I guess my question is, at the $100-$150 price point, is there really any significant difference between compacts? Ironically, first student who knows her way around a camera doesn't really care what she gets, and second student who barely knows the difference between apeture-priority and shutter-priority would probably prefer a FZ28, but isn't going to get one.
Oh sure there are somedifferences. A wider lens here, a longer zoom range there. This camera has a bigger LCD display, that camera has a more powerful flash. But at the end of the day there is not enough differences to get excited over.
Personally I would seek out the "last years" models of Canon or Panasonic. Both are good companies and good cameras.But, make sure you are not buying a rebuild from a scummy online vendor. Better yetI would buy from a local store out of the local store stock (Best Buy, Wally World, Office Depot, Staples are all safe bets if you don't have a regular camera store) as they close out last year's inventory to bring in the current year's products.
Why is a close out (last year's model) good? Because this year's model is not a huge improvement. 99% of the time the new camera is neversuch a huge improvement (especially at this price point) to justify an absolute have to buy. Secondly, as prices are reduced, you can buy abigger/badder/better model of less money.