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  • It's that time of year when the lazy days of summer recede into memory and the time to crack open the (increasingly digital) books and settle down into the school year returns. Beyond e-readers and tablets, which have started to enter more prominently onto college campuses and into lesson plan formats, more specific gadgets such as smart pens and the USB-equipped Space Bar are becoming available. According to a survey from the National Retail Federation, nearly one in five parents (18.2 percent) said that 100 percent of their back-to-college electronics purchases were influenced by course and school requirements. For back-to-school families, whose lists often include supplies needed for the classroom, 21 percent of parents said that 100 percent of the supplies they buy are influenced by classroom and school requirements. When it came to electronics, 16.4 percent said that every electronic item they buy is influenced by classroom lists and school requirements. Now more than ever, college students have an abundance of gadgets to suit their studies—or distract them from what they should be doing. Here's a look at 10 that offer equal opportunities to encourage academic effort or effortlessly entertain.

  • REVIEW: BlackBerry Balance makes it easy for corporate IT departments to set up a Chinese wall between work data and personal data on the same mobile device.

  • Amid reports that Apple's next iPhone will feature a sapphire display, Kyocera has been getting the word out that it has 41 years of experience growing man-made sapphire crystals and other gemstones to make long-lasting products. Sapphire, said Kyocera, is the second-hardest mineral in the world (diamond, the first, is too pricy for smartphone displays), and its crystalline structure "makes it virtually scratch-proof." To help prove this, and to tout the Kyocera Brigadier, a rugged Android smartphone with a Sapphire Shield display, Verizon Wireless recently sent journalists a press kit designed for abusing the Brigadier. The Brigadier isn't light or thin or attractive, but it is nearly indestructible and a strong fit for field service, military or any vertical where a phone is likely to be dropped, bashed, mistakenly thrown into a toolbox or plunged into water—and where push-to-talk capabilities are considered a boon. This isn't a review so much as a very hands-on testament to the strength of sapphire glass—and the Brigadier.

  • At long last, after months of speculation, rumors and image leaks, the Samsung Galaxy Alpha has made its official appearance. The device is designed to be a flagship alternative to the Galaxy S5, and is arguably one of the better-looking products Samsung has put out in quite some time. Unlike its predecessor, the Galaxy S5, the Galaxy Alpha eschews plastic in favor of metal, creating a more elegant design. Now that Samsung has finally taken the wraps off, it's time to evaluate the Galaxy Alpha and discuss the key features that are likely to appeal most to potential buyers. It appears at first blush that the Galaxy Alpha is designed as an iPhone competitor and could very well be a competitor for its own sister smartphone, the Galaxy S5. This slide show will take a close look at the Galaxy Alpha and comb through its specifications to find the features that help set it apart from the crowd. The Galaxy Alpha is not necessarily a groundbreaking smartphone, but it could be an attractive option for many customers.

  • Apple's new and improved iPad is in production, according to a report from Bloomberg. Both the iPad Air 2 and an updated iPad Mini are in production and will be ready for launch later this year, according to the report. The devices are expected to come with multiple improvements and will likely sell quite well, given the recent successes Apple has had in the tablet space. As usual, Apple hasn't revealed any details about the new iPad models. In fact, the company hasn't even confirmed that it's planning to release a new iPad, though every sign points to a release of new iPads this fall. When it does, there's a good chance that the devices will appeal to a broad range of customers in both the consumer space and the enterprise. Apple is one of the few companies that has bridged the gap between those two core markets, and there's no indication among the market factors that that will change any time soon. However, this eWEEK slide show zeroes in on what the next iPad might look like and discusses the features we would like to see in Apple's upcoming slates. From the addition of Sapphire to enhanced security, the new iPad should be a must-have tablet if the following features make their way to the device.

  • Microsoft has decided that the best way to fight Apple is to take on the company with a direct attack. First, Microsoft targeted Apple's Siri with a series of ads showing how its own virtual personal assistant, Cortana, can perform more tasks than Apple's alternative. Now, though, Microsoft has decided it's time to take the fight to the MacBook Air with ads that showcase how its own Surface Pro 3 is, in the minds of the Redmond, Wash.-based company, a better option for consumers. The ads, while admittedly one-sided, examine the key features that Microsoft believes set its own products apart in the marketplace. Microsoft contends that the Surface Pro 3's touch-screen, the device's Intel Core i7 processor option and other aspects of its design make it more suitable for consumers. Apple, at least so far, has yet to respond publicly or launched an ad campaign of its own taking aim at Microsoft's claims. Frankly, that isn't Apple's style. At this point, it's a one-sided conversation that doesn't pretend to be an objective comparison of what the two devices offer to buyers. This slide show aims to carry that flag by comparing 10 key features in both devices. It's up to buyers to decide which device best suits their needs.

  • The iPhone 6 is scheduled to be unveiled Sept. 9, according to the latest reports. It's unclear what Apple will announce at the event, but it's believed that the company will at the very least show off the 4.7-inch model of the iPhone 6. Some rumors have suggested that Apple is also working on a 5.5-inch model slated to launch later this year. There is a lot riding on a successful launch of the iPhone 6. While the company might still be one of the world's most popular smartphone makers, it's also facing increasing competition from around the world. Companies like Samsung and LG are ready to take advantage of any shortcoming in the next iPhone generation. What's worse, Apple has been disappointing some smartphone buyers with hardware updates that weren't as "groundbreaking" as the company might like the market to believe. But Apple has an opportunity to change perceptions and boost its sales for the next several quarters with the iPhone 6 introduction. Here's a look at the factors that will determine whether the iPhone 6 has a successful launch.

  • Apple on July 29 announced an update to its MacBook Pro line. From the low-end 13-inch model to the higher-end 15-inch version, the device line, which is one of the most popular on the market, has to look even more attractive to customers looking to buy a notebook. The new MacBook Pro 13-inch model is $100 cheaper, which makes it more affordable to those on a budget. In addition, Apple has boosted its processor speeds and improved the MacBook line's memory capacity. Apple has promised that the improved computers, which didn't actually get a cosmetic facelift, will deliver better performance than ever before and will, ultimately, become a much better option for customers looking for both mobility options and higher-end devices like the 15-inch MacBook Pro with the Retina display. Whether it's time to buy a MacBook Pro, however, is up for debate among some consumers and enterprise users. After all, several notebooks are available now that are quite attractive. With Chromebooks continuing to increase in popularity, some may not view the MacBook Pro as a desirable buy right now. However, the truth is that with the MacBook Pro's new features, now is the time to buy one.

  • Apple announced that its next Macintosh operating system, OS X Yosemite, will be available July 24 in its first public beta. The announcement comes as the company is celebrating another successful quarter of lofty profits and heavy Mac sales as it prepares to launch a new iPhone this fall. The second half of 2014, in other words, will be a major period for Apple and could help the company generate unprecedented profits and revenue if analysts' forecasts hold true. Until then, however, Apple is giving the public the opportunity to try out Yosemite. Apple plans to launch the final build this fall, but consumers willing to try out a beta product can take the new OS for a spin and see if it will be right for them when Apple releases it later this year. More importantly, it will give Apple the requisite number of testers it needs to discover and fix bugs that might cause problems when a wider group of users start working with it this fall. In this slide show, eWEEK will provide a primer for those thinking about adopting Yosemite to see if the OS is right for them. We'll highlight the top features and the items likely to make Yosemite a popular option for many Mac users.

  • eWEEK recently received a hands-on demonstration of the Amazon Fire smartphone that AT&T will exclusively sell starting July 25. Priced at $199 with a two-year contract, the Fire might seem to be breaking the Amazon pattern of pricing hardware low and making up its profits on software and services down the road. However, that $199 is for a 32GB version (not the industry-standard 16GB). It also comes with a one-year Amazon Prime subscription, a value of $99 (if you already have Prime, Amazon will tack on another year) and unlimited cloud storage. Those details make the phone seem more ready to fight. However, whether the device can beat out those of competitors—or more exactly dominators Apple and Samsung—for consumer attention, is another matter. Amazon is making a solid effort, surely, with its Mayday 24/7/365 help service, Firefly technology, which identifies and helps people shop for more than 100 million things and what Amazon calls Dynamic Perspective—technology that enables users to, among other things, navigate the phone with a wrist jerk, turn pages with their eyes and play games by moving their heads. Have a look for yourself.

  • The Samsung Galaxy Tab S is the thinnest tablet on the market, and the smaller of the two sizes—display options are 8.4 and 10.5 inches—is easy to hold in one hand and light enough, at just 1 pound, to hold at length, whether during a long subway commute or giving a business presentation. The other stand-out feature is its display. While in the past Samsung has used liquid-crystal displays, the Tab S features a Super AMOLED, like the Galaxy S5 smartphone, and the result is an incredibly rich and crisp display. But impressive critical specs alone aren't enough to sell the number of tablets Samsung intends to, and so the company has partnered with content creators and packed the Tab S with software and offers of still more software and services—such as three free months of both Audible and Sirius XM Radio, three free months of The New York Times and Marvel Unlimited, and six-month offers of The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Indeed, so much on the Tab S has been done in duplicate or triplicate, it can feel like Samsung is, by turns, offering users every option or satisfying lucrative marketing deals. Likely, the latter is a matter of individual preference—much like the styling of the Tab S, which is more flashy than the starkly modern iPad. Still, when it comes to what matters most—speed, battery life, size, weight, display—the Tab S is an undeniable winner.

  • Amazon, as expected, unveiled its first smartphone, the Fire Phone. The Amazon Fire, introduced June 18, has a starting price of $199 with a two-year service agreement on AT&T's network. Amazon will also offer a 64GB option for $299.  The device that was widely anticipated and discussed before the official announcement comes with a design that looks awfully similar to the iPhone. Perhaps, more importantly, it's the first smartphone to come from Amazon and the first device to leverage the company's Fire OS, a proprietary version of Android. Amazon's Fire Phone is not a run-of-the-mill handset and includes a wide range of features not commonly found in a smartphone. For instance, the smartphone comes with four cameras on the front to provide 3D-like features. The smartphone also has the Mayday tech support feature built into its software to provide on-device support in just seconds. All in all, the Fire smartphone is an interesting device and one that AT&T customers should watch for when it goes on sale July 25. This slide show highlights the key features in Amazon's Fire phone.

  • Samsung hosted a New York press event June 12 to introduce its newest flagship device, the Galaxy Tab S. "Innovation has taken display technology to places it has never been before," said Samsung America's Ryan Bidan, adding that Samsung was again taking it to "another place it's never been ... and offering a brand new viewing experience." Later in the show, an executive said the display technology has been advanced to the point where it now offers an "emotional experience." All this pomp comes with Samsung's transition from LCD to Super AMOLED, technology that it had until now reserved for its best smartphones. The Tab S' display boasts 4 million pixels, and because AMOLED requires fewer layers of materials than LCD, it's also the thinnest tablet on the market. While all this is sure to turn consumers' heads, Samsung has also packed on the security features, leaving no question of whether the Tab S is enterprise ready. With the Tab S, said Bidan, "we are proudly putting our flag in the ground."

  • BlackBerry isn't selling the GSM version of its Z30 through a carrier in the U.S. Instead, you can buy it from the company itself or through Amazon.com. It's the biggest BlackBerry smartphone yet, and it does some things that might change the way you look at the company's devices. How big is it? It has a 5-inch AMOLED screen—which can display high-definition images. It's also heavier than some of its competition, and the battery can last for days. It has impressive dynamic range and excellent sound (for a phone). But perhaps more important, this BlackBerry has the ability to run Android software in addition to apps designed specifically for the company's BlackBerry 10 operating system. While not every Android app will work and you can't use the Google Play store, most of the apps I tried worked fine. The larger screen means a larger and easier-to-use keyboard that includes BlackBerry's excellent predictive typing. The Z30 retains BlackBerry's secure networking and messaging capabilities. It also supports BlackBerry Enterprise Services just fine. This may be the best BlackBerry yet. Take a look at the reasons why in this slide show.

  • IDC analysts this month predicted that the global PC market will continue its contraction, with shipments expected to fall by 6 percent this year over 2013, despite some signs of slowing in mature markets. While there are positive signs for the PC space—the continued migration by businesses away from Windows XP, slowing tablet demand and improving economies—the overall forecast is still to see tablet shipments overtaking PC volume in the fourth quarter, and annually in 2016. "The transition toward mobile and cloud-based computing is unstoppable," said Loren Loverde, vice president of Worldwide PC Trackers for IDC. While tablets and smartphones were popular at the Computex 2014 show, there were a number of notebook PCs that were unveiled in the first week of June from such OEMs as Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Asus. Most of the systems epitomized the ongoing transition within the PC space toward new form factors and a wider variety of components and operating systems. This eWEEK slide show takes a look at some of those systems, more than half of which came from HP.

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