Hopefully you’re enjoying the summer of your life right now, taking every opportunity to get outside and soak up these long, sun-filled days. You’ve probably noticed though that the back-to-school ads have already started, which means it’ll pretty soon be time to start gearing up for the new school year.

Heading off to college can be an exciting prospect, but also a little bit daunting as we leave behind all that is familiar and head into the unknown. I remember my dentist telling me once that the first year of college seems to last forever, and the rest just fly by. And you know what, he was absolutely right. You experience so many new things and create so many unique memories in that first year that in hindsight it seems hard to believe so much happened in just one school year.

The days before the digital boom
I went to university in the time before the cell phone revolution and before digital cameras were widely available, and would you believe I don’t have a single photo from that time of my life, never mind a reel of video clips. Nowadays with all the technology at our fingertips it’s unthinkable that every significant period in our lives wouldn’t be marked with copious amounts of photos and videos.

And of course we have loads of different ways to share these new memories with those back home via the plethora of social media out there, which serve as the digital diaries of our lives.

Share straight from your camera
Many of us regularly use our smart phones to upload photos and videos to the internet, but there are increasing numbers of cameras with amazing wifi capabilities that allow us to shoot high quality photos and videos and share them in a snap. I posted an article recently looking at the whole area of wifi enabled cameras so take a look at that if you want to learn more. For a quick recommendation, check out the Galaxy NX by Samsung, a manufacturer that is at the forefront of in-camera wifi technology.

So many communication options
One of the defining features of the times that we live in is the ease with which we can communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world, and also the variety of channels through which we can do so. Skype is one of the most well-known and widely used services, but there are a number of other similar services out there like Facetime, Google Voice and Google Hangouts (for video). There’s also lesser known services like Jitsi, VoxOx, goober, Ekiga and ooVoo, to name but a few.

Best Buy even carries a number of devices that can help you to stay in touch with friends and loved ones, and today I’m going to give you the low down on some of those.

Netcam
Netcam by Belkin isn’t strictly a two-way communication device but it does allow you to remotely access a camera from your smart device. You could think of it a bit like a webcam, except you access it via your smart device rather than a web browser. Parents might like the Netcam because it’ll allow them to monitor just how much time their little protege is actually spending with their nose in the books! Netcam connects directly to a wifi router, so setup is super easy. You can also opt to receive an email whenever the camera detects motion. As well as capturing video, the Netcam also has a mic to capture audio, and it can also capture images at night with it’s infrared capabilities.

netTALK
netTALK Duo is a VoIP (voice over internet protocol) device which allows you to make long distance calls to anywhere in the US and Canada. It connects directly to your computer or internet connection. And if you opt for the Duo Wifi you don’t even need that physical connection. You can also bring the Duo Wifi with you on your travels and make calls to the US and Canada from anywhere in the world, as long as you have access to wifi. netTALK comes with voice messaging and you also get caller ID, call waiting, three way (or conference) calling, and call forwarding. It can also send your voice messages straight to your email as an audio file attachment, which is a pretty unique feature. netTALK is pitched as a replacement for your traditional home phone and you can actually transfer over your old landline number (for a one-time fee), so that your contacts will never notice the difference. netTALK is not a free service however; you get one year of service included with the device and after that you have to pay an annual fee, which is actually pretty low.

netTalk also has an app which allows you to make free calls to other netTALK users, and international calls at low rates. It also lets you listen to international radio, which is kind of neat.

Ooma
Ooma is a similar internet phone service to netTALK, but the difference here is that you continue to use your own phone, instead of one supplied by the company. This means the service can only be accessed from your home. The hardware supplied is the Telo box which you first plug into your high-speed internet router. You then plug your home phone into the box and you’re almost ready to go. You get loads of free features with the Telo including, caller ID, call waiting, voicemail with remote access and more besides. Ooma only offers free calls within Canada however, not the US. There is a premium service you can subscribe to which gives you further options. As with NetTalk you can transfer your old phone number over for a one-time fee. The Telo also comes with a bluetooth device which allows you to answer your mobile phone via your home phone.

It’s difficult to know how good the quality of any VoIP service is going to be before you try it, but the Ooma website does go to great lengths to assure you that the quality of their voice calls is as good as it gets.

This is the world of instant communication and really there is no reason not to be in regular contact with your family and friends this school year. Do a little research, find the service that’s right for you, and make yourself heard!