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Four Antennas are Better than One or Two

Netgear x4 nighthawkIf you thought that having an 802.11ac router with three antennas was a good idea, then Netgear’s Nighthawk X4 is even better. Based on Quantenna’s 500MHz WiFi chipset, the new Nighthawk router can handle four independent streams of data over the 5- and 2.4GHz bands. It can move up to a theoretical peak of 2.3Gbps, but expect much less than that if you plan to continue using older gear. The router has an eSATA port for a hard drive as well as a pair of USB 3.0 connectors and four gigabit LAN ports. It will sell for $280.

Its (About) Learning

Its parent-home-pageThe latest version of the itslearning K-through-12 individualized instruction service concentrates on making its curriculum more easily visible to teachers, parents and students with a streamlined log-in and new MyPage. It has everything from assignments and class lessons to individual portfolios and learning plans. The service works on all hardware platforms and now has a portal for parents to keep track of their children schoolwork.

Freebee Friday: Word City

Screen568x568While it was designed for use with home-schoolers, Vocabulary SpellingCity can open up a world of words to young students. Available for iPads, Android tablets and over the Web via a browser window, SpellingCity has 30 word-based games including MatchIt Sentences, FlashCards and Parts of Speech. Together, they can expand a class’s vocabulary while helping their spelling. The app automatically tracks each kid’s results, can deliver reports and is free to try out. The premium edition costs $30 for five users.


Next-Gen iPad Now

Ios 8Got a lot of iPads at your school? You need to stay ahead of the software curve by downloading and trying out the iOS 8 Beta to make sure that it works with all your software – old and new. It’s a free download from Apple site that includes more ways to share items, add custom buttons and add links to online storage systems. You’ll need to register to get the software, which includes a guide on how to use app extensions.




iPad Protection Program

03For those schools that have invested in iPads and have spent too much time, effort and money repairing and replacing broken units, there’s hope. Zagg’s Rugged Folio encases the fragile pad in body armor that can protect it while providing a real keyboard for typing.

Made of five layers of polycarbonate plastic and a sheet of stainless steel, the Folio case may have soft rubber bumpers and a textured finish, but its skin is solid and able to absorb or deflect the stress of being dropped or abused. The exterior has a soft grippy surface that actually feels better in the hand than a naked pad and is harder to drop.

At 1.1-pounds, the Folio designed to be used with an iPad Mini is significantly heavier than the pad itself. With the Mini installed, the pair weigh in at a hefty 1.8-pounds and is just over an inch thick, making it much bulkier than an iPad. On the positive side, it’s still smaller and lighter than most mini-notebooks and the Folio case can easily be slipped into the outer pocket of a backpack or briefcase.

You install an iPad into the Folio by squeezing it into and under the case’s flexible silicone edging. It’s a bit awkward and feels like you need three hands to do it, but a pad can be installed or taken out in a few seconds. The two fit together solidly and there are cutouts for all the switches and the pad’s camera. The fit is perfect and the iPad feels like it was designed for the Folio case rather than vice versa.

06With the case in place, you can use the iPad like a traditional mini-notebook. It has 16.5-millimeter keys that feel a little cramped, but are a big step forward from  using the screen-based keyboard. There’re specialty keys for getting to the iPad’s home screen, playing multimedia and controlling the volume. It lacks a touchpad so you’ll have to use the touch-screen.

A big bonus for those who teach in the dark is that the entire keyboard is backlit. It’s easy to adjust the brightness and Folio gives the choice of seven colors.

At any time, you can grab and remove the screen from the base to use it like, well, a tablet, but with its armor covering all the sides except for the screen. Its magnetic clasp actually grabs the slate when it’s close to the keyboard base.

In addition to using it as a notebook or tablet, the Folio case can also be used in tent and presentation modes as well as holding it like an open book. It can’t be set up flat on a desktop with the mechanical keyboard available as is the case with many convertible computers. On the downside, the screen feels a little loose when it’s being used as a notebook and the Folio case has the tendency to tip over when it’s swiped or tapped too vigorously.

01There’s no electrical connection between the pad and keyboard and the Folio connects using Bluetooth. The two linked on the first try and re-established contact many times after that. Even though the keyboard isn’t physically connected to the tablet, it can wake it up by double tapping a key. It will go to sleep when you close the lid and wake up when you open it.

Its lithium polymer battery is more than enough to power the keyboard for two years of daily use, according to the company, and it didn’t fail me over a month of using if for a few hours every day. On the downside, it has only the crudest battery gauge and requires a micro-USB connection to charge it, compared to the lightning plug used for charging the iPad itself. In other words, you’ll need to keep cables for both on hand.

If you’re looking for a way to make iPads last a lot longer, Zagg’s Rugged Folio delivers with the closest thing to making them bullet-proof.



Zagg Rugged Folio



+ Tough case

+ Removable screen

+ Long battery life

+ Backlit keyboard

+ Four computing personalities


- More than doubles size and weight of pad

- Tips over

- Battery requires micro-USB plug

Warp-Speed Computing

HP Z840 Workstation with HP Z27i Display lowIf your computers are lagging when it comes to video editing, computer-aided drawing and math computation, think about a workstation, like HP’s Z family. This kind of power doesn't come cheap, but the typical school might need one or two workstations or at worst a lab room full of them. Equipped with either Nvidia Quadro or AMD FirePro graphics, Intel Xenon processors and ultrafast DDR4 RAM chips, the Z440, Z640 and Z840 workstations sell for $1,299, $1,759 and $2,399. There’re also portable G2 workstations with 15-inch and 17-inch screens that sell for $1,500 and $1,750.

Math For the Real World

WINlogo2Forget about the intricacies of advanced algebra and calculus because WIN Learning’s WIN Math concentrates on the math a student will need in life and the workplace. Aimed at 5th through 8th graders who are a year behind on math, WIN Math has interactive tools, problems and connections to real-world jobs that use math. It’s divided up into 36 units that cover 16 career-based topics.

The LIttle Big Chromebook

Chromebook2It is ironic, though very helpful for schools, that as Chromebooks get bigger screens, they keep their small size and price tags. Take the next-generation Toshiba Chromebook 2, which will carry a 13-inch screen, but is not much bigger and heavier than a 12-inch system. It has a Celeron processor, 2GB of RAM and a full HD screen for $330, although Toshiba also sells a model with a 1,366 by 768 display for a more budget-friendly $250. Because the Chromebook 2 doesn’t require a cooling fan its battery can handle a full day of school work on a charge.

Freebee Friday: Food, Glorious Food

FoodWhat’s in that Big Mac and coke? It’s true that we don’t always eat what we’re supposed to, but it’s often because we don’t understand the ingredients. That’s exactly what TellSpec’s Tellspecopedia does. The Web site has an incredibly deep database on today’s 1,300 most common food ingredients, from Abamectin to Zearalenone. Each has not only the chemical formula for the item, but detailed information on where it comes from and its potential dangers, perfect for everything from a chemistry class to a nutrition lesson examining labels.

The R15’s Smaller Siblings

Acer R 13 - R7-371 angle to rightIf you liked the convertibility of Acer’s Aspire R15, but thought it was a bit too unwieldy, the system has two smaller siblings. Both have optional pens but go their separate ways on their design details. The R13 uses Acer’s Ezel Aero hinge that allows it to assume six different computing personas, including the ability to have the screen float above the keyboard. While the R13 weighs about 3-pounds and has a WQHD ultra high-definition screen option that can show 2,560 by 1,440 resolution, it will sell for $900. By contrast, the 14-inch R14 model has a more pedestrian 180-degree convertible hinge and 1,366 by 768 display, has five computing personalities and will cost $600.  



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