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Android on the Cheap

With Kindle and Nook reducing their price tags, it feels like we’re in the opening salvos of a price war for Android tablets. That can only help the consumer of these slates that are increasingly showing up in the classroom. Still, with a color Kindle selling for $200 and a Nook going for $180, these slates might still be out of reach of many schools. 

Fear not, because there’s no shortage of dirt-cheap Android tablets. Some skimp by not having the most up to date software and lack some apps, but they all have 7-inch screens and a surprising number of amenities. Here’re my favorite Android systems that cost a whole lot less.


Coby-Kyros-MID7012The Coby Kyros Mid 7012 packs a lot of slate into a small package and an even smaller price tag. For roughly $100, you get a 7-inch touch-screen, but it uses resistive technology that can show 800 by 480 resolution and only handle one input at a time. The slate has an 800MHz processor and 4GB of storage space for adding lessons, homework or apps along with built-in WiFi; it can only use the older 802.11b or g networks. Based on Android 2.3, it is a step back from the latest software, but the Kyros Mid 7012 has a USB port. The big pay-off is that it is a lightweight at just 11 ounces, making it one of the best slates for small hands.  


Cruz t301Velocity Micro’s Cruz T301 is of similar size and heft, but it is a mixture of older and newer technology. This 7-inch slate’s touch-screen has a shorter and wider 4:3 aspect ratio and uses multi-touch technology so that it can read the position of several fingers and complex gestures at once. It’s 0.6-inches thick, uses an 800MHz processor and comes with 256MB of RAM, 2GB of storage and 802.11n WiFi networking. While it uses Android 2.2 software, the Cruz slate comes with everything from a dictionary to OfficeSuite. It sells for about $110.


Alpha 2Want the latest Android software without breaking the bank? Skytek’s SkyPad Alpha 2 comes loaded with Android 4.0 as well as a good assortment of free apps. Still, it sells for less than $100 and comes with a powerful 1.2GHz ARM processor, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage space, outdoing more expensive slates. Its 7-inch screen uses a multi-touch display that can interpret several fingers and complex gestures at once. It can connect with built-in WiFi and put a lesson on the big screen with an HDMI port.


31iEdllLd+L._SL500_AA300_Of all the tablets available at the moment, the best buy just might be Sylvania’s SYTAB10MT. At $100, the SYTAB10MT combines a 10-inch touch-screen that can show 1,024 by 600 resolution along with 802.11b/g WiFi wireless networking. It’s on the heavy side at 2.5 pounds but comes with a 1GHz ARM processor, 256MB of RAM and 2GB of storage. Its Android 2.2 is getting old but it should be fine for most school uses. There’s also an ST model that adds a camera as well as more memory for roughly the same price, making it a high-tech bargain. 


New Age Textbooks

Kno bThe latest in digital textbooks isn’t Apple’s iBooks 2 textbooks because Kno has taken the lead in digitizing learning. Its Evolve texts are starting to use Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s family of texts, but with animation, videos and other visual elements, Students can mark up the pages and each text comes with a set of flash cards. The digi-books cost about $10 each, but unlike the Apple educational effort, Android users aren’t left in the cold.




Tablets on the Cheap

081411_0253_BackToSchoo2Samsung has a deal for you. The Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 is now available for $250 with a special mix of school accessories. The 7-inch Android tablet comes with a keyboard dock and a USB adapter, a $100 savings. It can be used to do everything from teach a lesson to take control of A-V gear with its built-in infrared remote. The special price is available at Best Buy, Amazon, Tiger Direct, Costco and Fry’s; the sale ends on September 1.

Freebee Friday: Windows 8, Here We Come

Mac-Win8-STRThe actual software is still nearly three months away, but software rewritten to take advantage of Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 release and its touch-centric Metro interface are starting to roll in. Splashtop’s Remote Desktop is among the first and a preview of it is available online as a freebee. With the help of Splashtop’s Streamer app, the program lets a remote computer connect via the Internet to a host device and run just about any app, making it a great way to get a classroom computer ready for the next day’s lessons. It works with either a Mac or Windows computer at the host end and a variety of devices, including iPads and Android tablets, at the remote end.


Entering a New Galaxy

GALAXY Note 10.1 Product Image (5)The latest Samsung Galaxy Note has a 10.1-inch screen and S-Pen, making it a great one-two combination for schools. Based on Andorid 4.0, it comes with a great pressure sensitive pen that lets it act as an artistic pad for drawing as well as a slew of software, including Kno’s digital textbook app. In addition to Adobe Photoshop Touch and Polaris Office, the slate comes with Samsung’s Shape Match and Formula Match for turning scribbles into geometric shapes and math formulas.

GALAXY Note 10.1 Product Image (6)The system weighs in at 1.3-pounds and is just a third of an inch thick. All 10.1-inch Notes have a 1.4GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM and an all-day battery pack. With 16GB the slate costs $500 and with 32GB it costs $550.



Seeing Stars

Concussion questionaireToo many kids do permanent damage to themselves through school sports with hidden concussions leading the list. In fact, a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control showed that brain injuries have increased by two-thirds between 2001 and 2009. Pearson’s Concussion Vital Signs can help staff distinguish between a headache and a more serious problem. The program starts with a pre-activity interview for a baseline of cognitive activities and includes post injury assessment, follow-up and help deciding whether the student can continue to participate in school sports. The test can be administered with any of Apple’s iOS devices, a Blackberry or Android device and Pearson will set up a school-specific Webinar on the dangers of hidden concussions. It costs $5 per student.


TechLAB Shootout: 5 Interactive Projectors

Interactive shoot finalThere’s a good chance that archeologists looking back on our time will describe it as the interactive age. Forget about FaceBook, Twitter and the obsession with social media, because nowhere is interactivity more the word of the day than in the classroom. Learning has become inextricably linked with immersive digital media and the interactive projector is the center of attention.

Think of it as a virtual whiteboard because the interactive projector works by doing double-duty in schools. It starts by putting a lesson onto a screen, but adds a wireless wand that allows teachers and students to mark up the image as if they were writing on a whiteboard with markers. They can highlight areas of interest on a map, diagram a sentence or work through a math problem for everyone to see.

The digital marker can even control the computer’s pointer, meaning that teachers are no longer handcuffed to their desks. Combining this with the latest in short-throw projectors takes classroom technology to a new level by reducing or eliminating annoying shadows cast onto the screen.

A big reason for the popularity of interactive projectors is pure economics. Compared to outfitting a room with an interactive whiteboard and projector, which can cost several thousand dollars, an all-in-one interactive projector can be a bargain that reduces hardware and installation costs. The savings add up quickly when you’re deploying dozens or hundreds of projectors, with large districts saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

TechLab_web largeTo see what the state of the art for classroom interactivity is, we gathered together five of the newest and most capable interactive projectors at TechLAB’s test facility. To start, they are a step up from the traditional classroom projector. All five – Dell’s S500wi, Epson’s BrightLink 485wi, Optoma’s TW675UTiM-3D, Smart LightRaise 40wi and Sony’s VPL-SW535C – are like peas in a very large pod. They all can put a WXGA (1,280 by 800 pixels) resolution image on a screen, outdoing traditional XGA (1,024 by 768 pixels) resolution classroom projectors with sharper and better defined imaging. 

From there they diverge with three using Texas Instruments’ Digital Light Processing (DLP) chips and two relying on old school Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) panels to create the image that’s projected. They also use a variety of technologies to connect the wand with the projector and come with an assortment of classroom software. But, by far the biggest difference among these interactive projectors is how much it costs to use them.

To separate the truth from marketing hype and unrealistic expectations, we gave each a hard workout in the lab and simulated classroom action. While none of the five are A+ material, one clearly leads the class. Dell’s S500wi may be the brightest, Optoma’s TW675UTiM-3D may be the bargain of the group, Sony’s VPL-SW535C may have the best video and Smart’s LightRaise 40wi may come with the most versatile school software, but only the Epson BrightLink 485wi puts it all together in a classroom-ready package.

The projector not only puts an excellent and uniform image on the screen and comes with a pair of screen markers, but can work with two pens at once and doesn’t require a computer to use the pen. All this opens new vistas of classroom collaboration. It is among the least expensive and has the lowest operating costs, potentially saving hundreds of dollars a year. In other words, a BrightLink 485wi projector can efficiently turn any room into a digital classroom.

Continue reading "TechLAB Shootout: 5 Interactive Projectors" »

ChromeBook Support Just Added

Netsupport class screenIt’s hard to believe but NetSupport is already on the eleventh generation of its flagship classroom management software. Version 11 continues to work on Windows, Macs and Linux computers but adds support for the use of ChromeBooks in the classroom. The software has a slew of new features, including a peer assessment section as well as Q&A module for continual classroom assessments. A big step forward is the tablet app that can help teachers stay in touch with the class while moving around. There’s an online preview and a way to try it out in the classroom.


A Pair of Big Projectors

NP-PX750U-18ZL_UPPERSLANTClassroom projectors are fine for, well, the classroom, but sometimes a larger device is called for. NEC’s PX750U can blast up to 7,500 lumens onto an auditorium screen for lectures or a movie night fundraiser. It can not only connect via wired and wireless networking, but has inputs that range from HDMI to DisplayPort that conforms to the Open Pluggable Spec, making installation easier. It has an electric zoom, can fill up to a 25-foot screen and is HD-ready at 1,920 by 1,080 resolution. The projector costs $17,650.

NP-PA550W_SLANTBy contrast, the PA550W is a step down the technological ladder with a resolution of 1,280 by 800 and 5,500-lumens, but makes up for it with a maximum screen size of 41-feet. It has wired LAN, an optional WiFi module for wireless connections and NEC sells five interchangeable lenses that can fit the environment of just about any location. It sells for $3,900.





Freebee Friday: From Hogwarts to Your School

Harry potterNothing lightens up a reading lesson more than J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series and the author will be hosting a virtual classroom on October 11 at noon, eastern time, to inaugurate the online Harry Potter Reading Club. Sponsored by Scholastic, the corporate parent of Tech Tools, the site will provide all that’s needed to set up a Harry Potter reading club at your school or classroom, including discussion guides and lesson plans. The Webcast is free, but you’ll need to register, and the first 10,000 teachers to register will get a package of sticker, bookmarks and other items.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.