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USB 3.0 Help

Satechi_HUB_gun_2Got one of those new notebooks that only have that odd USB 3.0 port and there’s nothing to plug in? Take heart, Satechi’s Type-C Hub Adapter can turn it into connection central. The $35 hub plugs right into a Type C connector and yields three Type-A USB 3.0 ports as well as flash card slots for full size SD and the smaller micro-SD cards. You can get it in gray, silver and gold.


Power Up, Anywhere

31zBUA-0GrLIf there’s anything worse than running out of battery during a lesson, it’s not being able to find the right power adapter to quickly charge the phone or tablet. Spyder’s Commuter portable charger not only can charge any recent phone or slate, but has its own battery for when you’re running on empty. It all fits into the palm of your hand and can disappear into a briefcase or bag yet has a USB outlet to power a device as well as a 2,600 mili-amp hour battery pack; there’s also a car cigarette lighter adapter for the more mobile among us. In fact, all you’ll need is a charging cable, although the $50 package includes a micro-USB one for Android systems.

Stream without the Computer

UnnamedWhether it’s a podcast, music or the audio from a TED talk, you need a computer, like a phone, tablet or PC, to hear the audio, right? Well, no more with Streamz, the first headphones that cuts the computer out of the audio equation. The over-the-ear headset has a 1.6GHz processor, WiFi receiver, 36GB of storage space and an Android system inside. The closest thing to a personal audio machine, the Streamz headphones can play material from Pandora, Spotify, I Heart Radio and other services as well as audio stored on Google’s OneDrive online repository. It’s currently a Kickstarter campaign for $199, money well spent.

One Panel to Rule Them All

Rti kx-3 control panelUntitled-2Spending too much time searching for and fumbling with remote controls to use all the AV gear in your classroom or lecture hall? Remote Technologies Incorporated's KX-3 wall panel can control everything from a computer input to a classroom projector with a small touch panel interface. Fully programmable, it not only connects via a built-in LAN port that can also be used to move video, but has a video camera and microphone built-in for video conferencing and can control a room’s heating and cooling.

Foot Loose Figeters

DeskThe latest classroom desks, like the AlphaBetter, come with swinging foot bars for kids to release nervous energy and stop fidgeting, but who has money for new desks. The next best thing is the $13 Bouncy Band, a stretchy rubber band that is fitted between the legs of the desk or chair that kids can rest their feet on.


Displays Do a Wheelie

Luxor bretford compositeTeachers tired of running a lesson with the bright glare of a projector blinding them can take heart, a new generation of interactive displays can help, but how do you move a 125-pound screen to where it’s needed? With a dedicated display cart, that is, and I’ve recently looked at a pair that should fit right into just about any school.

While they are as different as night and day, these two display carts have a lot in common. Each can securely hold a heavy and cumbersome large-screen display, has casters for moving it around and can tilt the screen so everyone gets a good view.

After that, they go their own ways, with the $350 Luxor Crank Adjustable Flat Panel TV Cart as the bargain-hunter’s choice. It not only makes moving the screen up and down a snap, but comes with a shelf. By contrast, Bretford’s Designer Flat Panel Cart is like a piece of modern sculpture, has the most adaptable mounting hardware available and rolls easily from room to room, but is expensive at $1,500.

Regardless of which you choose, even the slightest teacher can push a big and heavy display to exactly where it can have the greatest impact on education.

Bretford Designer Flat Panel Cart

Bretford aLooking more like a modernist sculpture than an everyday display rack, the Bretford Designer Flat Panel Cart is well-designed and has what could be the best mounting bracket available. At $1,500, it could be out of reach for most schools.

Made of extruded aluminum, the cart comes in four pieces: the base with four lockable casters, a 6-foot central mounting pole, a handle in the back for guiding it and the Designer Flat Panel Cart’s mounting bracket. The mounting hardware has adjustable arms that smoothly slide in and out and at different angles to accommodate a screen with up to 400 by 400-mm VESA mounting screw holes. It is rated to hold up to a 170-pound display, one third heavier than the Luxor cart can handle, and has an optional shelf.

Everything fits together easily, but you may need a rubber mallet to get the mounting bracket to slide into the vertical pole and some of the parts are so heavy that it’s a good idea to have two people on hand. All told, it took about an hour to assemble the cart and attach a 65-inch screen to it.

Rather than the Luxor’s hand crank, the mounting bracket on the Bretford display cart slides up and down on the pole and locks into place with a locking pin and pair of screws. Spaced at one-inch intervals, you can set the screen up at a variety of heights. Moving the display up or down, is a two-person job.

Once it is at the right height, you can unlock the bracket and rotate the screen. For something as heavy as it is, the mounting hardware moves surprisingly smoothly and easily, but be sure to lock it in place when done. The display can be tilted up to 15-degrees forward, but not back.

Because the cart uses large casters, they roll easier than the smaller ones on the Luxor cart, making the Designer Flat Panel Cart the one to choose if the display needs to be on the move often or has to travel over rough terrain. All four can be locked.

If you have the room, you can not only mount a display, but a shelf (or two) and a bracket for holding a small desktop computer.

This makes the $1,500 Designer Flat Panel Cart one of the most versatile carts around. If it's too much, Bretford's more traditional FP42UL cart sells for closer to $350. Either way, they are two of the most useful devices to go to school.  

Bretford d


Bretford Designer Flat Panel Cart



+ Beautiful design

+ Smooth, locking wheels

+ Adaptable bracket

+ Up to 6 feet tall

+ Can hold several items and shelf

- No crank for height adjustment

- Expensive


Luxor Crank Adjustable TV Cart

Luxor d

As beautiful as the Bretford Designer Flat Panel Cart is, Luxor’s $350 Crank Adjustable TV Cart is plain, rugged and extremely functional. And, that's a good thing.

The squared off cart is made of heavy-duty welded steel that’s been painted white and comes with two particleboard and melamine shelves. They measure 30- by 28.5-inches with one near the floor and one at waist height. Each can easily handle anything from a notebook or desktop computer to a DVD player or Web cam, but the textured surface picks up dust and dirt a little too easily.

It took about an hour to put the cart together, and its graphically-oriented instructions could have used a few well-placed sentences describing what to do. It’s mounted on 3-inch casters, two of which can be locked. Smaller and less smooth compared to the once used by Bretford on the Designer Flat Panel Cart, it takes some extra effort to get it to move.

The cart comes with a standard mounting bracket that can work with VESA mounting screws that are up to 600- by 400-mm apart. It can hold up to an 80-inch screen that weighs in at up to 110-pounds, although the shelves can each hold an additional 33-pounds of stuff.

The Crank Adjustable TV Cart comes into its own when you need to get the display higher or lower to accommodate different classroom situations. It can not only be tilted forward or back by 15-degrees, but a crank handle on the right can move it up or down between 50.5- and 66.3-inches. It takes a minute to go the full distance, but the handle’s action is smooth and nearly effortless.

To keep its height from being accidentally changed, the cart comes with a securing bar and lock. On the other hand, its peak height is about 6-inches short of the Bretford stand’s top height.

It may not win any beauty contests, but Luxor’s Crank Adjustable TV Cart is about as well-designed and practical as it gets and is an inexpensive way to put a display exactly where it needs to be.

Luxor e


Luxor Crank Adjustable TV Cart



+ Inexpensive

+ Two shelves

+ Easy up and down adjustments

+ Holds 110-pound display

+ Display can be tilted forward and back


- Up to 5 foot 6 inches tall

Making Chromebooks Indestructible

GumdropEven with their rugged designs and solid-state storage, stuff happens at school and Chromebooks still get dropped and break. That’s where Gumdrop cases come in. Made of wrap-around silicone, the company's SoftShell cases can absorb the daily abuse as well as the impact of up to a 6-foot drop. There are models for eight popular models in a variety of colors that sell for $50.

Audio Wire Clippers

CHROMECAST AUDIO FRONTIf your classroom has wires everywhere for speakers, Google’s Chromecast Audio can help by cutting all the cables. At $35, it can declutter any classroom.

Basically, Chromecast Audio can turn any speaker – new or old – into a wireless one that can be controlled by a phone or tablet. The actual device is a tiny disk that measures 2-inches across, is half an inch thick and weighs a little over an ounce. It is rugged and stood up to me dropping it a couple of times.

The package includes a micro-USB power cord and a short 3.5milimeter audio jack jumper cable. It works with adapters for RCA audio inputs or Toslink optical connectors.

There are apps for Android and iOS devices, but if you have an older phone, you’ll need to download the latest Chromecast software. After an initial 2-minute pairing between the phone and the Chromecast Audio device, the two were linked and I tested it out with a sample sound from within the app.

CHROMECAST AUDIO PLUGGED IN FRONTAfter that it streamed audio from Pandora, Spotify as well as a bunch of educational apps. Plus, you can set an Android phone or tablet up to relay anything played on it – like a podcast or saved audio clip – to the speakers.

I first used a Samsung 47-inch TV set, which the Chromecast audio device connected to immediately. The display even turned itself on. Later, I used a Braven 805 speaker set and the speaker’s USB port was able to power the device, reducing the number of wires.

The audio is sent over a WiFi network in uncompressed form, which using the default settings can sound a little flat. If you tap on High dynamic range in the device’s Settings, the audio sounds a lot fuller and richer.

After the link has been established, the phone or tablet is nothing more than a remote control. You can pause the stream, adjust the volume or switch to another track.

On the other hand, the one thing you can’t use Chromecast Audio for is to turn the speakers into a public address system by using the phone’s microphone as the source. But, hopefully that's in the works.



Chromecast Audio



+ Replaces audio cables to speakers

+ Works with Android and iOS tablets and phones

+ Excellent audio quality

+ Some speakers can power the device

+ Rugged


- Can’t use phone as microphone

- Requires USB power

Little Fingers, Big Letters

Azio KB506 dGetting early learners to make sense of the computer keyboard can be an exercise in frustration for all concerned, mostly because the small white characters printed onto the keys are hard to read at a glance, particularly for those just mastering each letter’s meaning. Azio has upsized the letters, numbers and symbols on its Vision KB506 keyboard so that everything stands out.

The board is sturdy, ruggedly made and measures 1.1- by 18.3- by 7.7-inches. Slightly large compared to other desktop keyboards, it has a numeric keypad on the right as well as generously-sized space bar and backspace key. It has pull-out feet that raise the keyboard to a comfortable 9-degree angle and a built-in textured wrist rest at the bottom, although it tends to attract dust and crumbs.

Beneath the surface, the KB506 has huge membrane mechanisms that allow a lot of light through to the key’s surface. The keyboard has a set of LEDs that lights the keys up as green, cyan, blue, pink and red. The light show can be controlled with a wheel for brightness and a button for picking the color and there’s nothing that can compare with seeing a child’s eyes light up with they discover they can not only easily see the characters but can change the color at will.

The keys measure 19.5-milimeter (mm) across, have a depth of 3.4 mm and the inscription fills about three-quarters of most keys. With characters that are 0.35-inches tall, it’s easy to see and read them intuitively, particularly for first graders. On the other hand, they’re about as loud as keys get these days, but provide a lot of feedback and control. In other words, it may not be the right keyboard to use in a noisy computer lab.

Azio KB506 cWith the function, dedicated keys and numbers, it puts 127 keys at your disposal. On the downside, the shift-characters are printed at the bottom of each key, not the more common top of the key. This makes a comma look more like an apostrophe, but it only takes a little while to get used to it.

The good news is that the KB506 works with everything from an elderly Windows XP system to a brand new Windows 10 computer as well as a recent Chromebooks and Macs. Just plug it in and allow the system a few seconds to recognize the keyboard and load the needed software. On the downside, Macs may require you to go through an identification routine.

In addition to keys for controlling multimedia, volume (with a mute button) and email, Home and favorites, there are dedicated keys for the calculator and music player. There are also keys for going between the Windows screens and mimicking a right click.

Without a doubt, there are cheaper keyboards than the $25 KB506, but it should outlast them. It comes with a three-year warranty.


Azio KB506 a

Azio KB506


+ Big characters on keys

+ Works with PCs, Macs and Chromebooks

+ Five backlighting colors

+ Inexpensive

+ 3-year warranty

+ Sturdy, well-made


- Loud keys

Instant 4K

20509216642_23f678e974_oGot a bunch of graphics computers that are stuck in the HD or earlier era?  Kensington has a plug-in adapter that can turn just about any recent computer into an ultra-HD powerhouse. All use the latest DisplayLink chips and software to bring top resolution to the classroom on a budget. At $100, the VU4000 plugs into the USB 3.0 port on a PC and has its own DisplayPort for connecting to an ultra-HD display. You can also set it up to create a monitor array with a pair of screens. It works with Windows 7 and 8 but not 10.




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