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May 31, 2007

Mom In A Minivan Shops for Kids' PCs and Cell Phones

After I posted with details on the technology needs for K-8 grade students, I wondered what the stores had to say about choosing a cell phone, computer and USB Flash drive for kids. So I jumped into my minivan and headed to Best Buy and the Apple Store. Both have trained sales staff and the ability to see the products hands on. Best Buy has a section of computers, software, peripherals (printers) and cell phones. The Apple Store I went to also had the computers, software and peripherals and as a bonus was around the corner from all the major cell phone stores. Before I went to the stores, I did one last search on CNET Reviews and Newegg.com to get an idea of the products available. Those sites are useful in becoming familiar with technical terms. Webopedia is a good resource if you are looking for information on what is RAM, CPU or general computer information.  Wikipedia is user driven but also a good source of information, for example geeks in training will enjoy the section for "how a computer works".

Basic_computerBest Buy said that desktops are a good fit for K-8 grade children or a family computer since they are more economical. The desktops computers can be divided by type to help in choosing the right one: Basic, Photos & Music, Entertainment, Gaming. For the basic type they suggested at least 1 GIG of RAM, a hard drive with at least 160 GIG's storage, and AMD or Intel processors (processors speed is not a big deal for K-8 graders). Computers for photos & music, entertainment and gaming will need to be more powerful. They also showed some appliance called "Secure Spot" which has internet filters, virus protection and parental monitoring applications all in one. iBoss is another appliance that was mentioned on one of the review sites. For USB ports, they recommend putting them on a key chain or neck string so they do not get lost if students are bringing them to school.  Microsoft Encarta was mentioned as the popular encyclopedia software used for students. Microsoft also has parental controls avaliable for Windows and Vista.

Mac_2 The Apple Store has many interesting offerings for parents who are looking for family or single use PC's for kids. Before going to the store you can call and make a personal shopping appointment to have a face to face appointment for one hour.  They also offering educational discounts that apply to school staff, PTO Board staff and homeschoolers.  The store has a Genius Bar to help customers with questions they have on purchased items and free workshops for training.

The salesperson I talked to said they would first ask the parent if the computer is for the family or a single child. The family computer would need to be more powerful. The type of computer would also depend on if it would be used for videos and graphics or just internet access and installed software. They recommended a desktop computer for families with K-8 grade children. Laptops are recommended for college students. When I asked if it would be good to have a laptop to watch DVD's on family trips, the Apple salespersons commented that laptops are expensive DVD players. It would make more sense to buy a desktop and a personal DVD player separately if family vacations are the only time the PC would need to be moblie. The MAC OS X Tiger is a good tool for Apple users to set up different accounts for the children on a family computer and control access to different applications. For example, some parents do not want their children having access to a webcam (built in) and the internet. With user accounts, parents can restrict access for their children to have access to the applications (like photobooth and ichat) that use the webcam.

Kajeet_2 Best Buy showed me a very interesting phone called "Kajeet". The plan is a pay as you go  and has different services/rates. Kajeet is developed for families with functionality like the configurator that allows ( the following details from the Kajeet site):

  1. TimeManager: It's up to you when your kajeet phone can and can't be used. (Make sure study time is devoted to studying!) Here's the good news: Use ContactManager (see below) to make sure you can always contact your kid on his or her kajeet phone, even if services like texting and calling are turned off for contacting everyone else.
  2. ContactManager: Set up the phone book of who can and can't call and text your phone (and vice versa) -- and decide whose wallet pays for those calls. More about wallets.
  3. Refill Balance: How much money is left in your wallet? your kid's wallet? The Configurator lets you know at a glance, and enables you to do a quick refill or set up auto refills.
  4. Account Activity: How much did your kid spend on calls, downloads, games and other things? One click lets you view all account activities.
  5. FeatureManager: This is the place you can manage his or her access.
  6. Add A Phone: When your kajeet family grows, the Configurator is the place to go to start setting up your account and wallet.

There are many general family plans avaliable for parents that just want to add another phone to their existing plan. In those situations, it will be important to set rules and guidelines for the children on the plan. Verizon has the LG Migo phone for kids has programmable numbers and an emergency key. The Sprint store recommended the SANYO SCP-2400 and 3100 for the parental control features. Sprint also has the family locator program. Online I saw that Disney has a moblie phone and Cingular has the Firefly.


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