08/20/2013 03:28 EDT | Updated 10/20/2013 05:12 EDT

Top Five Tech Accessories For Back-to-School

Remember when back-to-school shopping was easy? The toughest decisions we had to make were choosing between a three-ring binder and notebook? Two-strap backpack or over-the-shoulder sling bag? Gel pen or ball point? Nowadays, binders are being replaced with laptops, and tablets and styluses are the new pen and paper. Even text books can now be downloaded on your mobile devices. And hey, no need to pass notes in class anymore, just send a text or tweet from your smartphone. Technology is truly changing the way we work in the classroom and interact in and out of school.

But there are so many options when it comes to tech. How do you figure out what is the best choice? Students are looking for cool and innovative; parents want to make sure the technology they buy will do everything their child needs it to do; and everyone is looking for ways to stay in touch, stay connected and stay social during the school year. With so much out there to choose from, I've narrowed it down to five tech categories that make the grade for both parents and students to ensure everyone in the family is happy and ready for the school year ahead.

1. Laptops

Without a doubt, the most important tool every student should have is a laptop. And if you're going to be lugging a laptop from home, to class, to the library, portability is a key factor. So you want to look for one with a mid-sized screen and a slim, lightweight design. Parents will be glad to know that their kids are using a laptop that can easily go everywhere with them, maximizing the investment. And when students need to power through assignments, they'll appreciate powerful, fast performance. Certain laptops also offer intelligent multitasking capabilities that allow you to share your smartphone screen on your PC for easy typing and seamless file transferring. Or if you're looking for a PC that's a bit more hands-on - and budget-friendly - look for a laptop with touchscreen functionality on a Windows 8 platform that lets you access your content by swiping, scrolling and tapping.

2. Smartphones

For the student who wants to boost their social status, a smartphone is the ultimate communication device. Mom and dad will appreciate it too when they're able to easily check in with their kids, whether they're away at university or out and about with friends after school. As a student, your best bet to satisfy both your social activity and your parent'over bearing ways is to find a phone that is not only great for keeping up with the latest gossip and searching for the nearest library, but is also at the center of your entertainment world with a large HD display and high-quality camera features. For an extra-cool option, look for NFC technology so you can wirelessly share your movies and photos on the big screen for you and your friends to enjoy. And did I forget to mention that the latest phones are even 'student-proof'? Well sort of. Some models are dust and water resistant; the perfect failsafe for those accidental coffee spills during late night study breaks or getting caught in the rain.

3. Headphones

The absolute must-have for every student living in a dorm is a pair of quality, noise-isolating headphones. No matter how hard you try, you just can't escape the loud music, noisy games, television, laughter and talking, and general chaos that go on in the halls. And let's not forget the snoring roommate. Track down a set of headphones that offer soft, advanced noise-isolating ear cushions that provide comfort for hours plus custom designs, and you'll have both peace and style. Ergonomic noise protection keeps parents happy; cool looks and great sound keep students in style and in the zone.

4. Wi-Fi Router

It might not seem like the coolest technology gadget out there but it could be among the most useful. Consider that inevitable heart-stopping moment when you realize you forgot your assignment on your computer at home. With a good Wi-Fi router, you can easily and quickly access your home network from anywhere on your smartphone, laptop, tablet and more, with wireless speeds up to 10x faster than Ethernet. Parents, you'll also want to make sure it's equipped with advanced security and firewall so your child's content is always safe.

5. USB Thumb Drive

Despite the popularity of cloud storage to store and share files on the internet or wireless content streaming via mobile devices, there are still plenty of instances when a student will need a USB flash drive. After all, internet connections at school aren't always the most reliable or even available at times. For this purpose, every student should have at least one USB thumb drive. They're super tiny so easy to throw in your pocket or bag and they store lots of stuff.

The new school year is a great opportunity to update your existing tech especially with how quickly technology changes. Students, just like you wouldn't be caught dead in last year's threads, you don't want to be seen talking on a cell phone that looks like it came from your baby sister's toy box either. And parents, there are a lot of great practical reasons to upgrade your offspring's technology to make sure they have what they need to access lectures and complete their school work -- and maybe even make the honour roll this year.