TechLAB Shootout: 6 Classroom Android Tablets
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.
For its diminutive size, Acer’s Iconia Tab A200 offers a lot of screen space and runs for more than 8 hours on a charge, but it’s heavy and cuts too many corners. The slate does without a dock and the all-important ability to drive a classroom projector, making it more for students than teachers.
Its black and gray color combination won’t win any fashion awards, but the A200 is sturdily built and its textured back doesn’t wobble on a desk. At 0.5- by 10.2- by 6.8-inches, it’s the smallest tablet of the group with a 10.1-inch screen and is marginally smaller than the Transformer TF101. At 1.6 pounds, it is lighter than the Thrive, but heavier than the 101 G9 Turbo and Transformer TF101.
For those contemplating taking it to a conference, with its small AC adapter, the A200 has a travel weight of just 1.8 pounds. That’s roughly half a pound lighter than the Toshiba tablet on the road.
Like most of the other slates here, the A200 is powered by a combination of Nvidia’s Tegra 2 dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM. It comes with 16GB of storage space, which should be plenty of room. It’s less than Lenovo’s IdeaPad K1’s 32GB but more than the 8GB that the 101 G9 Turbo and Thrive provide.
Its 10.1-inch touch-screen is flush mounted and, like the others, displays 1,280 by 800 resolution. In addition to auto-rotating the screen’s orientation, it responds quickly and accurately to finger moves and can work with up to 10 fingers at once. The A200’s on-screen keyboard has spots for “.com” and “www” entries and a microphone key for dictation.
But, the A200 comes up short on cameras. Rather than a pair, it has only a 2-megapixel device facing the user and nothing facing out of the slate’s back. In other words, it’ll do better for Skype video calls with parents than for shooting video of the school play.
There are three controls on its edge: an on-off switch, a pair of volume control buttons and a switch to lock the screen’s orientation. The slate has both a full-sized and a micro-USB connector, an audio jack and a micro-SD card slot for flash memory cards. In the lab it worked with a memory key, hard drive, stylus as well as USB and Bluetooth keyboards.
Because the A200 lacks an HDMI connector and Acer doesn’t sell an adapter, it can’t directly connect to a classroom projector. That makes it a slate that’s more appropriate for student use than for a teacher.
Acer also doesn’t make a docking station for this model. Its 10.1-inch screen displayed the lesson plan material with smooth video with good audio synchronization.
As is the case with all the others, the A200 communicates with the outside world with 802.11b, g and n wireless networking and Bluetooth, but uses the older 2.1 version of the software. The slate stayed online 115-feet from the lab’s router.
Like the Transformer TF101 and G9 Turbo, the A200 uses the latest Android 4.0 software. The system comes with Docs to Go (for working with Office files) and McAfee’s virus scanner. As is the case with the majority of tablets, the A200 has Kindle’s ebook reader software preloaded, which delivers the choice of three different color pages, six font sizes and links to a dictionary or Wikipedia.
With an Antutu performance score of 5,066, it is solidly in the middle of the class and shouldn’t disappoint teachers or students. The slate, however, is off the scorching pace set by the Archos tablet. The A200 compensates with the best battery life of the group. At 8 hours and 41 minutes, it can satisfy all the basic classroom computing needs and not need recharging during lunch.
In the final analysis, the $350 A200 is small and has the connections and battery life to make an impact in the classroom, but its lack of a way to directly work with a projector leaves it only in the hands of students.
+ Android 4.0 software
+ Excellent battery life
+Full size and micro-USB ports
- No dock
- No way to project lesson
- Lacks camera on back of slate
The long and narrow Archos 101 G9 Turbo is an anomaly among tablets these days. It’s big and powerful yet is neither heavy nor expensive. If you can put up with its oddly shaped screen, the G9 Turbo can fill a classroom with learning.
With dimensions of 0.6- by 10.8- by 6.5-inches, the G9 Turbo is the second largest tablet of the group, but is much larger than the Galaxy Tab 8.9, which has a smaller screen. At 1.5-pounds (1.7-pounds with its small power adapter), it is one of the lightest tablets with a 10.1-inch screen.
Rather than having a symmetric bezel around the display, the G9 Turbo has wider places to grab it on the sides, but the case’s plastic is slipperier than the others and doesn’t have any rubberized coating or texturing. Bottom line: it might end up being dropped by small hands in the classroom.
It sits flat on a table for desk work and the g9 Turbo is unique in that it has rubber feet. It’s unique in that the G9 Turbo’s gray plastic case has a handy pull out leg so that the slate can stand up on its own.
The G9 Turbo takes a different approach to hardware with TI’s OMAP 4 processor. Based on an ARM multi-processing core, the chip runs at 1.5GHz, 50 percent faster than any of the other tablets here. It comes with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage space, which is much less than the IdeaPad K1’s 32GB.
To match its layout, the G9 Turbo has a long narrow screen that offers the same viewable space and 1,280 by 800 resolution as the A200, Transformer TF101 IdeaPad K1 and Thrive. Overall, the extra wide screen is better for working on sentence structure exercises horizontally than it is for viewing Web pages vertically.
The G9 Turbo display is responsive to finger moves, but it can work with up to 4 fingers at once as opposed to 10. Rather than a pair of high-resolution cameras, the Archos slate has a low resolution camera to the right of the screen that can show 720,000 pixels and nothing out the back for shooting video.
As clean and uninterrupted as the Galaxy Tab 8.9’s edge is, the G9 Turbo’s is chock full of items. In addition to an on-off switch and volume controls – but no switch for locking the screen’s orientation – there’s a micro-USB, a micro-HDMI and audio jacks. There’s also a full-size USB slot behind a cover that works with a keyboard, a memory key and a hard drive, and can double as a way to get online with a 3G Stick that Archos sells.
As is the case with the A200, Archos doesn’t sell a dock for the G9 Turbo. It has the expected 802.11b, g and n WiFi networking and Bluetooth (version 2.1), and was able to stay online 110-feet from the lab’s router. The slate worked with the lab’s Bluetooth keyboard.
The G9 Turbo delivered a high-quality lesson plan to a projector with smooth video, although the tablet has only one speaker on it. The on-screen keyboard is adequate but lacks any specialty keys that can speed online work. It comes with Android 4.0 and Archos offers a free upgrade to earlier G9 systems.
The system comes with Evernote for recording and calling up snippets of text and B&N Nook for working with ebooks. The app offers 8 fonts in 6 sizes, control over the margins and a way to highlight passages; there’s no link to a dictionary or Wikipedia.
Performance is the G9 Turbo’s strong suit with a score of 6,376 on Antutu’s benchmark suite of tests. That makes it 30 percent more powerful than the IdeaPad K1. This power is at the expense of battery life, with the system being able to run for 5 hours and 51 minutes, well off the A200’s pace more than 8 hours of teaching time between charges.
It may not have a dock, stereo speakers or two cameras, but at $330, the G9 is a powerhouse and has the price advantage over other tablets, making it a technological bargain for the classroom.
+ Best performance and price
+ Easy to add 3G access
- 8GB of storage
- Substandard camera
- Single speaker
As its name implies, using the Transformer TF101can be a transforming experience because it is not only a great slate computer for the classroom, but has a snap-on keyboard that turns it into a small laptop computer. The best part is that the whole package sells for less than an iPad on its own.
As a slate, it measures 0.5- by 10.7- by 6.9-inches and weighs 1.5-pounds, slightly larger than the A200 while weighing a few ounces less; only the Galaxy Tab 8.9, with its tiny screen is smaller and lighter. With the TF101’s lightweight power adapter it can hit the road weighing 1.7-pounds, more than half a pound lighter than the Thrive.
Its case is rock solid and has textured plastic surfaces wherever kids or teachers can possibly touch it, making it harder to accidentally drop. My only design qualm about the Transformer is that its curved back can wobble while being used flat on a desktop.
Powered by the popular combination of an Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and 1GB of RAM, it has 16GB of flash storage space. More than enough for classroom use and twice as much as what the 101 G9 Turbo and Thrive provide but half the storage space of the IdeaPad K1.
With the most responsive screen of the bunch, the Transformer TF101 is well suited for use in schools. Its flush-mounted 10.1-inch screen can show 1,280 by 800 resolution, auto-rotate and respond to the action of 10 individual finger commands.
Above the display is a 1.2-megapixel camera and the system also has a 5-megapixel device in the back. In other words, it’s just as good a choice for video blogs or conferences as it is for using the slate as a video recorder for a physics lab or school assembly.
While it lacks the Thrive’s ability to change its back plate, the Transformer TF101 feels good in the hand and has an on-off switch as well as volume controls. To lock the screen’s orientation, you’ll need to go into the software, though.
As far as ports go, it has a mini-HDMI, a micro-SD card slot and an audio jack on the slate, but does without a USB connection. That’s where it’s excellent Mobile Docking keyboard comes in. It adds $120 to the price tag, but turns the slate into small notebook with a keyboard and touchpad.
The dock snaps securely into the base of the slate and provides access to a full-size SD card reader and pair of USB slots that connected to a memory key and hard drive. Together, the slate and dock weigh 2.8-pounds, about what a netbook weighs. On the other hand, the system becomes top heavy, particularly when the display is touched or poked.
With 802.11b, g and n wireless networking and Bluetooth 2.1 (not the newer 3.0 version), the system can communicate with the school’s network and peripherals. It stayed connected to the lab’s router for 110-feet. While working through a lesson plan, its video was excellent and the slate worked with a stylus and connected to a Bluetooth keyboard without a problem. The slate’s on-screen keyboard has a key for symbols and “.com,” there’s no spot for “www.”
Based on the latest Android 4 software, the Transformer TF101 is up to date the day you start using it and should be plenty for everyday writing, calculating and general schoolwork. The system comes with Polaris Office for working with Office files, an excellent WiFi analyzer for graphically showing which networks are available and Kindle’s ebook reader, which provides 6 type sizes, three page backgrounds and the ability to link to a dictionary or Wikipedia page.
Like the other 1GHz-based slates, the Transformer TF101 lagged behind the faster G9 Turbo, but its 5,051 score was right in the middle of the class. Its battery life of 7 hours and 45 minutes was second best to the A200 but should be more than enough on its own. But, snap on the keyboard and it’ll run for more than 14 hours, enough for several days typical school use.
On its own, the $350 Transformer TF101 is a powerful slate computer that can help a generation of teachers teach and students learn, but add on the $120 keyboard dock and it becomes an even more powerful teaching tool that costs less than an iPad.
+ Android 4.0 software
+ Best Android dock
+ Good battery life
- No USB on slate
If the idea of using an Android tablet in the classroom involves splitting time between students hands and on their desks, Lenovo’s IdeaPad K1 and its keyboard dock do a great imitation of a desktop PC. On the other hand, it lacks key ports and comes up short on performance.
At 0.5- by 10.3- by 7.4-inches and 1.6-pounds, the K1 is in the middle of the pack on size and weight. Smaller and lighter than the Thrive, it is, however, bigger and heavier than the Transformer TF101. With its wall AC adapter, the system can hit the road at 1.9 pounds, nearly half a pound lighter than the Thrive.
The black and gray design is similar to the A200 and feels comfortable in the hand. It has a textured back, so that it’s harder to drop and sits flat on a desk for finger work.
Powered by the popular Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and 1GB of RAM, the K1 has a powerful edge over the others: it comes with 32GB of storage space, rather than 8- or 16GB. This means that it can hold more yearbook photos, lesson plans and multimedia components.
Like the majority of slates reviewed here, the K1 has a 10.1-inch screen that can show 1,280 by 800 resolution, which was responsive and accurate to finger touches and using a stylus. It can handle working with input from 10 fingers at once and its orientation will automatically rotate as the screen is turned.
The K1 has a lot of controls around its edge, including an on-off switch, screen lock button and a way to raise and lower the slate’s volume. It has something the others don’t: a button to the right of the screen that automatically takes you to the Home screen, streamlining navigation.
Its assortment of ports is disappointing, though. In addition to a micro-USB flash card slot, the K1 has a micro-HDMI port and audio jack, but as is the case with the Galaxy Tab 8.9, it does without a USB port altogether.
The $80 keyboard dock can help by changing the slate into a desktop computer, ready for everything from typing lessons to Web research. While the keyboard has a key to start the video conference camera and the calculator, the dock only has a power connection. This means that you need to awkwardly connect the HDMI and audio cables to the slate’s bottom edge; Lenovo provides a short audio jumper cable to help.
To communicate with the outside world, the K1 has 802.11b, g and n wireless networking as well as Bluetooth, although it uses the older version 2.1 of the software. The slate stayed online only 90-feet from the lab’s router, the shortest of the group.
Because it lacks a USB port, its connection possibilities are limited, but did work with a Bluetooth keyboard and the lab’s projector. It played the sample lesson plan with smooth video with good audio synchronization. The system’s on-screen keyboard has places for the “@” key as well as “.com,” which can speed online entries.
Based on Android 3.2, the K1 is a step behind the A 200, G9 Turbo and Transformer TF101; Lenovo doesn’t plan to offer a free upgrade to Android 4.0. The system comes with Documents to Go, Drawing Pad and Kindle’s ebook reader program, which provides dictionary and Wikipedia link as well as letting you customize the look of the pages.
With a 4,957 score on Atutu’s benchmark suite, the K1’s performance potential was at the back of the class. It should be fine for most classroom tasks, but was way behind the performance of the Archos tablet. The system was able to run for 6 hours and 50 minutes on a charge, making it just enough for a full school day of use.
If you see the IdeaPad on Lenovo’s Web pages for over $350, don’t fret, it can be had for less than that at several online outlets, making it a bargain considering that it can hold twice the data as most of its competitors.
+ 32GB of storage space
+ Desktop dock
+ Good Price
+ Home button
- No USB on Slate
- Dock has no ports
With its smaller screen, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 8.9 may set the pace on size, weight and thinness, but it is too simplistic a slate for schools. Lacking any ports, the tablet can’t directly connect with a projector, making it a minimalist slate for use by students.
The black slate feels great in the hand and it has a sophisticated silver band around its edge. It sits flat on a desk and has a smooth rubberized coating that feels inviting and can prevent it from being dropped.
At just under a pound and 0.4- by 9.1- by 6.1-inches, it is by far the smallest and lightest of the bunch. With its tiny wall adapter, the Galaxy Tab is very portable with a travel weight of 1.1-pounds, less than any of the other slates alone.
But, the price you pay for this is that the Galaxy Tab is the runt of the litter with an 8.9-inch screen that yields 30 percent less viewable workspace than a 10.1-inch display does. It shows the same 1,280 by 800 resolution, however, for pinpoint viewing.
Its screen may feel skimpy, but it responds to up to ten fingers, can auto-rotate and responds quickly to the touch, regardless of whether it’s with a finger or stylus. It can do something the others can’t: tilt the screen to zoom in. The system has an on-screen keyboard that includes special spots for “www” and emoticons.
Baked from the same recipe used on the A200, Transformer TF101, K1 and Thrive, the Galaxy Tab’s ingredients are an Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and 1GB of RAM. It comes with 16GB of storage space, which is not as good as the Lenovo’s IdeaPad K1’s 32GB but more than the 8GB on the G9 Turbo and Thrive.
Around its edge, the Galaxy Tab is minimalist with only an on-off switch and volume controls. If you want to lock the screen’s orientation you need to do it in software. More to the point for classroom use, it has no ports or even a flash card reader. This makes the slate look sleek and unencumbered by interruptions to its smooth surface, but it can be more awkward to use for lessons.
In fact, to connect with a projector you need Samsung’s $30 HDMI adapter, which is likely the first thing to be lost. It worked with our Bluetooth keyboard and stylus, but without a USB port was useless with the wired keyboard, memory key and hard drive.
Samsung sells two docks, which weren’t included with the slate. The $35 Multimedia Dock has HDMI and audio ports, while the $80 Keyboard Dock resembles the one that Lenovo makes for the IdeaPad K1and its only jack is for audio.
The system relies on its 802.11b, g and n WiFi networking and Bluetooth 3.0 to communicate, making its classroom operations less efficient. It stayed online 100-feet from the lab’s router. Although, it comes with Android 3.1 and will soon have an upgrade to version 3.2, Samsung hasn’t decided whether to offer the Android 4.0 software update.
One big advantage that this small slate has is that it comes with great software, including Polaris Office and Words with Friends. There’s a desktop link to load a bunch of cool apps, including Solar Star Chart and Andro Sensor, which presents the output of the slate’s internal probes, making it a handheld science lab.
The slate also comes with two ebook readers: the Kindle app that’s on other slates and Aldiko’s program. It not only can present pages in six different colors, but you can write and draw anywhere on the page.
Its size is deceptive because this featherweight is a workhorse, scoring 5,186 on the Antutu benchmark tests, the best for the 1GHz-based systems. Its battery ran for 7 hours and 36 minutes, putting it middle of the pack, and more than enough to get through a full school day of work.
It may be small, light and thin, but the Galaxy Tab 8.9 is more appropriate for students than teachers and comes up short on controls, ports or flash card reader. In other words, it’s great on its own, but doesn’t measure up when it comes to working with others.
+ Extremely small and light
+ Bluetooth 3.0
+ Simple design
+ Top software
- No ports or flash card reader
- Projector connection requires adapter
- Small screen
Easily the largest and heaviest slate of the group, Toshiba’s Thrive AT100 is powerful and has an excellent desktop dock, but it’s just too big and thick for small hands to grasp and use.
Clothed in a basic black plastic case, the slate has rounded corners and it sits flat on a student’s desk. The back has a nicely textured feel, but at 1.7-pounds and measuring 0.6- by 10.8- by 6.9-inches, the Thrive is a lot to handle and carry around.
Rather than the small wall power adapter that the others have, the Thrive requires a traditional AC adapter that looks like it came from a Toshiba netbook. Together, the slate’s travel weight is a ponderous 2.3 pounds, the heaviest of the bunch by a wide margin.
Inside is Nvidia’s Tegra 2 processor, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage space for lesson plans, homework and an assortment of tests. That’s one-quarter as much capacity as the IdeaPad K1, which comes with 32GB of storage, but Toshiba sells models with 16- and 32GB of storage space.
The 10.1-inch screen has a wide bezel around it that can show 1,280 by 800 resolution. The screen was responsive and accurate when using a finger or stylus, but it can only handle 4 simultaneous finger moves rather than the 10 fingers that many of the others can.
There are two cameras on the Thrive: a 2 megapixel device facing the user as well as a high-definition 5-megapixel one facing away. This makes the Thrive just as appropriate for video conferences with parents as making video movies of a field trip.
Around its edge are controls for turning it on and off, locking the screen’s orientation and adjusting the volume. There’s also a mechanical switch for popping the back cover off, allowing access to its components, like the battery. That’s something none of the others provide. Plus, Toshiba sells five different colored back plates for $5 each so that each class or department can customize their tablets.
There’s a good assortment of ports, particularly compared to the lack of choices that the Galaxy Tab offers. In addition to the expected HDMI and audio connections, the Thrive brings to the classroom, it can deliver the one- two-punch of mini- and full-size USB ports.
The docking station is a steal at $25. It provides a place for the tablet to charge itself while being used on a desk and provides access to 2 USB, audio and HDMI ports in the back. It, however, lacks a keyboard. Toshiba sells a matching Bluetooth keyboard for $70.
With Bluetooth 3.0 and 802.11b, g and n WiFi, the slate stayed in contact with the lab’s network 115-feet from the router. It worked fine with the Bluetooth keyboard, memory key and projector. While the system balked at connecting with the USB keyboard and hard drive, they worked fine via the dock.
During the lesson plan phase of testing, the system was able to deliver high quality, smooth video with synchronized audio to the projector, making it appropriate for students as well as teachers. Its on-screen keyboard is adequate for entering Web addresses or typing simple sentences for an English class, but it lacks special keys for “.com” and “www.”
While it doesn’t use Android 4.0 software, the 3.1 version can soon be replaced by a free upgrade to version 4.0. It comes with apps for video editing (Movie Studio), online security (Kaspersky Tablet Security) and working with Office files (QuickOffice HD).
Unlike the others, the Thrive uses a version of Blio software called Book Place for reading ebooks. The software displays a sharp rendering of the page and can zoom in on a selection, but doesn’t allow the user to adjust the page color, font style or size. Plus, it misses the point of ebooks by not having online links to a dictionary or Wikipedia.
The Thrive is a powerful tablet. Its 5,112 score on Antutu’s benchmark tests put it in a virtual tie with the Galaxy Tab for the fastest systems with a 1GHz processor, but behind the Archos system, which has a faster processor. This power comes at a cost, though, with its battery running out of juice after just 4 hours and 50 minutes of continuous use, the shortest of the bunch and nearly four hours less than the A200’s run time. It’s likely to be a disappointment right about fifth period.
All told, the Thrive has the power and docking hardware to make an impact in the classroom, but its battery falls short and is just too big and heavy for small hands to use. Clearly, a diet is called for to make the Thrive fit better into the classroom.
+ Good performance
+ Excellent desktop dock
+ Full size and mini-USB ports
+ Free upgrade to Android 4.0
- Big and heavy
- Short battery life
- 8GB of storage space
A Window on Tablets
While Apple and Android duke it out for supremacy in the slate market, there’s another competitor: Windows 7 tablets. Roughly a rounding error in the race for top dog status between Apple and Android, Win slates are on the upswing as seen by HP’s Slate 2.
Designed for corporate and educational use, the Slate 2 has a more formal look compared to any of the Android crowd, but is smaller at 0.6- by 9.2-by 5.9-inches. The slate weighs 1.5-pounds and, like the Galaxy Tab 8.9, it has an 8.9-inch screen, but its 1,024 by 600 resolution pales in comparison.
Inside, is an Atom Z670 processor that runs at 1.5GHz and 2GB of RAM, which is twice what the Android slates use, but is not really enough for Windows. The slate has a generous 64GB of solid state storage, twice what the best Android slates provide. On the downside, the slate ran for less than four hours on a charge.
Like the others, the touch screen is responsive and can work with multi-finger moves, but goes a step further by including a handy stylus. On top of on-off, volume a home screen button, the Slate 2 has a keyboard button.
There’s, however no HDMI on the slate. To use a projector, you need to get the $109 dock, which has 2 USB ports as well as audio and HDMI.
Like the Android invaders, it comes with 802.11b, g and n WiFi and Bluetooth, but excels at online security. The Slate 2 has a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) to make secure remote connections to the school server a snap.
The bonus is that a school can use all the familiar Windows software that it already owns, but the $700 price of the Slate 2 – twice what Android slates go for – is its biggest impediment to use in the classroom.
That may change later this year when the expected Windows 8 comes out. It will allow the use of less expensive processors and likely give Android invaders a run for the money.
|Acer Iconia Tab A200||Archos 101 G9 Turbo||Asus Eee Transformer TF-101||Lenovo IdeaPad K1||Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9||Toshiba Thrive AT 100|
|Size and Weight|
|Weight||1.6 pounds||1.5 pounds||1.5 pounds||1.6 pounds||1 pound||1.7 pounds|
|Screen size||10.1 inches||10.1 inches||10.1 inches||10.1 inches||8.9 inches||10.1 inches|
|Components and Features|
|Processor/Speed||Nvidia Tegra 2/1GHz||TI OMAP 4/1.5GHz||Nvidia Tegra 2/1GHz||Nvidia Tegra 2/1GHz||Nvidia Tegra 2/1GHz||Nvidia Tegra 2/1GHz|
|Operating System||Android 4.0||Android 4.0||Android 4.0||Android 3.2||Android 3.1||Android 3.1|
|Ports||USB, micro-USB, audio||USB, micro-USB, micro HDMI, audio||Mini-HDMI, audio||Mini HDMI, audio||Audio||USB, mini-USB, HDMI|
|Flash card reader||Micro-SD||Micro-SD||Micro-SD||Micro-SD||No||SD|
|WiFi/Bluetooth||802.11b,g,n/BT 2.1||802.11b,g,n/BT 2.1||802.11b,g,n/BT 2.1||802.11b,g,n/BT 2.1||802.11b,g,n/BT 3.0||802.11b,g,n/BT 3.0|
|Camera resolution/ front and back||2MP/NA||780KP/NA||1.2MP/5MP||2MP/5MP||2MP/3MP||2MP/5MP|
|Dock||No||No||Keyboard, 2 USB, SD card and battery||Keyboard||Keyboard or Multimedia with HDMI and audio||2 USB, HDMI, audio|
|Performance, Price and Warranty|
|NA: Not appplicable|
Download School Slates Features Table
To evaluate how well each of these tablets fits into the classroom, we did all our testing at Scholastic Administr@tor’s TechLAB facility, which seeks to simulate the technology needs of school districts and classrooms. We used the tablets extensively on a daily basis for everything from Web research, watching online videos and teaching lessons to using email and reading books.
We started out by updating each system’s software if an upgrade was available. After that we spent some time getting familiar with each, measuring and weighing them. Then, we took a look at each button, jack and control on the device and went through the system's software and tried out all the major programs.
After we connected each tablet to the lab's WiFi network, we started by measuring the system’s WiFi range. After setting up an Internet radio station, each of us grabbed a slate and slowly walked away from a connected Linksys WRT54GS router. When we got to where the system lost contact, we reestablished a connection by walking back 10 feet and confirmed the place where the system lost its wireless data connection.
To make sure that the slates fit into the classroom, we tried it out with several hardware accessories, including, a stylus, a Bluetooth keyboard, a projector and for those or their docks that have a USB port, a wired keyboard, a memory key and an external hard drive.
After that, we loaded Antutu Benchmark, a performance benchmark that gives an idea of each slate’s potential to carry out classroom computing tasks. This suite of tests pushes the system’s processor, memory, graphics, input-output as well as SD card transfers. When it’s done, it records a total score based on weightings that reflect real world use and is comparable to its overall performance. The tests were run three times.
After fully charging each system’s battery and starting its YouTube app, we started playing a series of 60 videos via a WiFi connection. With the screen brightness set to 6/10 and volume level set to 3/10, the power cord was unplugged while starting a stop watch. When the tablet runs out of power, we stopped the watch and then repeated this process three times.
To see how well the screens work, we set each to allow the display to rotate as the slate is moved and moved our fingers around to see how responsive and accurate its digitizer is. Then, we installed the MultiTouch Visualizer 2 app to measure how many fingers the screen can keep track of at once.
Then, we settled in for some classwork. We watched videos and ran a simulated lesson on Hippocampus.org with the tablet driving a Mitsubishi projector. Finally, we downloaded an e-book of “Pride and Prejudice” with the included app and read it on the screen with an eye towards the tools that the app provides.
To finish up before the bell rings, we put all the info together and gave each a rating that is based on a maximum of five stars. While the object is to find the tablet that delivers the most value, the key criteria are size, weight, performance and battery life as well as how responsive the display is and what software is included. The rating includes items that are unique to a tablet as well as things like the variety of ports that are available, how up to date the system’s software is and how good does it feel in the hands. In other words, it’s all about what makes for a good classroom tablet.