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Crash Cases

Surface-Pro-4-Case-with-KeyboardHave you broken a Surface Pro because it just couldn’t stand up to the constant use, dropping and spills at school? MobileDemand has the answer – its X Cases for Surface 3 and Surface Pro 4 can protect them from even the clumsiest students and teachers. They cost $75 for the S3 and $90 for the SP4 for the basic case that protects the all-too delicate tablets and provides a place to stash the stylus. At $125 (SP4) and $110 (S3), the premium cases add a pull out stand, hand straps and VESA mounting screws. You can buy the cases on their own or with the tablets.



Have a Ball

Kensington trackball aLooking for a better way to control a computer’s cursor than the typical mouse for things like digital artwork, video editing and Web browsing? Kensington’s $100 Expert Mouse Wireless Trackball can easily put clicks and scrolls exactly where they need to be.

The 5- by 5-inch black trackball base sits firmly on a desk and has a two-inch bright red ball, although if you turn the base over, you run the risk of the ball falling out and rolling onto the floor. It has a snap-on wrist rest and the trackball can be a good choice on a desk or kiosk so small there’s no desktop room to maneuver a traditional mouse.

The best part of using the Expert Mouse Trackball is its middle name: Wireless, so there's not a cable to be seen. To get started, put a pair of AA batteries into the back of the device and either plug the included Nano USB dongle into your computer or connect it through the system’s Bluetooth page. If you use the Nano receiver everything is automatic and the trackball worked on the first try.

Trackball sw aTo set up the system’s Bluetooth link, you need to press all four of the trackball’s actuation to make the device discoverable and then click on the Expert Mouse Wireless Trackball in the computer’s Bluetooth screen. It also worked on the first try.

I used the trackball for everything from basic classroom uses (like Web browsing, playing educational games and working with spreadsheets) as well as more specialized roles (such as using Photoshop or math simulations). It not only was more precise than the optical mouse I had been using, but you can roll your hand over the ball to move between places quickly.

In addition to using the trackball’s individual four actuation buttons independently and assigning individual tasks to them, you can add two more actions by pressing the top two or bottom two buttons at once. There’s a central scroll wheel that lets you zip through a long Web page, which you can customize as to which way it is spun to go up and down.

The good news is that the trackball is ambidextrous, and unlike symmetrical mice, works well for righties and lefties. Under the skin is Kensington’s DiamondEye optical tracking system that smoothly and accurately registers where the ball is. You can make a slew of adjustments with the downloadable Trackball Works software, like changing the pointer speed and adding acceleration as well as changing the scrolling speed.

Kensington trackball bUnfortunately, you can’t adjust the trackball’s resolution, but the Wireless Trackball can be set to change its button settings based on the program that’s being used. There are versions of the Trackball Works software for Mac OS X (version 10.8 to 10.11), PCs (Windows 7, 8.x and 10) and the trackball works natively in Chrome systems.

To save power, the trackball goes to sleep when it’s not being used. That’s good in giving the batteries a longer life, and the set I used had no problem lasting for the 6 weeks that I used for several hours a day. On the other hand, it also means that if you use the host system’s Bluetooth to connect to the trackball, be prepared for the trackball to lag by a few seconds as it wakes up.

Kensington backs the Wireless Trackball with a three-year warranty, but if it’s like earlier Kensington trackballs, it will last a lot longer than that. At $100, it costs the same as Kensington's Expert Mouse Wired Trackball, making it a bargain in the classroom. There are much cheaper mice and trackballs available, but none that better put the cursor in its place.  



Kensington trackball c

Kensington Expert Mouse Wireless Trackball


+ Accurate

+ Customizable buttons

+ Bluetooth-based

+ Three-year warranty

+ Includes USB receiver

+ Wrist rest


- Can take a few seconds to wake up

- Ball can fall out

The Desk That Has Its Ups and Downs

Focus Desk group workNothing gets kids more productive, particularly after lunch than a standing desk and Marvel’s Focus Desk goes up and down. Made of sturdy steel, the Focus desk has a spring loaded height adjustment that any child can change from a 26- or 36-inch high work surface. The desk has a 28- by 20-inch tabletop and the desk has an optional shelf and screen for test time.


Roll Out the Computers

CSC32USB-FRONT-LGetting tablets and notebooks to the right place at the right time all charged and ready for learning is no easy task, and Tripp-Lite’s CSC32USB can hold and charge 32 systems. With 2.4-amps of charging current ready so that all the batteries are at full, the cart works with the latest iPads, Kindles, Androids and Surface slates as well as anything that’s smaller than 1.5- by 16.5- by 10.5-inches. All the cords are out of sight, the CSC cart can synchronize the systems’ software and its flow-through ventilation can help them keep their cool. While the $1,300 cart weighs a hefty 130-pounds, its 4-inch casters let it glide from room to room.

Reading Light as Sculpture

1448268203The latest reading lamps can help reduce eye strain, but BenQ’s dual-color WiT is also an ingenious piece of flexible sculpture. Capable of delivering 850 lumens of flicker-free light, the lamp is the equivalent of a single 100-watt conventional incandescent light bulb, but uses only 18 watts of electricity. Available in five colors, the WiT’s arm is articulated so that the light goes exactly where it’s needed. At $300, it's pricey, but the WiT lamp does something few other lights can: lets you adjust the color balance from 2,700 to 5,700 Kelvins

Hear the Light

Sengled pulseAny hallway, office or classroom with recessed lighting can be wired for sound with a new generation of LED bulbs that have built-in speakers. Not only will they cut the cost of lighting the school, but the connections are all wireless, so there’s no expensive electrician needed to conenct them. Inside each Sengled Pulse unit is a 1.75-inch JBL speaker that puts out 13-watts of audio, while delivering 600-lumens of light at a color temperature of 2,700 Kelvins or roughly the output of a single incandescent light bulb.

Screen322x572The beauty of the Pulse light is that it can replace a standard E26 bulb and screws right into the socket. The real pay-off, however, is it can last for a decade in typical use, consumes only 15-watts of power – a quarter the power use of the typical bulb – and connects to its audio source via Bluetooth. There are free apps for controlling and connecting for iOS and Android phones or tablets. While the first two speaker-bulb kits cost $150, you can add up to an additional six bulbs at $69 each as well as an adapter for connecting a subwoofer for $40.

The Big Sound

Jbl eon 16JBL’s EON615 looks like a professional loudspeaker because it is and has been designed to be abused. At $500, it has 1,000 watts of sonic power available and can be overkill. It sends out sound in a 90- by 60-degree pattern and can reproduce audio from 39- to 20,000-Hertz. It not only has handles on the side, which can help with its 39-pound heft, but the EON615 can be set up vertically or horizontally. In addition to wireless Bluetooth, the speaker can be connected the old fashioned way with a pair of XLR jacks. The$500 speaker has a built-in mixer.

Makes the Pen Much Mightier

CLEANSTYLUS-4Tired of losing the expensive active stylus on any of the recent Surface tablets? Cleanint’s Clean Stylus Holder can make it stay put, something Microsoft never managed to do. Basically a plastic frame that snaps onto the edge of the slate, the Cleanstylus has an open cylinder to slide the stylus right in. If you order through the company’s Web site, you can get it in seven colors and there are models for the Surface 3 and the Pro models for $20, but Microsoft has Pro stylus holders in black or blue for $15.

Sounds Good to Me

Who says you need bulky cables to connect a projector, tablet or notebook with a sound system so the whole class can hear? Not the makers of wireless speakers that use Bluetooth to connect them to anything from a phone or tablet to a full notebook or desktop computer.

While they can make a classroom look a lot neater these Bluetooth speakers are meant to be carried around, whether that’s to a corner of the classroom or from room to room. While they all have Bluetooth built-in and can connect with the old school way with cables, the best add battery power for when there just isn’t an AC outlet handy.

Alesis Transaction Wireless Portable Powered Bluetooth Speaker System

TransActiveWireless_anglewithipad_WebThe Alesis Transaction Bluetooth Speaker System not only has a spot to put an iPad, but there’re XLR and phono input jacks and the system can grab audio from a phone, tablet or notebook via a Bluetooth wireless link. It puts out 50-watts of power through the system’s 8-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter. While you can power the device via a USB power connection, the Alesis speaker set can run for more than a full school day on a charge of its internal battery. Built to last, the system can be mounted on a permanent stand or wheeled around on its recessed wheels. It sells for about $200.

Bose SoundTouch 10

Soundtouch 10The $200 Bose SoundTouch 10 speakers can not only connect via Bluetooth but can with a school’s WiFi network as well. If you’re stuck on wires, it can use a standard audio input as well as a USB port. At just 8.3- by 5.6- by 3.4-inches and less than three pounds, it’s small and can be carried around, but has a full and rich sound. If it doesn’t get loud enough, any SoundTouch 10 can be linked with other SoundTouch systems and works directly with online services like Pandora and Spotify. It comes with a remote control, can be controlled by a phone or tablet app and comes in black or white.

Performance Teknique’s ICBM-2X12BT

410-Jv9Z1ML._SY355_Better known for its monster car stereo gear, Performance Teknique’s ICBM-2X12BT may offer the most sound for the money. At less than $200, the system has a pair of 12-inch speakers and a 3-inch tweeter to pour out the volume. The system has a pair of XLR microphone inputs as well as a phono jack. It can connect to a notebook, tablet or phone with built-in Bluetooth but it has an integrated FM radio. Happily, Performance Teknique includes a wireless microphone, making it an all-around sound system for the classroom or auditorium. The sound system may weigh in at a hefty 58-pounds, but it has a handle and pair of wheels for making it mobile.

Behringer Europort PPA2000BT

PPA2000BT_P0B01_Right_LWhile its attributes and $800 price tag make the Europort PPA 2000BT overkill for most school uses, it has a place in the auditorium because of its combination of high-power amps, large speakers and accurate audio. Unlike the others, it includes a carrying case and puts out 2,000 watts of amplified power that’s channeled through its individual right and left speakers that each have a 10-inch woofer and a 1.35- aluminum diaphragm tweeter for excellent reproduction, regardless of volume level. It has an 8-channel mixer that can not only take in Bluetooth streams but the output can be sculpted with the PPA2000BT’s 7-band graphic equalizer. It can work with a wireless microphone, but comes with a wired microphone.

                     TDK Trek-360 Bluetooth Wireless Speaker

Trek 300Small and easy to move around the room or the school, TDK’s Trek-360 is a lightweight in size only. It takes a different audio tack that rather than aiming its sound in a particular direction, the Trek-360 sends it out in 360-degrees, so putting it in the middle of the room makes a lot of sense. It can not only stream audio via Bluetooth, but the Trek-360 has an audio input. Inside are a quartet of 2 watt speakers as well as a central subwoofer that combine for rich audio. It’s weatherproof, has a battery that can deliver top audio for a full school day and costs about $150.


Build Your Own Power Strip

StackTired of power strips that either don’t have enough or have too many outlets for what you need and get in the way? Build your own with Oneadaptr’s Stack. That’s because Stack is composed of square modules that snap together. There are ones for AC power (two or three outlets), USB power (one or two ports) and even a surge suppressor module to protect your gear. In other words, make your next power strip exactly the way you want it. 


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