Love the new iPhone 7 but hate the fact that it does without a traditional headphone jack and that you can’t charge it while listening to music or podcasts? Belkin’s Lightning Audio + Charge Rockstar is a Lightning two-for adapter that lets you plug in and listen to whatever you want while charging the phone. It can handle up to 12 watts of power, works with 48 kHz, 24-bit audio and lets you use the microphone and remote control on the Apple headphones. Even with the $40 adapter, you’ll still need either digital headphones or the Apple Lightning to headphone adapter as well.
Microsoft’s Surface Dock is a great way to turn a tablet into a mini-desktop, but at 1.5-pounds it isn’t exactly portable and the current dock doesn’t work with older Surface systems. That’s where Tripp Lite’s USB 3.0 Docking Station for Microsoft Surface comes in. It works with every Surface system made, from the first through the current fourth-generation systems and should work with next year’s upcoming fifth-generation Surface family.
It starts by providing all the ports you’ll need but does so at only 5-ounces. Unlike the Microsoft device, the small black Tripp Lite dock clips onto the Surface’s pull-out kick-stand, creating as close to an integrated whole as you can get. It also makes sure that the dock isn’t dropped or left behind.
On its sides are a good selection of the ports you actually use every day. While there’s a trio of USB 3.0 ports, it adds the luxury of a plug-in RJ-45 port for a 1Gbps wired Ethernet connection.
A big step forward is that rather than the Microsoft dock’s mini-Displayport video connection, which generally requires an adapter to be connect with a display or projector, the Tripp-Lite device has a full-size HDMI port. It can handle resolutions from all the way up to 4K imaging and is unlikely to become obsolete anytime soon.
After plugging the Tripp-Lite dock into the Surface’s USB port and its included power adapter into an AC outlet, the system makes the connections and takes a second to set itself up. If you want to use the dock’s HDMI port, you’ll need to use the included Mini DisplayPort cable as well. The best part about Trip Lite’s dock is that there’s no software to load and it worked on the first try with a Surface 2 Pro, Surface 3 and a Surface 3 Pro. Since everything is automatic, it’s a great addition to school desks where teachers and students connect and disconnect all day long.
Using the Surface dock was like a breath of fresh air for my work. I used it with everything from USB thumb drives and a DVD drive to a Brother printer and a Philips monitor. About the only thing it doesn’t do is charge the tablet. To do that, you’ll need the full-size Surface Dock.
Even at its list price of $187.50, Tripp Lite’s dock is a bargain that can help a variety of Surface tablets to make their needed connections. If you shop around a little you can find it for less than half that amount at places like CDW, making it a must-have for any school that has a lot of Surfaces to cover.
Tripp Lite USB 3.0 Docking Station for Microsoft Surface and Surface Pro, USB-A, HDMI and Gigabit Ethernet Ports
+ Small and light
+ Clips to Surface stand
+ Has HDMI port
+ 4K resolution
+ Works with all Surface tablets
+ No new software needed
- Doesn’t charge tablet
It’s now inexpensive and easy to turn just about any school tablet into an interactive device for the whole class. Kensington’s $130 Tablet Projection Stand not only turns the slate into a document camera but lets you annotate anything on its screen. The aluminum stand has padded jaws that can securely hold tablets with up to 11-inch screens while allowing it to be pointed and precisely aimed.
Don’t let Satechi’s Edge Wireless Gaming Mouse’s name fool you, it is just as appropriate for schools that need high-precision pointing devices as for gamers searching for the center of the universe. At $25, it costs about what a boring basic wireless mouse goes for, but offers so much more.
At 5-ounces (including its pair of AA batteries), the Gaming Mouse feels good in the hand, is smaller than most chunky mice and can be comfortably used by 4th through 12th graders. The Edge’s black plastic case has a soft inviting coating, a comfortable ridge for your thumb to rest on as well as an indent for the pinky and ring fingers on the right. All this means that lefties might feel left out because it concentrates most of its control buttons on the left.
The good news is that unlike some pointers, you won’t have to load any software to get it to work on a recent PC. It sets itself up immediately for PCs that use Windows XP and newer, Macs with OSX 10.4 and newer and Chromebooks of all vintages. Any adjustments need to be made from within the OS’s software.
Rather than being tethered to a computer with a USB cord, the Gaming Mouse is wireless. On the other hand, instead of Bluetooth, it uses a proprietary connection that requires using the included small (easy to lose) 2.4GHz USB adapter.
Unlike more basic pointers, the Edge has a multitude of buttons. It has the basics: right and left click buttons as well as a smooth scroll wheel for moving up and down within a long Web page or document. The mouse adds page-forward and -back keys for the thumb, a dedicated double click button and one for adjusting the mouse’s resolution.
It may not be able to use 12,000-dot per inch (dpi) resolution as many new pointers can. You can choose between 800dpi for things like word processing and Excel spreadsheets through 1,600- and 2,400- to 4,000-dpi for image editing or design work where high precision counts.
Turn the mouse over and you’ll find not only a switch for changing the mouse’s responsiveness between 250 and 500-hertz, but a setting that turns the buttons into video controls. This allows the Gaming Mouse to show off its split personality by being able to play/pause, fast-forward/rewind and clear the screen. The scroll wheel becomes a volume control, but the mouse lacks a mute button.
There’s a visual advantage to the Gaming Mouse as well. The scroll wheel and a “G” logo on the Edge are backlit and have a purpose. As you change the mouse’s optical resolution, the light cycles through red, purple, green and blue. If it’s too much of a distraction, you can turn the light show off.
After between 5 and 10 minutes it goes to sleep to save battery power. While other wireless pointers wake up by moving the mouse around, you’ll need to press one of its buttons to bring it back to life. Satechi says that a set of batteries should go for 36 months and Edge worked fine with a set of rechargeable Sanyo’s Eneloop batteries.
Everything is smooth as silk and the mouse works just as well on a laminate desktop in a classroom as on a glass tabletop in a library.
Its precision and hand-feel make the Gaming Mouse a joy to use compared to budget pointers. At $25, the Gaming Mouse is cheap enough to be in any classroom or computer lab where precision counts.
+ Adjustable resolution
+ Works with PCs, Macs and Chromebooks
+ Lit scroll wheel
+ Video shortcut buttons
- Requires USB adapter
- Awkward to wake up mouse
Is your gym’s lighting looking dull and costing a fortune everytime you turn on the lights for a class or event? Older mercury sodium lighting fixtures can be sapping thousands of dollars from your budget while not doing a good job of illuminating the room. The latest HXB Series LED High Bay Luminaire fixtures from Cree have LEDs instead and deliver 35,000 or 70,000 lumens at an unbeatable 140 lumens per watt of power used, 40 percent more than older bulbs. You can get the fixtures in 3,500-, 4,000- or 5,000K light colors, but they need to mounted at least 30 feet above the floor. The best part is that the LED Luminaire family have been designed to last for 100,000 hours of use, which translates into nearly 30 years of use for 10 hours a day – everyday. Needless to say, it means that you won't have to change their bulbs ever.
Whether you’re a one-to-one school or one that moves computers around for kids to use, the screens – especially touchscreens – can be a reservoir for germs and the source of a flu outbreak. Whosh is a spray-on antiseptic with a synthetic anti-microbial cleaning cloth to wipe away dirt, grime, fingerprints and especially bacteria. It’s good for everything from a phone and tablet to a desktop display, and comes with a screen replacement guarantee if it damages the display.
Just spray the liquid onto the cloth, wipe the glass clean and flip over the cloth to dry it. Happily, it cuts through accumulated fingerprints and dirt, but doesn’t leave streaks. It does leave behind a microscopic layer that resists fingerprints. The Whosh spray doesn’t have ammonia, chlorine or alcohol so it’s safe for kids. A one-ounce Whosh sprayer with cloth costs $10 and a combo of 3.4- and 0.3-ounce bottles is $20.
When it comes time to write an essay, learn about sentences or take a test, every classroom tablet needs to be transformed into a mini-desktop that’s as easy to type with as it is to work the screen. Belkin’s family of Wired Keyboards can accommodate just about any tablet with a full keyboard and a stand that can hold the tablet steady.
Belkin sells versions of the wired keyboards that connect with most tablets on the market. To start, there’s one for early iPads that use the old-school 30-pin connection plug. The keyboard works with everything from the original pad to the third-generation one. It costs $60.
For those with newer iPads, there’s also a Wired Keyboard that works with Lightning port equipped tablets. It goes for $70 and is compatible with the iPad Air, Mini, both second generation pads as well as the newest Pro models.
Finally, those schools that have Androids and small Windows pads, there’s a wired keyboard that connects via a 5-pin Micro-USB plug. In addition to Samsung’s extensive Galaxy line of tablets, it can be used with lots of tablets with a 12-inch or smaller display that has a micro-USB port. Happily, like the Android tablets they’re likely to work with, the $40 keyboard is the bargain of the bunch.
Using these keyboards in the classroom couldn’t be easier. Regardless of which you use, these keyboards connect to their tablets instantly, don’t require external power, batteries or loading any software on the tablet to operate. Just plug them in and start typing. The 26-inch cable won’t get in the way because it can be cleverly wrapped under the keyboard so it’s just long enough to connect.
On the downside, you can’t charge iPads and most Androids while using the keyboard. Plus, those tablets with small bezels, like the Nexus 9, run the risk of losing a line or two that are covered by the stand’s lip.
The keyboards are not only more reliable than wireless ones, but the screen wakes up when a key is tapped. They have standard key placement with 72 keys, each of which is 18.5 mm with a comfortable 3.0 mm of depth, putting them on a par with larger desktop keyboards. Still, the keyboards take up only 12- by 10-inches of desktop space, are only 0.7-inches thick in the front and have enough of an inclination to make typing less of a chore.
In addition to dedicated multimedia keys for controlling media and adjusting the volume- up and -down, the keyboards have Search buttons and one that locks and unlocks the keys. They all have generous 4-inch space bars, Enter and Shift keys as well as a separate set of arrow keys in the lower right corner that double as Page Up and Down as well as End and Home. There’s a go-back key, Caps Lock LED, but the keyboards lack Function keys.
The keyboards are PARCC and SBAC approved for school use and have rubber feet to keep them from marring a tabletop or moving under intense typing. Each weighs 1-pound and 3 ounces and each member of the keyboard family have the bonus of a stand to hold the tablet securely either in portrait or landscape orientation regardless of how hard students type.
The micro-USB version I looked at is the most versatile of the three. It not only holds the screen at a tilt of about 40-degrees, but with the right adapter, it can work with a PC-based tablet that has full sized USB ports, although Belkin hasn’t tested them for this purpose.
It worked well with an HTC Nexus 9, Toshiba Encore as well as a Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 and Surface Pro 3, In fact, the only tablet or phone it didn’t work with was the USB C-based TabPro S. Best of all, when the keyboards aren’t being used, they can be stacked and can put away in a cabinet, drawer or the shelf of a cart.
Wired Tablet Keyboard w/ Stand
+ Instant start up
+ Versions for iPads and Android tablets
+ No software or external power needed
+ PARCC and SBAC approved
+ Stand for tablet
- No touchpad or mouse connection
- Can’t charge tablet and use keyboard
Every school has broken notebooks and rather than looking at them with scorn, disdain and guilt, look at them as a resource for future use. A boneyard for use in repairs, there are batteries, RAM modules and the system’s hard drive available for resurrecting other systems.
I recently raided a dead notebook with a broken screen that yielded a working battery, 4GB of RAM and – the mother lode – a 500GB SSD storage system. The Crucial M500 2.5-inch drive will be the basis of an external hard drive that can store whatever doesn’t fit on my notebook.
The first step is to get an enclosure that will not only house the drive but has an interface for communicating with the host computer. Here, I selected Satechi’s $35 Type-C Aluminum HDD/SSD Enclosure. You can get it for $30 from Amazon.
Available in four colors, the drive box is made of pressed aluminum and despite being thin and light it’s rugged enough to take daily abuse. At 6.3-ounces with the drive in place, the drive can go anywhere during the school day and fits into a jacket pocket. The drive case has a single blue LED to show it’s on.
The kit comes with a screwdriver to loosen the two screws that hold it together and a 12-inch USB-C to USB-C cable. Unless you use a hub or adapter to convert the signal for USB 2 or USB 3 systems, it’s only usable with the newer USB-C based systems. This is balanced by the fact that you neither need to load any software to connect nor use an AC adapter to power the drive.
Inside is a Via Labs interface chip that can move up to 10Gbps of data back and forth and works with 1- or 2.5-inch hard drives and SSD modules, but not the newer M.2 cards. After plugging the drive in and putting it together, it worked on the first try with a Samsung TabPro S system, although it took up the tablet’s only USB port. That means that you can’t charge and use the system at the same time. It was able to play two 4K video streams at once and topped out at a throughput of 1.8Gbps, not bad for a salvaged part.
I now have a reliable and speedy external drive to catch the overflow from my notebook, holding everything from videos and images to lesson plans and presentations.
+ Easy to install
+ Thin and lightweight
+ No software or external power needed
+ Good speed
- Doesn’t work with M.2 modules
Room size air filters are too much for most schools to afford, but for the sensitive student or teacher, Wynd’s $139 air purifier can help and teach the class a thing or two about air quality. That’s because in addition to a physical filter, the Wynd system continuously monitors the air quality for particulates. This data shows up on an LED light that glows green if the air is OK, but the data is also sent to Wynd for incorporation into a world map of air quality. It can show air pollution trends and send out alerts. It’s currently an Indiegogo program that has raised more money than it needs to get started making Wynd units.
Nothing wastes electricity (and precious budget money) more than teachers and students leaving the lights on after the room has emptied, but rewiring with motion-sensing, timer- or network-controlled switches is expensive, complicated and require an electrician to install them. Enter Acer’s SwitchMate switch covers, which can turn the lights on and off when needed, and can quickly pay for themselves.
The switch covers are nothing short of ingenious and take 10 seconds to install. Rather than having to rewire a switch with new hardware, SwitchMate fits right over an existing toggle and rocker switch plate and is held tightly in place with magnets.
Inside, there’s a small motor that moves an arm to push the underlying switch on or off. It requires a pair of AA batteries (included) and you can hear the motor whirring while it’s working. While it’s a nice way to retrofit a light switch to be remotely controlled, the device raises the switch plate by about an inch and includes a small adapter you might need for some rocker switches.
SwitchMate’s Web site has a compatibility guide that will let you know ahead of time if the plate will work with your switches. At the moment, SwitchMate only comes in white and there’s nothing to remotely control an outlet, dimmers, half-size or press-button switches.
Once it’s in place, you can turn the light on and off by pressing the SwitchMate plate’s center. Switchmate comes into its own after you download and install the app for Android or iOS phones or tablets. Unfortunately, there’s no software for PCs or Macs. The app is very powerful, visually-oriented and easier to setup and use than WiFi-based automation gear. That’s because SwitchMates connect via Bluetooth. On the downside, the phone needs to be within range for it to control the switch.
Once your phone or tablet has made contact with the SwitchMate, you can name each switch (based on its location or the fixture it controls) and give it an identifying icon. At this point SwitchMate is ready for more important tasks, like turning the lights on or off at any time by tapping the phone or tablet’s icon. This alone would make it useful in the classroom after a projector-based lesson is about to start or has ended.
The switch can also be set to turn on when you get near enough for SwitchMate to sense your phone’s Bluetooth signature. Ironically, the reverse isn’t possible. It can’t turn lights off after a period when your phone isn’t detected.
The app can warn you when the switch cover’s batteries are about to die and the interface can control up to a dozen separate switches, plenty for a day of room-to-room migration. Each switch can be controlled by separate phones or tablets, which can allow different users to turn the lights on and off at a variety of rooms.
On the other hand, you’ll find that occasionally, the software can’t control the individual SwitchMates. After a little head-scratching, all you do is restart your phone’s Bluetooth radio and everything works fine afterward.
Unfortunately, SwitchMate is an island of technology that can’t be integrated into other automation schemes, but the company is working on getting it to work with Alexa’s voice activated home automation system. You can’t program SwitchMate to turn on at sunrise and off at sunset for outdoor security lighting or connect over the Internet to control the lights when you’re not nearby.
The switch covers worked on nearly every toggle and rocker switch that I could find, but even with the included adapter balked at one rocker. The way it works is uncanny and seems like magic, particularly when it turns on as you enter a room. At $40, SwitchMate can pay for itself in about a school year if a classroom’s fluorescent lights are turned off for an extra few hours a day.
$40 per switch
+ Works with standard toggle and rocker light switches
+ 10 second installation with magnets holding it in place
+ Phone and tablet interface
+ Can turn on when phone is nearby
+ All on/off setting
- Won’t work with dimmers or dual switches
- Slight delay
- No PC or Mac software