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Fill Your Bag With Timely Tech

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The tools you’re probably not using this school year (but should).

My elementary school career began in 1989. I was four years old. In March that year, Tim Berners-Lee would submit his proposal for a distributed system at CERN, laying the foundation for what would become the Internet, and changing the world forever.

But it would take a while for the future to make it’s way to Bracebridge, Ontario, so for much of the 90’s I was filling my backpack with books, pencils and maybe a calculator. It was a heavy bag.

Today, I could replace everything I used to carry in my backpack with an iPad. And you know what? I would. Technology has changed everything since I was in school and aside from a few concerns about information retention (more on that later), I think we should embrace it. And since this month’s theme at The Reply is Breaking the Norm, let’s check out some school-worthy tech that you might not usually give a second glance.

I can already hear you groaning, so let’s get one thing straight: things may have changed dramatically around The Reply over the summer (for the better) but you can still count on me to write about the technology you should use (yet probably won’t). Because it doesn’t matter how many beautifully designed, minimalist text editors with Markdown capabilities I recommend, you’re still going to write your term paper in Word.


For The Budding Creative

What you’re going to use: Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator

What you probably should be using: Serif’s Affinity Photo and Designer

If you’re doing any kind of creative course today, you might be learning to use Photoshop and Illustrator, but there are alternatives! I’ve been using Affinity Photo and Designer for a few months now and I have found them to be not only worthy of the inevitable comparisons to Adobe’s tools, but in many ways more intuitive. They have most of what you may be used to in Creative Suite, and all the crap you will never miss. Price aside (more on that in a second), Photo’s RAW editing options, Designer’s pixel support and the interoperability between formats with both programs, is enough to make a convert out of me.

But I’ll make it even easier for you. Simply put, it’s a matter of money. Depending on how you’re pricing it out, Photoshop and Illustrator can cost you upwards of US $50 a month. Affinity Photo and Designer cost around $60 each, so in just over two months you’ve made up the difference.

You don’t have to make concessions with them either. Affinity Photo and Designer are pro-level creative tools that you can use for real-world projects. The creative assets for the new Reply website were designed and built with Affinity Photo and Designer, and I routinely use them both for client work. If someone ever requests a file in PSD, AI or other proprietary format, the apps will easily export one for you. You can also work with all your friends’ Adobe files, and then buy them a round of drinks because they are probably broke.

For Pretty Much Everyone

Old tech rarely comes back from the grave, unless it’s a classic video game, console or Windows. Yes, even after seemingly trying to alienate its entire userbase with Windows 8, Microsoft has made a significant jump forward with Windows 10 (so much so that they even skipped an entire version number). So when you go shopping for a new laptop for this semester, don’t be surprised to see Windows 10 everywhere.

And let me tell you something. Remember that classmate who was super awkward last year, but then disappeared for the summer, and now has you doing double takes when you pass them between classes? Turns out that’s kind of like Windows 10. Because if you sit down and have lunch with it, you might find yourself wanting to get to know it better. Windows 10 still has its quirks, but a few months of steady use has me believing that Microsoft under new-ish CEO Satya Nadella might just be as promising as I once thought it could be.

Oh yeah, and Microsoft showed up at an Apple keynote over the summer, which is only good news. Microsoft is at its best when it is working with hardware manufacturers, not against them.

For The Unorganized (Or Super-Organized)

Getting back on track, let’s look at keeping ourselves organized at school because we both know you’re not actually going to use that paper day planner you bought. OmniFocus by Omni Group is not cheap, in fact, I’m willing to bet at $40 for the standard version, it is one of the most expensive organizers you can buy. But as they say, “you get what you pay for.” (Unless you’re paying for Creative Cloud, like me, in which case, have you not been reading this article?).

In my time with OmniFocus, I find its power comes from multiple levels of organization. You can collect all your tasks, details and deadlines in one place — adding context and as much information as you need, all while being able to focus down on specific tasks when you need them.

To me, OmniFocus represents the pinnacle of organizational software — and I’ve used everything from ToDoist to Wunderlist, Evernote to Clear and nothing has really come close to helping me in the way OmniFocus has. I am, however, a realist (at least when it comes to software) so I realize its price will put it outside most budgets. In the case that you simply cannot drop $40, I offer Asana as a very worthy alternative. In fact, Asana does more than OmniFocus if you need to collaborate with a team. But if you’re looking for my personal recommendation, it’s OmniFocus.

For Shaming Yourself Into Going Outside

FitBits are great for this.

For Best Results, Turn It Off

Like I mentioned in my introduction, I hate textbooks. Well, hated. I don’t use them much anymore (that’s a lie, I just bought an awesome JQuery textbook). The point is, A) text books are stupidly heavy and; B) if you’re in school you’re probably feeling the sting of shelling out $1,000 or more on old-fashion printed course material. But here’s the catch, you might actually be doing yourself a favour by buying the printed-copies.

Seriously, those textbooks are going to do more than just give you the bulging hernia you didn’t even know you could get at 19. They’re going to give you a leg up over digital reading material. Our brains retain more with printed material.

Plus, no matter what software you have, I still think it’s easier (and way more fun) to mark up your textbooks with pencil, highlighter and sticky notes. So whether or not you can put all your books on an iPad, maybe isn’t the right question, it’s should you?

What’s your favourite tech to use at school?


Christopher is Co-Founder and Managing Editor at The Reply. He has a fondness for strong coffee, good books and foreign news services. When he was five years old his father helped him raise a family of chipmunks over the winter, you should ask him about it. Professionally, he’s spent time as a technology journalist, PR consultant, and freelance blogger. Christopher’s work has appeared in a lot of trade magazines you’ve probably never heard of and maybe some you have. He has a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Toronto and a certificate in Media Foundations from Humber College in Toronto.