With the new academic year about to begin, it’s time to make sure your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch is ready to become the ultimate learning companion. Because whether you (or your children) are going off to school, college or university, each iOS device is a potentially brilliant educational tool. 

Think about the iPad: it’s cheaper, lighter and smaller than most laptops, and has the sort of battery life that notebook owners can only dream of. Then there’s the iPhone and iPod touch, which pack the power of a computer into the palm of your hand, can get you online just about anywhere and do countless other things besides. Combine these amazing devices with the right apps and kit, and you’ll be the envy of your friends.

So before you head back to school or off to university, we’ve got 10 simple things you should do to turn your iOS device into an indispensable learning companion. Among these tips are ways to protect your device, type faster, be more organised and productive and, if you’re a concerned parent, protect your offspring from running up huge bills or viewing unsuitable content.


1 Protect it…

A case for your iOS device is a no-brainer, especially when you’re going to be carrying it around and getting it in and out of a bag. Some of today’s iPhone and iPad cases are so attractive they can be part fashion accessory, but make sure it protects the device properly. 

If you’re after something particularly rugged, have a look at the Griffin Survivor (from £14, bit.ly/f14W0I), which has been tested to meet military standards. It comes in a range of colours and is available for all iOS devices. Alternatively, the Pro/Tec Executive case (£20, bit.ly/NsyqDp) is a smart and excellent-value leather flip case for the iPhone, although it leaves the top edge of the device exposed.

For the iPad, why not kill two birds with one stone and get a case with a built-in keyboard? One of the best options around is the ZAGGfolio (100 euros or £78.50, bit.ly/yWQep2), which comes in iPad 2 and 3rd-gen iPad versions, and packs a lovely near-full?size keyboard inside a protective case. While it may seem pricey, remember that you’re getting a keyboard and a protective case in one compact package. 

2 …and insure it!

Whichever iOS device you’ve got, it’s an expensive bit of kit, so knowing that it’s insured will give you some peace of mind. Note that the AppleCare Protection Plan, if you bought it with your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch, is merely an extended warranty: it won’t cover theft or loss, for example, in the way that the right insurance policy will.

You can get specific phone and tablet insurance from a range of sources – a good place to start is one of the price comparison websites such as MoneySavingExpert.com. If you buy insurance for your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, make sure you get cover for accidental damage (including liquid damage if possible), loss and theft, and find out what the excess is if you do claim. Don’t forget to read all the fine print carefully to check for any caveats in the cover.

However, before you rush out and buy designated insurance, ring up your home insurance provider and ask them about cover for your iOS device outside the home. You may already be covered without realising it, or they may add cover for a small additional fee. Again, remember to check what the excess is and what caveats there are.

3 Make sure you can get online

When you haven’t got internet access, an iOS device can feel a bit like a chocolate teapot. And while you may not need to get online all the time as a student – it’s more of a luxury than a must-have – having the option can be extremely useful. If you’ve got an iPhone or 3G iPad, you can connect it directly to your mobile network. But if you’ve got an iPod touch or a Wi-Fi-only iPad, you’ll need to see if there’s Wi-Fi at your school or university.

If not, there are other options. If you have an iPhone, you can use its Personal Hotspot to get your Wi-Fi-only device online (you’ll find the options you need in Settings > General > Network > Personal Hotspot). Your network provider may charge extra for using this, so check with them before you enable it. Other types of smartphone have a similar feature, typically called tethering or Portable Hotspot.

The alternative is to get a mobile Wi-Fi device (for which different phone networks have different names). This is a pebble-sized piece of kit that connects to a mobile network and broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal, so you can connect your iPad or iPod touch. It’s available from a number of network providers including Orange (Mobile WiFi, oran.ge/oyfDu1), Three (MiFi, bit.ly/vxXpi0), T-Mobile (Wireless pointer, bit.ly/klL9Sq) and Vodafone (Mobile MiFi, bit.ly/d5iuDR). 

If you’re not sure what the signal strength is going to be like in the area you’re going to be using it (and often there’s no way to discover other than to try it out), talk to the network you’re buying from to see what cancellation options there are – or go for a short-term contract.

4 Get your calendar in sync

There’s nothing worse than that sinking feeling when you realise the huge assignment you haven’t yet started is due tomorrow and not next week. Make sure you don’t miss your deadlines by setting up your Calendar so you can view it on your iOS device, as well as online from any computer. You’ve got various options here, the most obvious being iCloud. You can get your calendar to sync this way by tapping Settings > iCloud and flicking Calendars to On. If you already use another calendar service, such as Google Calendar, you can link to this as well. (Go to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > your Google account, and flick Calendars to On.)

Then when you add something to the Calendar app, tap Calendar in the Add Event screen, and pick the one you use to sync, which will ensure the event is saved where you’ll be able to view it. And don’t forget to set up an Alert, so you are warned of upcoming deadlines. You can access your iCloud calendar online using any computer at www.icloud.com, or Google Calendar at calendar.google.com

5 Choose a keyboard

Whether it’s lab reports, lecture notes or an essay, the chances are you’re going to need to do a fair bit of typing on your device. But writing out long notes on your iPhone or iPod touch isn’t practical, or comfortable. And while the iPad’s onscreen keyboard is fine for short bursts, it’s never going to beat a proper external keyboard if you need to type something out quickly. There are plenty to choose from, all of which connect wirelessly to your iOS device using Bluetooth.

If you’re investing in a keyboard to carry around with you, it can be tempting to opt for a smaller or even folding one. The drawback of these is that you invariably compromise your ability to type quickly and you will inevitably make more errors. Instead, go for a full-size one and your hands will thank you in the long run.

Apple’s Wireless Keyboard (£57, bit.ly/2DH0Ie) is full-size, so typing long reams of text on it is a breeze. A cheaper option is the KeySonic KSK-3201 MacBT (£37, www.keysonic.de), which isn’t quite full-size, but is large enough to type on comfortably.