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Audio All Around

VG1-white-angle-lanyardWith SoundCast’s latest speakers, you can take digital audio everywhere the class goes, including outdoors and field trips. That’s because the VG1 handheld speaker not only delivers high-quality sound, but is waterproof and ruggedly built to stand up to abuse. The 1-pound package connects to phones, tablets and PCs via Bluetooth and has its own battery that can last for more than a full school day. It costs $149.99.

Hear without Fear

Jlab headphonesJLAB’s JBuddies headset are not only inexpensive at $20 per set, but have a circuit that limits its output to no more than 90dB so that no harm comes to your students’ delicate hearing. Available in black, purple, pink and blue, the JBuddies come with a lifetime warranty.

 

Light Up My Life

LB120(US)1.0-01_1473153047839aWhat if your classroom’s lighting responded to your mood or the time of the day rather than just pumping out a harsh white light? That’s the idea behind TP-Link’s Smart WiFi bulbs. They screw into a standard socket and look like a regular old incandescent light bulb, but inside is a bank of LEDs that respond to the company’s Kasa app. The bulbs are the equivalent of 60-watt incandescent bulbs, work with Androids and iOS systems and let you not only dim the lights but change the color from 2,700- to 6,500-Kelvins. You can even automatically change the quality and intensity of the light during the day. They’re expensive at $35 a piece but will likely never need to be replaced and use a lot less electricity than incandescent lights.

Connect Like No Other

Aukey hubGot a recent tablet or small notebook that only has a single USB port, but you need to connect to a room full of accessories, thumb drives and printers, not to mention a wired networking connection? AUKEY’s CB-H17 hub can inexpensively turn a single USB connection into six active data ports along with one for power and an RJ45 port for getting online with a wired LAN.

At 0.9- by 5.2- by 2.0-inches and weighing 3.4-ounces, the jet black CB-H17 is surprisingly small and can be carried around in a pocket or notebook bag pocket. It can just as easily be velcroed to the back of a notebook’s screen lid or the underside of a desk for convenience.

On the downside, like other USB hubs, it requires its own power source. It comes with a special male-to-male USB 3.0 cable as well as its surprisingly large 12-volt power adapter.

You can use the hub with a USB 1.1, 2.0 or 3.0 system and it provides six SuperSpeed USB data ports that top out at 5 Gigabits per second. There’s also a single USB charging port that delivers a maximum current of 2.4-amps for a phone or tablet. In addition to an on-off switch, power input and its USB connection, the CB-H17 includes an RJ-45 port with a gigabit LAN connection. It has an LED power indicator but nothing that shows activity on each port.

Aukey hub bThe hub works with PCs from Windows Vista forward, Macs (OSX 9 and newer), Linux (kernel 2.4.1 or newer) as well as most recent Chromebooks. The best part is that for most computers it won’t need any extra software, but the package includes a mini CD of software, just in case.

It extended the usefulness of a Surface Pro 3, Apple Macbook Air and Asus Flip Chromebook. The hub helped out with a variety of tasks, from connecting to external hard drives and DVD players to thumb drives and using a Brother laser printer. The Ethernet connection helped in rooms that WiFi didn’t reach and the power port was more than enough to charge an iPad Pro.

While most competitive hubs come with a 12-month warranty, AUKEY doubles that to 2 years. While it proved to be invaluable for making a modern tablet into connection central, the CB-H17 lacks one vital function that will increasingly be required: access to USB-C ports.

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Aukey hub

AUKEY CB-H17 USB 3.0 Hub with Charging Port and RJ45 Port

$43

 

+ 6 SuperSpeed USB data ports

+ 2.4-amp power port

+ No software needed

+ Works with PCs, Macs and Chromebooks

+ Gigabit LAN port

 

- No USB-C ports

- AC adapter

Lightning Two-For

Side.372Love 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.

Dock to Go

U342-HGU3-FRONTMicrosoft’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.

U342HGU3-OTHER01-XLAfter 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.

 

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U342HGU3-OTHER06-L

Tripp Lite USB 3.0 Docking Station for Microsoft Surface and Surface Pro, USB-A, HDMI and Gigabit Ethernet Ports

$80

+ 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

Stand and Deliver

Kensington tablet standIt’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.

An Edge at School

71m3ZYc1TsL._SL1500_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.

Img_8760Unlike 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.

Img_9161Overall, the mouse is well made, sturdy and has a solid feel to it. It comes with a 1-year warranty, but I expect it to last a lot longer, even in classes with small children.

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.

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Img_9217

Satechi Edge Wireless Gaming Mouse

$25

+ Inexpensive

+ Adjustable resolution

+ Works with PCs, Macs and Chromebooks

+ Lit scroll wheel

+ Video shortcut buttons

 

- Requires USB adapter

- Awkward to wake up mouse

Light Up the Gym

LTG-HXB-High Bay-061016-027Is 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.

Good Screen Hygiene

Woosh_-7-1-1024x683Whether 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. WHOOSH-3.4-Oz-GO-XL-835x1024

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.

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