Apple’s latest iPad tablet seems to get all the attention these days with a new model that sold 3-million copies in the first week it was available and a deal with publishers to create digital textbooks. But, there’s another kind of tablet that is giving the iPad a run for the money in the classroom: Android tablets.
That’s not to say that the new iPad is a slouch. Far from it, the latest iPad is the slate computer that teachers and students should have gotten in the first place with a sharp screen and a quad-core processor. But, what the iPad really has going for it is over 200,000 apps that run on it – many of which are aimed at education, outstripping what’s available for Android systems. The library of downloadable software for both is growing daily.
Apple continues to be the sales leader in tablets with about 60 percent of the market last year, but the data from IDC shows that its lead has dropped from 75 percent in 2010. Based on the market analysis firm’s forecasts, Android systems have a shot at being the tablet of choice in the coming years with 55 percent of sales in 2016 versus 44 percent for the iPad. The other 1 percent is a variety of specialty tablets.
This increased popularity is because Android tablets pick up where iPads leave off. Sure, they are light and have finger-friendly screens, but rather than having essentially two models to choose from, Android has fostered freedom of choice for classroom slates. There are dozens of tablet designs that use several generations of Android software, which have been whimsically named Gingerbread (version 2.3), Honeycomb (version 3) and Ice Cream Sandwich (version 4).
Instead of a single iPad format, Android offers tablets that are big, small and even a slate that converts to a notebook. With rare exception, these systems offer better connections to the outside world with flash card readers, USB ports and an HDMI connector to directly feed a classroom projector with video and audio.
The big deal for districts is that Android tablets are generally available for at least a hundred dollars less than a similarly equipped iPad. And, for cash-strapped districts, every tech dollar counts.
What’s Android’s plan of attack? The makers of these tablets have one thing in mind: offer more for less. To see how much, I gathered together six of the latest Android classroom-ready slates. They had to have screens that were 8.9-inches or larger, used Android 2.3 (aka, Gingerbread) or newer software and have a price tag that could not exceed $350. District accountants take notice, that’s $150 less than the cheapest iPad.
Reflecting the diverse market, I got a cornucopia of Android tablets. I got ones that were tiny and thin, big and wide as well as ones that are just as appropriate on a desk as on a student’s hands or a teacher’s lap.
Because these devices have to work well in a variety of environments, I asked the manufacturers to supply the tablet’s matching docking station and keyboard. I had mixed results, though, with half not offering a dock or not sending one. Still, it was an eye-opening experience, because the best slates often have the best docks.
The bottom line is that any of these slates has the ability to be the centerpiece of a digital classroom and are equally good for teaching and learning. This trend towards slates is so strong that in a few years, school notebooks may start resembling dinosaurs in the classroom.
One slate, however, stands head and shoulders above the rest. Good for everything from interactive lessons and working with online lessons to email and Web research, the Asus Eee Transformer TF101 slate is not only thin, light and powerful but can, with its add-on mobile dock, be turned into a small notebook in a flash.
More than marketing hyperbole, it genuinely is like getting two systems for the price of one. In fact, it’s called the transformer not only for its ability to have two distinct technological personalities but the effect it can have on learning.