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Desktop in your Pocket

Apps_dex_feature07_pcAs if Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 and S8+ superphones weren’t the current last word in mobility with thin profiles, large high-resolution screens and top-class processors, they add one big new item to the mix that can’t be matched. With the $150 DeX Station fold-open dock, you can connect the phone to a display and keyboard, effectively transforming it into the equivalent of a desktop PC. When it’s time to move to a new class, you can pull the phone from the dock and put in your pocket.

You’d think that after Samsung’s Note 7 disaster, the company would go conservative, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The S8 and S8+ are marvels that squeeze even more power and potential into smaller packages.

The key is how quickly Android software has caught up with Mac and PC apps. With the addition of Android versions of Microsoft’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint, there’s little need to get a more expensive and sometimes cranky Windows computer when a phone is all you’ll need. Plus, those schools that use Windows client-server emulation software, the DeX-S8 combo includes Citrix and VMware software built in as well as apps for Skype and Adobe Lightshop. The phone can natively run Gmail, Google Drive and YouTube apps.

On the downside, many general-purpose and educational apps haven’t been adapted to work with DeX and can’t run full-screen or are missing some features. Look for more companies to jump on the DeX bandwagon with optimized desktop Android apps.

Inside, the S8 and S8+ are like tiny tablets. Powered by a Qualcomm 8-core Snapdragon 835 processor that runs at a top speed of 2.35GHz, the chip delivers faster action but uses less power than earlier versions. Each phone comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage space, so it can handle just about any task – online or off. All this adds up to a powerful phone that scored between 30 and 40 percent higher on the GeekBench 4 single- and multi-processor tests compared to a year-old Galaxy S6.

S8+ and s8The Galaxy S8 and S8+ with their 5.8- and 6.2-inch AMOLED screens (versus 5.1- and 5.5-inches for the S7 and S7 Edge models) are not only among the brightest displays available but can show super-sharp UHD resolution. Still, with all it has, the S8 is thinner, narrower and slightly lighter than the S7 or S7 Edge.

The DeX dock is the phone’s perfect companion with the ability to connect a display, keyboard, mouse and more. The back of the fold-open DeX Station dock has a USB C, pair of USB 2.0 and an HDMI connection, but neither a VGA port for connecting to an older display nor an audio jack. Using the dock’s Bluetooth capabilities put sound it its place. It has an Ethernet port for connecting to the school’s network or you can use the phone’s WiFi or mobile data abilities.

When closed, DeX has a Moon Pie look, but open it and it has a pair of interlocking circlular plastic pieces. The upright portion looks like a Qi inductive charging plate, but all it does is hold the phone inplace. All dock-to-phone connections are made via a Type C USB plug. It’ll likely require some patience and trial and error get the phone and plug to line up.

EE-MG950_004_Front-Slide-Open_BlackSetting up the phone-to-screen connection took a few minutes with an S8 phone, but it’s time well spent. Rather than a tall thin image of the phone’s screen showing up on the display, you get a full landscape view of the phone’s contents in HD resolution. Later when I docked the phone, it took 8 seconds for the phone to link up with the dock, screen, keyboard and mouse.

Overall, it looks and feels a lot more like what you’re used to with a PC, Mac or Chromebook and less like a phone. When its connected, the keyboard, mouse or incoming call can wake up the phone. In addition to printing, the DeX dock lets you drag and drop items between windows, use Control-V, -C, and -X and right click to get contextual menus.

While it worked fine with Word, Excel and Acrobat, the Kiwix version of the PHET science and math simulations show up in partial-screen portrait format. Clearly, a work in progress, you can’t set up printing with a right click, the system balked at opening older PowerPoint files and Samsung’s vaunted voice-activated artificial intelligence agent, Bixby, won’t be available for another six months in the U.S.

EE-MG950_002_Back1_BlackStill, it has the phone-desktop dynamic down pat. When a call comes in, it shows up on the desktop and you can take it, ignore it or push it to the voicemail system for a message. Unfortunately, when it comes to using Skype for video chats in the DeX holder, the S8 camera is aimed at the ceiling, but it can be re-aimed by propping up the phone to point it downward; a stack of business cards or Post-It note pad works well.  

Overall the Dex concept has its pros and cons. To start, for the school, there’s one device to buy, set up and maintain. On the other hand, at $150 plus the $750 (for the S8) or $850 (for the S8+) it’s not a cheap set up. But, instead of some bits of data being scattered on a phone, notebook, tablet and online repositories, it’s all in one place.

Is the Galaxy 38/Dex combo a powerful phone or a mini desktop computer? The answer is yes.



Samsung Galaxy S8 with DeX dock


+ Phone to screen connection

+ Wired Ethernet included

+ Excellent desktop software

+ Single place to put files

+ Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other apps

- Lacks VGA and audio output

- Hard to aim camera for video calls

All-in-One PC With It All

Lenovo-desktop-ideacentre-aio-910-front-keyboard-mouse-2The next time someone tells you that the desktop computer is as dead as the dinosaur, point to the Lenovo IdeaCentre AIO 910. One of the most powerful and versatile all-in-one desktops around, the AIO 910 combines an Ultra-HD touch screen with a high-performance hybrid storage system and a top-notch graphics engine, making it a winner for everything from the classroom to the computer lab.

To start, at 18.9- by 25.6- by 8.8-inches, the AIO 910 is among the largest desktop computers around. I suggest devoting an entire desk or between 3- and 4-feet of counter space to each. Since everything is contained in the system, setting it up takes only a few minutes and requires a single power cord. Like the Apple iMac, the AIO 910 includes a matching keyboard and mouse. It also comes with a Lenovo external 8X DVD writer, but it is a generic black device that stands in contrast to the silver AIO 910.

The guts of the system are in its base that has connections for three USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, but does without the latest USB-C connections. The system has audio, a wired LAN connector and an SD card reader.

Unlike any other all-in-one system, the AIO 910 has a two-way HDMI port. There’s a button behind the port that changes the connector from an input (for showing a notebook or tablet’s screen) to an output (for showing the class what’s on the AIO 910’s display with a projector). On the downside, it’s awkward to reach your hand under the screen to swap the cables and reach the button. You can’t use input and output at once and there aren’t keyboard shortcuts or on-screen buttons to make the change between input and output.

Lenovo-desktop-ideacentre-aio-910-side-detail-3The AIO 910’s stand allows it to be tilted from 45-degrees to just past vertical, but it can't rotate or be raised. The stand’s articulated arm allows the screen to slide into a horizontal position for art- or map-work; it sits 5-inches above the desk. The base has rubber feet, but neither it nor the screen have VESA screws for mounting the system on a wall.

With both Intel’s HD Graphics 350 and an Nvidia GTX 950A with 2GB of dedicated video RAM, the system automatically switches between them for peak performance when you need it, but really helps with gaming. The AIO 910’s screen is a gem with the ability to show 3,840 by 2,160 resolution that’s between the iMac’s HD model and the Retina 5K display. Its colors are vivid, but it tops out at a brightness of 215 candelas per square meter.

The bonus that the iMac doesn't offer is that the A910's display responds to 10 independent touch inputs, so is a good choice for collaborative work. It also has an Intel RealSense camera that can turn the AIO 910 into a 3-D camera for facial recognition or high-end STEM scanning.

Inside, the AIO 910 has a Core i5 6700T that runs between 2.8- and 3.6GHz. The processor not only has Intel’s vPro manageability extensions but the system includes a second-generation Trusted Platform Module.

Lenovo-desktop-ideacentre-aio-910-side-ports-8Rather than 4- or 8GBs of RAM, the AIO 910 comes with 16GB of RAM and the one-two punch of a hybrid storage system. You can put regular old files on its 1TB hard drive as well as stash key quick access materials on its 256GB solid state storage.

Its Harmon/Kardon speakers point out the back of the display. Overall it sounds great with rich sound that can fill a small classroom. On the other hand, the system’s persistent fan makes a high-frequency whine that is more annoying than disruptive.

It all adds up to a top performer that has roughly twice the computing power of the typical notebook. It scored a 3,344 on Passmark’s Performance 9 series of tests. In fact, it will likely be one of the most powerful systems at school, perfect for everything from video editing and programming to visualizing math equations and using a 3-D printer.

This doesn’t mean that the AIO 910 is a power hog. The AIO 910 uses an economical 95-watts at full power and brightness, which is about 50-percent lower than the large iMac’s power draw. It uses 0.9-watts in sleep. All told, it should cost cost an economical $23.50 a year, if it’s on for 10 hours every school day, asleep the rest of the time and power costs the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Put it all together and the AIO 910 can provide top-notch computing for classrooms, STEM labs or even help get the office to work more efficiently. At $1,600, it costs about $500 less than the closest iMac 5K system, which lacks its touch-screen, dedicated high-end video processor and 3-D camera.

It may be a budget stretcher, but if you want the best of everything, the AIO 910 is worth every penny.



Lenovo IdeaCentre AIO 910 27



+ Top performance

+ Hybrid storage

+ Ultra-HD touchscreen

+ Adaptable stand

+ Excellent audio

+ Wireless keyboard and mouse

- Expensive

- No USB-C ports

VR Powerhouse

Asus vivo xInterested in producing virtual reality (VR) school material or just showing a virtual field trip to parents? Asus’s VivoPC X is a powerful desktop PC that can do it all. Despite its small size, the VivoPC X has everything needed for this visually demanding genre, from its seventh-generation Core i5 or i7 processor, top-speed memory and 500GB solid state storage system to the VivoPC X’s Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics engine. In other words, it can output anything from stunning VR material to 4K (up to 3,840 by 2,160 resolution) video. It’s been certified by Oculus to work with its headsets and has all the ports you should need. The VivoPC X will be available this spring for $800.

Sprout Gen-Two

Sprout-pro-g2The second-generation HP Sprout teaching desktop has arrived and it outdoes the original Sprout in just about every way. To start, the new Sprout Pro’s 21.3-inch horizontal projected display that can accommodate 20 individual touch inputs so two or more kids and work together. There’s also a 23.8 vertical touch HD display, a 360-degree scanner and an active stylus for drawing or customizing a project. Inside, Sprout has a 2.9Ghz Core i7 7700T processor along with up to 16GB of RAM and either 1TB of hard drive capacity or 500GB of solid state storage and an Nvidia GTX 960M high-performance graphics engine with 2GB of its own video memory. Each Sprout comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse as well as a school-ready three-year warranty.


Clique Time

IMG7880--1Tired of having the Apple Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad 2 slide apart from each other as your kids do their work? Henge’s Clique² consolidates them into one unit that stays put. Both the keyboard and trackpad snap into the Clique²’s aluminum base and works just as well for lefties and righties. It costs $59, not including the keyboard and trackpad.

Power in the Palm

Shuttle bThe era of the bulky and power-hungry desktop computer has long since passed, but it has taken a few years for a replacement to appear. Pint-sized PCs, like Shuttle’s NC02U can match its predecessors task for task, but take up less space and uses a lot less power. It may not be the best performing PC around, but at $150, the Shuttle’s price can’t be beat for a variety of classroom uses.

At 1.7- by 5.6- by 5.6-inches, the Shuttle PC is among the smallest full computers around and occupies roughly 0.8-liters of space. It weighs in at 1.5-pounds, meaning that you can Velcro it in place or use the included VESA mounting hardware to put it on the back of a monitor turning any display into a DIY all-in-one PC. It has rubber feet and includes a two-legged stand for stand-alone use.

In addition to a power button and SD card slot, the Shuttle has USB-C and USB 3.0 ports up-front for quick access. The back has connections for video with HDMI and Displayport plugs, but the system’s power input requires the included AC adapter. There’re connections for a pair of USB 2.0 devices and an audio jack as well as a gigabit wired LAN port and 802.11n WiFi.

Oddly, it does without Bluetooth wireless capabilities. In other words, you might have trouble using a wireless keyboard, mouse or speakers with the Shuttle, but I used a USB Bluetooth adapter without any problems with it.

If you use older STEM hardware, you’ll like the inclusion of an RS-232 serial port. On the downside, if you want to use the stand, you’ll need to get a right-angle adapter or run the risk that the serial port plug won’t fit.

Basic in the extreme, the Shuttle is powered by a 1.6GHz Celeron 3855U processor that is far from state of the art. In addition to not having things like Turbo Boost speed control and Hyperthreading, the processor does without Intel’s vPro manageability extensions.

Shuttle aThe system I looked at is a bare bones unit that doesn't include RAM or storage. Happily, despite its diminutive dimensions, there’s room inside the Shuttle’s case to fit an extra 2.5-inch hard drive if you need more storage space.

Under the skin, it uses Intel’s HD Graphics 510 with 128MB of dedicated video memory that is augmented by the system RAM that raises the amount of usable video memory to 2.1GB. For a budget computer, it does surprisingly well with the ability to put 3,840 by 2,160 resolution video onto a screen and can drive two displays at once. On the downside, when it’s working hard, the Shuttle blows hot air upwards if you use the stand.

A jack of all trades, the Shuttle comes as a bare bones unit without an operating system, but can work anything from Windows 7 through the current Windows 10 as well as Linux software. My test system used Windows 10 Pro. With 4GB of RAM and 32GB of SSD storage space, the system mustered a passable 1,254.1 on the Passmark 8 benchmark suite of performance tests, which puts it on a par with many current mid-range tablets or notebooks available. It can’t touch a high-performance PC but that’s not the point of the Shuttle, which can go where more powerful desktops can only dream of.

Along these lines, the Shuttle systems is a power miser that uses only 15.4 watts of power while working full blast. That drops to 0.4-watts when it’s in sleep mode. If it’s used for 10 hours every school day, expect that the Shuttle will cost only $4 per year to operate if electricity costs 12 cents per kilowatt hour, the national average.

Shuttle dIt has two more power tricks up its sleeve that can cut energy bills further. It can be set up to wake up on a network command so it can be dormant until needed. The Shuttle can also be set to turn itself off at the end of the school day and then start itself up before anyone arrives in the morning.

Unlike so many of its peers, Shuttle stands by the NC02U with a three-year warranty that makes the standard one year of coverage seem second rate by comparison. It promises lifetime support as well.

In other words, the Shuttle NC02U is not only one of the smallest and lightest desktop PCs around, but it’s one of the most economical to get and use.


Shuttle c

Shuttle NC02U



+ Inexpensive

+ Windows 7 through 10 and Linux

+ 3-year warranty

+ Includes mounting hardware

+ Tiny and economical


- Mediocre performance

- No Bluetooth

Freebee Friday: One Program to Rule Them All

ParallelsThe notion that PCs are PCs and Macs are Macs is an outdated idea with the advent of the ability of Parallels Remote Application Server 15.5 to virtualize apps for a wide variety of platforms. It works with clients ranging from PCs, Macs and Chromebooks to iOS, Android, Linux, Windows Phones and even Raspberry Pi systems. This is all without sacrificing ease of use, security or the touch control that makes each system unique. The software is constantly monitoring use to balance the resources among users. It’s free to try the server software out for a month with 50 user licenses.

Surface Sits Still

StudioWhether it’s the Surface, the Pro or the Book, Microsoft’s iconic PCs have always been very portable. That changes with the Surface Studio desktop. Expected to arrive in early 2017, the Studio is an all-in-one system with a huge 28-inch touch screen that can show 13.5-million pixels and tilt to a variety of angles, including a desktop drawing panel. It’s expensive at $3,000 with a Core i5 processor up to 32GB of RAM and graphics that can use up to 4GB of video memory, but the Studio is unique. There’s also a pressure sensitive stylus for intricate work and a unique Dial knob (see inset) that can sit on the screen to add an extra level of adjustments.



Power in the Classroom

Z240HP’s Z240 workstation is a powerful system that can run basic programs like Word and Excel just as well as high-end ones like Premiere and AutoCAD, yet costs only a little more than a standard desktop does. Starting at under $900 for a small format system, the workstation features Z Turbo high-speed storage and the ability to add extra solid-state storage with an unused M.2 slot. You can get it with up to 64GB of RAM, Windows 7, 10 or Linux and the Z240 can now be ordered with a Core i7 6700K processor. Capable of running at between 4- and 4.2GHz, it’s a screamer and it comes with 8MB of on-board cache to streamline its operations. On the downside, it uses as much power as the typical light bulb and HP engineers needed to tweak the system’s fan to help the Z240 keep its cool.

Hp remote swEvery Z240 workstation comes with a copy of HP’s Remote Graphics Software (RGS), which can let a student remotely run any Z240 in the school’s computer lab from home. RGS has software for PCs and Linux systems right now, but there will be a version for Macs sometime before school starts. On the downside, there’s nothing for Androids and iPads. This software is just as good for allowing a teacher to prepare lesson plans from home as a student trying to finish a project in time.



Power on the Cheap

Thinkstation p410When it comes to accomplishing high-performance tasks like video editing and computational and math or science simulations, there’s nothing like a full workstation, and there are two new gems. To start, the ThinkStation P410 provides power on the cheap, starting at $1,049, but with the ability to scale its power to match the task at hand. It can be ordered with an 8-core Xeon E5-2600 (3.5GHz) or E51600 (3.7GHz) processor, up to 128GB of RAM and 4TB of storage as well as NVidia’s Quadro M5000 graphics. Of course, you’ll need to get a monitor, keyboard and mouse.

Z1 g3 open backMuch like an all-in-one desktop PC, HP’s Z1 G3 does it all in a surprisingly small package. Starting at $1,498, the Z1 G3 is built around a 23.6-inch touch display, which can show Ultra-HD resolutions, perfect for image editing or digital art classes. There’s an optional pressure sensitive pen and the whole system is powered by either a Core or Xenon E heavy-duty processor. It has slots for up to 64GB of 2.1GHz DDR-4 RAM and the system has room for a pair of drives inside as well as NVidia’s latest Maxwell-based high-performance graphics. The good news is that unlike other all-in-one designs, you can open the back to add RAM, change a drive or even clean out the accumulated dust bunnies. It comes with a three-year warranty.

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