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Small and Cheap

Matrix7The Matrix One tablet just might offer the most for the least in the world of Android tablets. Like most of the competition, it has a 7-inch multi-touch screen, weighs just over 11 ounces and comes with a Cortex A8 processor, but the Matrix one has only 512MB of system memory versus 1- or 2GB as well as 4GB of storage space; the slate’s capacity can be augmented with up to a 32GB microSD card. Despite having the latest Android 4.03 software, the Matrix One’s price tag is a school-friendly $60.

Power Desktop

M78Tower_Hero_02Need performance in a desktop PC? Lenovo’s ThinkCentre M78 delivers with the choice of AMD A-Series processors that run between 3.2- and 3.6GHz. You can get the M78 in a traditional tower case or a tiny small form factor system. Pricing starts at $450.

Long-Life Lamp

Top_ms517It is a truism that most projectors for schools end up costing more than the original purchase price in replacement lamps, But BenQ’s MW519 has a lamp that can go for 6,500 hours in eco mode, 50 percent longer than the competition. The projector uses DLP technology, is rated at 2,800 lumens and can put a 1,280 by 800 resolution image on the class screen. It costs $650.

School of Rock

PEGKT15SBNo music department is complete without at least one electric guitar and Pyle makes it easy and cheap. Its Beginner Electric Guitar Package includes a solid body electric guitar that comes in four colors as well as a protective case, 10-watt amplifier, extra strings, picks and tuner. The package costs $170, but Pyle sells other instruments for as little as $60.

Freebee Friday: Serif Design Suite For Free

Serif Design Suite_2012Tired of the cost and complexity of Abode's Creative Suite design software and looking for somthing cheapoer? How about a free copy of Serif’s Design Suite? It’s worth more than $450 and contains six elements, which each has its place in the school’s computer lab.

Just send an email to Serif and two lucky schools will win the software.

Pageplus· PagePlus X6: While providing complete drag-and-drop creative control of how documents look, PagePlus has a built-in word processor and the ability to use a wide variety of image types. The program includes attractive color schemes and what Serif calls Sticky Guides that make putting the item where you want it a snap. 

· Movie plusMoviePlus X6: Turning video clips into a movie has never been easier, and the program provides 200 special effects along with the ability to edit a clip in a few minutes. Not only can you create high definition DVDs but the software can format the video for playback on an iPad. FaceBook.

Webplus· WebPlus X6: WebPlus can turn a boring, static school Web site into one that’s exciting and interactive without having to manually code the pages. It includes the ability to use tablets, smartphoens and notebook computers. 

Photoplus· PhotoPlus X5: This program effectively replaces Photoshop in the ability to turn raw photos into finished products with a variety of editing filters and effects. It not only comes with an organizer to choose your photos and works with just about any imaging file format.

DrawPlus· DrawPlus X5: Digital art becomes easy with this program, which can work with vector illustrations and Flash animations. It works with pressure sensitive tablets and can import, export and edit Acrobat files.

Craft2· CraftArtist2: A big bonus is the inclusion of Craft Artist, which has its own photo eidting software and can create professional invitations, carts, certificates and photobooks. 

Even if you don’t win, you can download limited editions of the programs and helpful templates for free. 

Freebee Friday: From PC to iPad and Back

Slide3Need to use an iPad to teach, but your teaching resources are stuck on a PC? The free Netop Vision Mobile app lets teachers do exactly that put data securely at a teacher’s fingertips with the ability to use swipes, taps and gestures as well as an on-screen keybaord. It’s a freebee that can be downloaded from the iTunes App Store, but not available for the Android platform.

Google’s Chromebook Value Proposition

Chromebook logoWe know that minimalist thin client computing can save money for schools but reducing hardware and maintenance costs, but exactly how much? That’s the question that a recent IDC report answered by tabulating the actual dollars and cents costs of 12 schools and districts using Chromebooks. Google paid for the survey, but its results can’t be ignored. All told, thousands of children use Chromebooks and districts save thousands of dollars every day.

Google chromebookThere are Chromebooks from Acer and Samsung starting at $350, and according to IDC’s calculations, they can lower the annual cost of ownership to $311 a year, a huge savings compared to traditional notebooks. More to the point, Chromebooks require 69 percent less labor to install, 92 percent less labor to support and increased usable time for the systems by 82 percent. This can either lead to a reduction of needed staffing in a district’s IT department or free them to do needed and often ignored maintenance, upgrades or installations.

Bus Watcher

Comet actsoftWhere’s that school bus and how fast is it going? The Mobile County Board of Education can now know where every one of its 650 school buses is, thanks to a GPS-based system that relies on Actsoft’s Comet Tracker software from AT&T. Each of the district’s buses is continuously monitored for its position, speed and whether it’s on the route’s approved roads. Position readings are sent to the school every 30 seconds, reducing fuel costs and enhancing safety.


Hacking for Good

Team catchupThere are hackers that try to get into your systems and networks to get personal information, but there are also hackers who work to improve the world around them. The latest educational Hackathon took place last weekend in New York City with dozens of school kids competing to create a mobile app to encourage others to stay in school and combat absenteeism. Hosted by AT&T’s Alex Donn, the apps were judged based on originality, complexity of implementation and ability to tell the judges about the software. First place went to NYC Catchup, which consisted of five kids who created a program for bringing talented tutors and students together. In addition to 45 minutes of coaching with New York City's Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot, the group received $2,500 in gift cards, a $5,000 donated from AT&T to the team's non-profit organization of choice and a year of Github for each member. Congrats, all around. 

Getting Power Smart

K39572AM_AbsolutePower 2.1 prongs outEver plug your iPad into a PC’s USB port or a generic AC adapter only to find out hours later that not only isn’t it fully charged but has actually lost ground and the battery is nearly dead? The fact of the matter is that many computers and off-the-shelf USB power adapters don’t put out enough current to satisfy the pad’s thirst for electricity, leaving few alternatives other than using the AC adapter that came with the system.

Kensington’s Absolute Power 2.1 with PowerWhiz is the first universal USB charger that can work with just about any phone or tablet on the market. In fact, it is smart enough to recognize the device’s power specs needed and deliver it.

K39572AM_AbsolutePower 2.1 prongs foldedThe adapter comes in black only, but like the first-generation iPad power adapter, it has a fold-out two-prong plug and a USB port on the side for powering a device; you’ll need to supply your own USB cable, though. The Kensington power cube measures 1.5-inches on a side, small enough to slip into a pocket or pocket in a bag, but larger than Apple’s OEM power adapter. That’s balanced by the adapter’s 1.7-ounce weight, which is slightly lighter than Apple’s iPad power-pack.

Kensington’s PowerWhiz technology is the key to its success with such a wide variety of hardware. The key is that the adapter has a sophisticated circuit inside that interrogates the device’s power needs and then supplies exactly what the device needs, up to a 5-volt stream at 2.1 amps, matching the maximum output of the Apple adapter. By contrast, typical generic adapters put out a peak of only 1 amp and the major reason why they fall short of being able to charge an iPad and other devices.

K39572AM_AbsolutePower 2.1 Fast Charge for tablets in wallOver the course of several weeks, the AbsolutePower adapter was never far from my iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Lenovo S2110 or LG Nitro LG phone. It worked like a charm with each and stayed cool, even while charging a tablet’s battery. It’s not perfect because I wish it could charge two devices – say, a tablet and phone – at once. Kensington also has a 4.2 Amp AC wall adapter with two ports that can charge a pair of devices at once, but it lacks the PowerWhiz technology.

The power adapter comes with a 1-year warrant and costs $25. Unfortunately, it isn’t available at the moment, but you can preorder one that should get to you within a few weeks.



Kensington AbsolutePower 2.1 with PowerWhiz

Price: $25

 + Can charge any phone or tablet

+ Interrogates device’s power demands

+ Light weight

+ Fold-out plug



- Bigger than OEM adapter

- Only one USB outlet


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