $20

Kids already love playing games on the Nintendo DS, but it can also be a great learning tool. Become a math wizard in no time! Numbers and calculations can be fun! Take your lessons "to go" on your Nintendo DSTM with Learn Math. Progress through 10 different topics to learn, practice, and repeat lessons based on a syllabus for grades 1-4.Coordinated with a syllabus of grades 1-4. It improves achievements through exercises and offers small quizzes to enhance the lessons learned.

Digital Camera (tweens and highschoolers)
Samsung Dual View camera - $225

For this Facebook-dominated age, there's the Samsung Dual-View Digital camera, which makes it easy to frame shots of kids and their friends or for self-portraits. It would be perfect for homecoming. This camera offers 12.2-megapixel, captures high-resolution images up to 4000 x 2992 pixels, through a 27mm wide-angle Schneider lens for precise zooming and accuracy. The Dual LCD displays include a 3" touch-screen display and a 1.5" display for self-portraits. This camera is also great in low light and fast action without a flash. It minimizes shake and vibration distortion for improved image clarity. And it isolates subjects in-frame and optimizes conditions to take the best pictures of friends and family. Smile mode allows you to shoot automatically when your subject laughs, smiles or grins.

Digital Recorder (college)
Sony Digital Voice Recorder - $66

Sony Digital Voice Recorder records up to 500 hours of lectures on this little device. This device comes with a USB cable, so you can transfer lectures onto your laptop. This digital voice recorder features a built-in microphone with selectable sensitivity for capturing clear, detailed audio. Dictation correction function allows the recording to be corrected during playback to replace any incorrect information. Activates the recorder only when audible sound is present, conserving tape and eliminating soundless passages. Super High Quality mode records in MP3 format for optimum playback quality and podcast formation. Replays a specific section of the recording over and over again, so you can make notes from a lecture or use for learning languages. This gadget also features simple divide and delete editing functions.

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