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TechLAB Shootout: 5 Small Android Tablets

TechLab_web largeThe notion that good things really do come in small packages has never been truer than with the new generation of smaller and lighter tablets for schools. They are not only cheaper and better sized for smaller hands but offer all the power and amenities of their big brothers.

 Rather than 10-inch screens, these mini-slates typically have 7-inch displays, and as a result they are thinner and weigh several ounces less, but they pack the same software and ability to transform the classroom into a digital domain. At less than a pound, these small wonders are much easier for children to handle with one hand and are less tedious to hold for long periods. But, by far the big difference is that these smaller slates are much less likely to be dropped and broken. In other words, they should fit right into the modern classroom.

In fact, IHS iSuppli forecasts that the 7-inch Android slate market is where the action will be. The market research firm has projected the 7-inch portion of the tablet market to be the fastest growing in 2013 with sales increasing four-fold, versus 2.6-fold for all other tablets. The firm predicts that next year, the 7-inch market could top sales of 67-million slates, or one third of the total tablet market.

 A big reason for this interest in smaller slates has to do with price tag. With a 10.1-inch Android slate costing between $350 and $500, a 7-inch model with similar specs and software can go for half as much. Plus, there are models that cost as little as $100

Android leadTo see what these smaller slates have to offer education, we brought together five of the latest models. From Acer’s Iconia Tab A110, Google’s Nexus 7 and KD Interactive’s Kurio 7 to Lenovo’s IdeaPad A1-07 and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, they are five of a kind. All have 7-inch screens of varying resolution, weigh significantly less than a pound and offer an inexpensive entry into classroom computing.

The savings add up quickly when compared to the run-of-the-mill classroom notebook. For instance, the most expensive ones were $200, about one-third to one-half the cost of the typical notebook used in schools.

We gave each a thorough examination and pushed them to the limit with benchmark software and a variety of typical school tasks. We measured and weighed them and used them for email and Web projects. For those that could, we connected them to a projector. We finished up with typical classroom lessons on spelling, math and geography.

We also wanted to see how they stack up against Apple’s iPad new Mini, the 800-pound gorilla in this field. Make that 600-pound gorilla because the Mini has a 7.9-inch screen versus the original’s 9.7-inches and a weight that’s on a par with the lightest of this group. By contrast, the new kid on the block, Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet, is much bigger but is just as interesting from a school point of view.

In the final analysis, size really does matter. But, so do abilities and the best are powerhouses with high-speed processors, sharp touch screens and lots of storage space. Some add cameras, front and back, as well as the ability to drive a projector so the whole class can see. In this regard, half of the group failed out with no way to connect it to a projector, making them more appropriate for use by students than by teachers.

A110 cOf the five, one stands out as a jack of all trades for teaching, Acer’s Iconia Tab A110. It may not be the lightest, the cheapest or the most powerful Android tablet around, but it does bring together technologies that can help teachers teach and students learn. It was not only a close second place in performance and has all the ports required in the classroom, but could run for 5 hours and 30 minutes on a charge. It’s squared off design is easy to hold and it doesn’t wobble on a table.

In other words, the Iconia Tab A110 will fit into classrooms for today and tomorrow.


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Make it Snow

SnowflakesAs you no doubt know by now, the kids at Newtown Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary school won't be back at school until early January. To welcome them to a new building, the Connecticut PTA is collecting homemade snowflakes. The deadline is January 12. Please send as many as you can to:

Connecticut PTSA

60 Connolly Parkway

                                         Building 12

                                         Suite 103

                                         Hamden, CT  06514

Digital Classics

Eprovidence aLady Macbeth’s inability to wash the blood from her hands takes on new impact and meaning with Providence eLearning’s iBook of the classic Shakespeare play. There are iBooks for Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Poetry of William Blake, Frankenstein, and Shakespeare’s Sonnets. The company is working Pride and Prejudice, The Confessions of St. Augustine, and companions to C.S. Lewis’s works. Each iBook costs $10 and has audio narration, video lectures, quizzes as well as the entire original text.

From One, Many

VMC Dashboard Chrome copyTrying to cut the cost of a computer lab or a classroom full of desktop PCs? NComputing’s vSpace system lets a full room of screens and keyboards run off of a single mid-range computer without compromising performance. The new Management Center lets an administrator oversee as many as 10,000 individual workstations and is browser based so there’s no software to load.

The Big Touch

MultiTaction_Win8_3.jpgWho says that a classroom must be built around a whiteboard and a projector? Not MultiTouch, which now has 42- and 55-inch flat-panel LCD screens that are touch enabled and can accommodate several users at once. The MultiTaction Cell 42” and 55” displays can show.

Freebee Friday: Facing a Free Calculator

S0427678_sc7How’s this for an end of year Freebee? TI is giving away 6 Nspire CX Color Graphing Calculators. Just go to their Facebook page, register and cross your fingers. The contest ends on December 31.



Freebee Friday: Taking Control of Android

TeacherMenuIt can’t guarantee that students are paying attention to the lesson, but TabPilot Learning Systems can make sure that everybody’s Android tablet is using the same app. It can even lock-out apps for Web browsing or for updating Facebook. It’s a freebee for working one-on-one with a student. After that, Launch & Lock costs $50 plus $4- to $12-per client, depending on how many seats are licensed. There’s also a full 30-day downloadable trial; just sign-up to try it out.


Little Big PC

NUC cropUntitled-1The next big thing in classroom technology could just be one of the smallest computers around. Intel's NUC, which stands for Next Unit of Computing, is on the verge of becoming available and could change the way we think of desktop PCs. At 4- by 4-inches, these micro computers have all of the power of a full desktop, yet include HDMI, USB and Thunderbolt connections and room for plenty of RAM. The best part is that they will have VESA mounting screws for attaching to the back of a monitor. When they come out later this year, these NUC devices could cost about $400.


StraightaceThe latest import from Japan is Straight Ace a math program that has 150 sections to help middle-school students the common core curriculum. Each section has a lesson – on everything from addition to word problems – as well as 10 sample problems to test mastery. The best part is that it works on iPhones, iPads and Android systems so it can be used during downtime. A subscription costs $6.25 per month with an annual plan.

Image Really is Every Thing

Photoshop bOne of the tasks of a modern education is to go beyond reading, writing and ‘rithmatic to introduce students to the tools required for living and working in a digital word. That includes not only using Office and some HTML programming but manipulating images with Adobe Photoshop.

With a simpler, less cluttered interface, the latest Photoshop Elements 11 program is the best version for education, yet. At 1.2GB, the software can be ordered as a physical disc or as a download and takes about 15 minutes to install and get ready for schoolwork. Be warned that it requires a mid-range computer, so it may not work on an anemic netbook.

When starting Elements 11, you can browse through the program’s Organizer, which gives vivid previews of existing images and can be categorized in a variety of ways. A big step forward for schools is the Event section, where photos of things like each year’s graduation or the spring concert can reside forever.

Or, you can dive right into the Photo Editor to open a file or start a new one. One of my favorites is that Elements 11 lets you start a new file with whatever is in the clipboard. It’s not new and it’s a little thing but one that can shave several mouse clicks off of a project.

Photoshop cThe software can load most popular file formats, including a variety of uncompressed raw images directly from digital cameras. Elements 11 has a depth that is unrivaled by other image editing programs, but with that comes a lot to learn. I suggest having a companion book on hand and liberally going to the Help material. It’s a very complex program that can perform image magic.

To address this, the software has three different entry points that correspond to different levels of sophistication. In addition to Basic and Guided, the program has Expert settings. Each has progressively less hand-holding and more control over the program’s tools and abilities.

By starting with Basic, the student has a limited toolbox of things they can do as well as preset items, making it perfect for young children or newbies. There are routines for automatically fixing a photo, adjusting the exposure, levels or colors as well as ways to sharpen the image or work with the color balance.

Photoshop aBy contrast, all of the program’s tools are available with the Guided sequences, and are a great for teaching kids (and often teachers) how to do specific tasks, like adjusting color or turning any image into a line drawing, until they become second nature. The sequence of steps you’ll need to follow are in the right in a gray box and as you finish one portion, the next one is ready.

At the pinnacle is the Expert section, which does away with all the training wheels. The good news is that at any time you can back track to the Guided lessons. There are also dozens of free videos available online that show how to do all sorts of things with the software.

In the Expert section, anything goes with an astounding variety of filters and actions, although you can’t create your own as is the case with the CS6 version. In addition to the expected rudimentary techniques, like moving an item, cutting and pasting or cropping, Photoshop Elements 11 is the easiest so far for silhouetting an item or adding a blur. All of these tools have a nearly infinite variety of adjustments and settings.

Photoshop dThe program is useful for everything from pulling an image of the school off of a photo for a newsletter cover to merging elements from different photos for a graduation day montage. There’s a wide variety of image enhancements that can make a poor-quality or old photo look better or make photos of people look like comic book characters or pen and ink illustrations. But, by far the most astounding thing that Elements 11 can do is change the depth of field of a photo.

When you’re done, Photoshop helps to get it out of the computer and off to wherever it needs to go. In addition to output selections for sending it to a traditional printer, the program can format it for a greeting card, DVD cover or as a slide show. It can even automatically be sent to a variety of photo-sharing and social media sites.

At $100, it is about one-third the price of Photoshop’s CS6 professional version, but could still be overpriced for many schools. The software works with PCs and Macs, but the more limited iPad Touch app costs another $10. With Adobe’s educational discount, a school with 250 students might pay as little as $16,500, or about $66 each For Photoshop Elements. There’s a free trial version that lasts for 30 days to try before you buy.


Adobe Photoshop Elements 11

Price: $100

+ Works with Macs and PCs

+ Good performance

+ Excellent range of image tools

+ Three different entry points for software

+ Great online videos


- iPad apps are extra

- Can be too much

- Expensive

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