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Dell Does a Back Flip

Dell xps 12 cLike the idea of a touch screen tablet, but can’t really give up the notion that a keyboard is a requirement for the job of classroom computing? You’re not alone. Fortunately, Dell’s XPS 12 Ultrabook provides the best of both worlds with a beautifully designed and crafted convertible that can assume two very different computing personalities at school.

 It really is two systems in one. As a conventional Ultrabook it has a full-size keyboard, a large touchpad and hinged display. But, press the top of the screen forward until it clicks and the whole thing rotates as the display flips its orientation, facing away from the user. This is perfect for teaching to a small group of kids or fellow teachers while maintaining eye contact.

That’s just the start because the screen can be folded completely down, creating a finger-friendly tablet. The keyboard is hidden underneath the touch-screen and the XPS 12 feels solid and secure in either configuration.

Dell xps 12 bIt might take away from the lesson at hand, but the way it transforms from one genre of computing to another is nothing short of magic and could be a physics lesson on its own. From the machined aluminum screen frame to the carbon fiber display lid, the XPS 12 is one of the most thoughtfully designed and beautiful mobile computers ever made.

Its beauty is more than skin deep, though. The hinge has been tested for 20,000 cycles without damage. Plus, the screen is made of super-strong Gorilla glass, making the system tough enough for schools.

The XPS12’s touch response was reliable and accurate, although its touchpad sometimes lost contact and required a second to catch up. It can handle 10-independent finger inputs and worked with gestures, but the 12.5-inch touch screen is also a great way to show a lesson. It can display 1,920 by 1,080 HD resolution compared to 1,366 by 768 for most of the competition. It uses Intel’s HD Graphics.

With all that extra hardware, the XPS 12 is a bit on the heavy and thick side. It weighs in at 3.4-pounds and takes up 12.4 by 8.4-inches of desktop space, making more on a par with a 13.3-inch system. As a tablet, it measures 0.6-inches in the front, which rises to 0.8-inches in the back.

The model that I looked at costs $1,200, which is a lot for schools in this age of cutbacks and austerity. On the other hand, it comes well equipped, with a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB solid state drive storage system. Dell sells versions that have faster chips, more memory and larger drives for as much as $1,700.

Dell xps 12 aBecause it needs to function in the world of tablets as well as full notebooks, the XPS 12 has an eclectic mix of ports, including a pair of USB 3.0 connections as well as audio. Rather than the expected VGA or HDMI ports, the XPS 12 has a mini-DisplayPort connection for video. For driving a desktop monitor or projector, you’ll need an adapter, like the converters for HDMI ($20) or VGA ($33) that Dell sells.

 In addition to 802.11n WiFi, the system has Bluetooth, but it’s too thin for a wired LAN connection. Once, again you’ll need an adapter.

The bad news is that all these small adapters are all too easy to lose, particularly if you spend the day going from room to room. The good news is that the XPS 12 can use WiDi to wirelessly connect the computer with a projector or TV. It stayed connected as far as 25-feet away.

There are three unexpected goodies that will help the XPS 12 fit into the school scene.  To start, it has a backlit keyboard that is an excellent way to keep typing while the lights are out during a projector-based lesson. Plus, in addition to a small button on the system’s side that lights up LEDs to show you how much battery is left, the XPS 12 has a button at the bottom of the screen that returns the user to the Windows 8 Start screen

It all adds up to a system that performs well, but not at the expense of battery life. Its Passmark Performance 8.0 score of 1,255.8 puts it in the upper echelon of Ultrabooks. While playing YouTube videos continuously, the XPS 12 ran for 5 hours and 5 minutes on its battery. That’s quite good, but there’re two snags: the battery can’t be removed to swap for a fresh one and the AC adapter requires a three-prong outlet.

Despite its high price tag, the XPS 12 comes with a 1-year warranty; upping it to 3-years adds $200. I think that the Dell XPS 12 has a place in the classroom. It's for when a tablet isn’t enough and a traditional notebook is too much. The XPS 12 is just right.


Dell XPS 12

Price, $1,200


+ Converts between a tablet and an Ultrabook

+ Excellent performance and battery life

+ Innovative design

+ HD screen

+ Gorilla Glass


- Lacks stylus

- Thick and heavy

- Projector and networking require adapters

Tablets Go to School

The latest in school tablets now have Windows 8 software so classrooms can take advantage of touch screens while continuing to use the software they own and know. Up to a point, that is. That’s because in addition to Windows 8, there will also be Windows 8 RT, which will be used on smaller and lighter devices that have the potential to run for 12 hours. The problem is that your favorite software won’t run on RT and there really isn’t much of a programming ecosystem established for it at this point. Luckily, these systems will come with a version of Office. 

Here’re the latest that run the gamut from single-purpose slates to hybrids and convertibles that can assume several personas in the school.

More Than Skin Deep 

Surface_WebProbably the most adventurous tablet at the start of the Windows 8 generation is Microsoft’s Surface. Based on Windows RT, you’ll need to buy new apps, but the $500 tablet includes a version of Office, has a 10.6-inch touch-screen that has a nice kick stand. Inside is a quad-core Nvidia Tegra processor, a pair of USB ports and 32- or 64GB of storage space. It weighs 1.5-pounds and has a $100 optional keyboard.

Touchy Tablet

8024519600_45f087e21f_kThe latest from HP is the ElitePad 900, a 10.1-inch tablet that weighs in at 1.5 pounds and is less than 0.4-inches thick. The key difference it has from the pack is that the ElitePad can take on a variety of personalities with add-on hardware that HP calls Jackets. There’re Jackets with a keyboard, ports, and extra battery life. Because the system uses Windows 8 software, a school can continue to use the programs it owns and knows.

Iconic Iconia

Acer-Iconia-W510-4-jpgAcer’s latest slate, the Iconia W510 is Windows 8 all the way, with a 1.5GHz Intel Atom Z2760 processor, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of solid state storage for $500; there’s also a 64GB model for $600. Its 10.1-inch screen is made of toughened Gorilla glass, has HD audio as well as stereo speakers and there’s an optional keyboard dock that can turn it into a netbook. All told, the slate weighs 1.3 pounds.


Slip and Slide

Duo_Black_01_Hero_lgInstead of a convertible or a snap-on keyboard, Sony’s VAIO Duo 11 Hybrid has a keyboard that slides in and out as the screen is raised or lowered. The Windows 8 system features an 11.6-inch display, an Core i3, i5 or i7 processor and the choice of 4-, 6- or 8GB of RAM as well as either 128- or 256GB solid state drive. Unlike most of the competition, the 2.9-pound Duo 11 comes with a stylus and sells for $1,100.

Full Bore Tablet

Q572 aIt’s a shame that nobody told Fujitsu that the Stylistic Q572 isn’t a full notebook computer, but its AMD dual-core Z-60 processor and 4GB of RAM and up to 256GB of solid state storage says otherwise. The slate has a 10.1-inch screen, a slew of ports and the system can be ordered with the choice of either Windows 8 or Win 8 Pro. It weighs a hefty 1.8 pounds, though.


Mental Exercise

Yoga 13 aYoga can help people relax while gaining strength, but Lenovo’s Yoga 11 and 13 are strictly about providing support for classroom education with systems that convert from slates to keyboard centric systems. The 13.3-inch version is the bigger of the two at 3.4-pounds and uses the full version of Windows 8. It has a Core i5 or i7 processor, up to 8GB of RAM and a 256 solid state storage drive. Expect it to cost $1,000.

Yoga 11By contrast, Yoga 11 uses Microsoft’s minimalist Windows RT software, as is the case with the Surface system. Yoga 11 includes an 11.6-inch screen, an ARM-based processor and as large as 64GB of solid state storage. The pad weighs in at just 2.8-pounds, yet its battery can run for several school days work of work.


Touching Upgrade

7127.Dell S2340T multi-touch Windows 8 monitor (angle)Have a slew of desktop PCs that you want to turn to touch machines for Windows 8? Dell’s S2340T is a 23-inch wide-screen LCD monitor with a difference. In addition to being able to show 1,920 by 1,080 resolution the screen responds to input from 10 fingers and it folds flat for horizontal work. It has a Web cam, speakers and a microphone, and costs $650.





Print City

Epson Expression Premium XP-800Printers small enough for the classroom rarely have the features and speed to keep up with the class’s needs, but Epson’s Expression Premium XP-800 all-in-one does it all. The XP-800 costs $280, has a 3.5-inch color preview screen and its 30-page document hopper means quick copies and scans. It can produce 9 color prints per minute and works with a PC, Mac or iPad and has Ethernet and WiFi networking built-in. 

Tests without the Clickers

Turning_tech_rw_1_1200x800Looking to fill a classroom with student response clickers, but can’t afford the hardware? Chances are that the kids have phones or tablets that can be used. With Turing Technologies’ ResponseWare, everything from an iPhone or Android smart-phone to a Blackberry can connect via the school’s WiFi network to send in answers to multiple-choice, alphanumeric and short questions. The beauty is that the response system doesn’t require any special software to load.

Freebee Friday: TED for Kids

00628_ted_logo-e1287583398167We’ve all heard of the TED conferences where the tech world’s movers and shakers meet and try to outdo each other with intense intellectual presentations about their areas of interest. How about one for students? That’s exactly what TEDYouth is all about. On November 17, nearly two dozen scientists and future-thinkers will converge on New York City’s Times Center with planned presentations by Bobak Ferdowsi (the Mars Curiosity rover’s Flight Director), science writer Carl Zimmer and theoretical physicist Clifford Johnson. There will also be dozens of TEDYouthDay events throughout the world.

Freebee Friday: Thinking Critically and Winning

FollettTo spur critical and analytical thinking in our schools Follett has sponsored an annual challenge to see which teachers excel and why. The 2012-2013 Follett Challenge involves submitting a 3 to 5 minute video demonstrating how they encourage students to look at the world critically, learn together and create an efficient educational environment. The payoff is big: $200,000 of Follett products for the top winner and $60,000 for two runners up. Hurry up, the deadline is January 4 with winners announced at this spring’s American Association of School Librarians meeting.

Fold N Type

Jorno dKeyboards come in all shapes and sizes these days, but none are more interesting than the Jorno design. A folding keyboard that can go anywhere there’s a class, Jorno weighs 8.8 ounces and is smaller than most phones when folded, yet it works with anything with a Bluetooth receiver, including PCs, Android tablets and iPads. The company is using Kickstarter to raise the $100,000 it’ll take to manufacture the keyboard, and they reached the goal a couple of weeks ago.

Question of the Month: Next Stop, Windows 8

With Windows 8 coming out next week, what is your district’s migration plans and what operating system do you use at the moment?

KeuterJay Keuter

Director – IT Client Services

Portland Public Schools

Portland, Oregon



Right now, Portland Public Schools (PPS) is about 70 percent PC with Windows XP, the dominant operating system. Historically, we have taken a pretty conservative approach to OS updates and are actually making the transition to Windows 7 rather than Windows 8. PPS typically takes a very organic approach focusing initially on new hardware purchases and as requests and repairs bubble up, transition those devices to Windows 7. This approach seems to impact our users the least and does not break the bank attempting to fund technicians to back up data and reimage each individual workstation. 

I don’t want to sell short the importance of having a current operating system, but as we have migrated our core productivity and instructional resources to Web-based solutions, the need for the most current operating system running the most current installed applications continues to wane. I would also add that our typical teacher is not a power user pushing the OS and installed applications to their full potential so we don’t have ton of users screaming for updates. In fact, our power users are more likely leveraging more flexible and accessible Web-based resources that better enable them to create and customize content and promote collaboration anytime-anywhere via a Web-enabled device.

At this time we are pretty content with our approach, but are intrigued by the potential of Windows 8 and the convergence of technologies. It will be interesting to see how this convergence translates to the K-12 education space and if we will see a groundswell of innovation and creativity as a result of this “new” ecosystem.


Mark weedyMark Weedy

Retired Superintendent

Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Schools

Groveport, Ohio





As a school administrator, I was always hesitant to make a quick decision regarding technology issues. When a new device, operating system, or other innovation hits the technology market, the tech department, administration, and other staff members should review it thoroughly. My experience with Windows operating systems is that lately it seems every other system gets it right.

Windows XP was successful while its successor, Vista, was not very successful, but Windows 7 appears to be a hit. If one uses that track record as a guide, Windows 8 will not be so great. However, it would be wise to investigate the new arrival and make a decision accordingly. One important issue to consider is the timing of Windows 8. The rollout of Windows 8 in October is not a good time for schools to consider changing operating systems since it would occur during the school year.


Next-Gen Chromebook

Google chromebookIf the first generation Chromebooks left you wanting more for less, the latest Samsung XE303C12 Chromebook squeezes a lot of notebook into a $250 price tag. Like the original Chromebooks, the XE303C12 is minimalist with 2GB of RAM along with a 16GB solid state storage drive. The notebook has an 11.6-inch screen and weighs less than 2.5 pounds, but has all the ports you’re likely to need and promises an all school day battery.

Big Apple

IPad_mini_inHand_Wht_iOS6_PRINTIn Silicon Valley’s worst kept secret, Apple finally introduced its iPad Mini, a 7.9-inch slate that weighs 11 ounces and has a 1,024 by 768 display. Under the skin is the company’s A5 dual core processor as well as 16-, 32-, or 64-GB of storage space. The base model comes with 802.11a and n WiFi, Bluetooth and a pair of cameras for shooting stills and video. The system is available in white or black and pricing starts at $329.


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