e-life Advisor~Back to School

Charlie Hoover of Geek Housecalls

Helpful information regarding your Electronic life- all the computers, smartphones, tablets, home entertainment and internet tools you rely on to be productive and entertained.

mer is rapidly coming to an end and that means it’s time for families to turn their attention towards preparing for school. Every year, back-to-school preparation seems to become an increasingly more complicated process and technology is an important, yet stressful, part of the back-to-school checklist. To help relieve some of this stress, I’ve chosen a couple of questions this month that focus on back-to-school issues.  

John from Lexington asks: “I just bought a couple of cheap netbooks for my two teens for school. I discovered that they don’t seem to have any software for them to do homework (write papers, etc). I’d prefer to not spend much money, if possible. Any ideas?”

Yes, there are actually several great services available. I’ll be focusing on Googles’ product here, but there are other options like LibreOffice that I’ll go into detail about on our Blog [http://geekhousecalls.com/Blog/tabid/82/entryid/200/eLifeAdvisorAugust2012.aspx] I also recommend checking with the school(s) regarding software requirements or purchasing deals with companies like Microsoft. There are often discounted rates for students that make software more affordable. 

My favorite recommendation is a service called Google Docs (drive.google.com). It’s a suite of Internet-based applications that lets you create documents, spreadsheets and presentations from any web browser. The service is free so all they’ll need is a Google account. Because it’s based in the ‘Cloud’, data isn’t stored on their computer directly and everything is automatically backed up as they work. This means that if their computer dies (even in mid-sentence), they simply log onto their account from any machine to finish their work without losing any data. Files can also be shared with others for live collaboration, making it a great solution for big projects. You can use this feature to track their progress and even help them with their homework remotely. It’s a perfect solution for busy families! 

Beth from Lexington asks; “My son is starting high school and I’m thinking about getting him an iPad to help with his school work but I’m on the fence about the expense. Do you think its worth investing in one at his age? Is there a good cheap alternative?”

You aren’t alone in asking this question Beth. It comes up a lot and to be honest it’s a very personal decision so giving a solid answer is tricky. Many schools are adopting iPads as an alternative to laptops, so you may want to check with the school on what their plans (if any) might entail. The iPad is a powerful and flexible tool for doing everything from homework and reading to playing games and watching movies. It’s also possible to enable parental controls to limit what it can do, which is one of the reasons schools are loving them so much .

If your main concern is the expense, there are numerous lower-cost alternatives. The ‘Nexus 7’ is my current favorite non-Apple tablet; it’s less than half the price (roughly $200), very powerful, more portable (its physically smaller which is great for smaller hands) and has access to a similar collection of apps. It’s an amazing deal for the price .

In the end there has never been a better time to be a curious kid and the specific device isn’t as important as what they get out of it. After all, the tools available to them are the stuff of science fiction! Both devices will give them access to reference material from around the world, interactive learning, productivity tools, and yes even games. Whichever you choose though, I also recommend buying a hardened case for it like the ‘Otterbox’ to protect your investment. Even the best intentioned kid can have an accident and gravity is very unforgiving to mobile devices. 

Thanks John & Beth for sending in your questions. If you have an e-Life problem or concern of your own, you can contact me via email (elife@geekhousecalls.com), Facebook (facebook.com/geekhousecalls) or Twitter (@elifeadvisor). I look forward to helping you!

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