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Surface Pro without the Cost

Cube_i9_1 (1)I love the Surface Pro line of tablets, but hate their exorbitant price tags. That’s where the new Cube i9 Tablet comes in. Essentially a clone of Microsoft’s SP family, the Cube i9 seems like a mirror image with a few changes that bring its price down. For instance, rather than the SP4’s 12.3-inch screen that can show 2,736 x 1,824 resolution, the Cube i9 has a 12.2-inch display that is merely HD, but should be more than enough for schoolwork. It matches the Surface Pro’s M3 processor and comes with 4GB of RAM, 128GB of storage capacity and Intel’s HD graphics accelerator.

Cube_i9_3For the clumsy set, they are both built around magnesium-aluminum alloy cases that are roughly one-third of an inch thick and have handy stands for desk work. The Surface Pro 4, however, has the weight advantage at 1.7- versus 2-pounds. Both use Windows 10 and have optional snap-on keyboards, but while the Surface Pro 4 starts at $900, the Cube i9 has a base price of $580.


Bottomless Ink Cartridges

Brother printerTired of paying for ink cartridges for your classroom printer? Brother’s latest MFC-J985DWXL printer will not need new ink for two years. That’s because the it comes with three sets of ink tanks, enough for more than 7,000 black and 3,600 color pages. Brother estimates this as two years of typical use. The printer itself is no slouch with not only have built-in scanners that can put images onto a variety online storage systems, but both a 2.7-inch touch screen. The printer has free apps for phones and tablets, can print with near field communications and create documents on both sides of a sheet. 

Surface Pro Shoot-Out

Samsung kbAt the moment, the school Windows tablet to beat is Microsoft's Surface Pro 3, but Samsung has not only a thinner and lighter system with its Galaxy TabPro S, but one with a brighter screen and lower price tag. At $900 (including its snap-on keyboard-cover), the TabPro S delivers the most bang for the buck today.

Both the Surface Pro and TabPro S are made of a mix of plastic and metal with a similar look that emphasizes a minimal bezel and dull silver edging. Still, the TabPro S is smaller in every dimension at 0.25- by 11.4- by 7.8-inches and feels more like a tablet than the SP3.

More to the point, its 1.5-pound weight is nearly 5-ounces lighter than the Surface Pro 3. This not only makes it less tedious to hold for long times, but travels much easier from room to room during the day. With its included keyboard case and stand, the whole package is only half an inch thick, only slightly thicker than the Surface Pro 3 on its own.

The reason for this thinness is that rather than a standard LCD display that requires a bulky backlight, the TabPro S uses the latest Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode (AMOLED) technology. The 12-inch screen is about as bright and vibrant as it gets these days. It shows 2,166 by 1,440 resolution and responds to 10 individual touch inputs. This matches the Surface Pro 3’s display.

What it lacks is the Surface Pro 3’s pull-out stand, the TabPro S’s case can be set to three different angles and actually feels better on the lap than the SP3. The case protects both the front and back of the pad, not just the screen side and the tablet’s Pogo connector is magnetically drawn to the keyboard base for a secure connection. There’re cut-outs for the tablet’s front and rear cameras.

Samsung sideIn addition to a good sized touchpad, the TabPro S case has a hidden bonus: an NFC communication spot on the left side of the pad. This lets you connect a phone or Android tablet by using Samsung’s recently released Flow software. With it you can use your phone to check your finger prints and act like a secure hot spot.

On the downside, the keys have too shallow a depth for my tastes, so I needed to slow my typing or spend a lot of time correcting my work. I used it for mock lessons, on trains and planes and the system was always responsive and ready for work.

One thing you’ll have to do without, though, is the SP3’s excellent active stylus that lets you open an app by tapping its end. Samsung is working on a similar pen for the TabPro S. You can use a generic rubber dome stylus but it won’t be able to respond to different pressures.

While the SP3 has a full-size USB 3.0 port, an audio jack, a micro-SD card slot and a mini-Displayport connector for video, the TabPro S offers a sneak peek into the future. It has a single USB Type-C port for everything from power to connections; there’s also a traditional audio headphone jack.

The SP3’s excellent docking station is something that TabPro S users will miss. It not only charges the system, but has LAN, audio, four USB ports and a magnetic place to stick the Surface Pro’s stylus. By contrast, the TabPro S will need a USB C hub to connect with USB 3.0 devices as well as output video for a projector. The system worked perfectly with a Minix Neo C HDMI hub.

You may not need it because the TabPro S can connect to a WiDi enabled display or projector, like the LG PH550. Inside, the Tab Pro S has 802.11ac WiFi as well as Bluetooth 4.1 so you can leave the cables behind.

Instead of the Surface Pro 3’s fifth-generation Core processors, the Tab Pro S has a gen-six M3 processor that runs at between 900MHz and 2.2GHz, depending on what the tablet is being asked to do. This can extend battery life by running flat out only when it’s needed.

The TabPro S comes with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of solid state storage and costs $900—all in. By contrast, a comparable Surface Pro 3 is currently being discounted to $800, but if you add in the keyboard case, it rises to well over a thousand dollars.

Samsung openBoth do without the iPad’s slick fingerprint reader/Home button, but both the SP3 and TabPro S have Trusted Platform Module (TPM) electronics for easing secure remote connections. The Tab Pro S leads with a second generation TPM, while the Surface Pro 3 has a version 1.2 TPM chip.

The TabPro S comes up second best compared to the SP3, but just barely. Its 1,837.1 on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 8 was 11 percent off the SP3’s mark and you’ll be hard pressed to tell the difference. It kept its cool even when it was being asked to do some high-end tasks and ran for 6 hours and 36 minutes of work. That’s an hour and a half longer than the Surface Pro 3 can.

The TabPro S’s one-year warranty is all too short for a system that will probably have to last at least five years of daily school work. Every once in a while a tablet comes along that provides more for less. Samsung’s TabPro S is one of those slates and it belongs in the hands of teachers and students.


Samsung tab

Samsung Galaxy TabPro S


+ Thin and light

+ Keyboard case

+ Bright screen

+ Latest TPM chip

+ Screen size and resolution


- No SD card slot

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

Everything in Black and White

M5000 WF ProIf you’re tired of paying for color printing when all you create are black documents (like quizzes, worksheets and puzzles) on white paper, Epson’s WorkForce Pro M5000 Series Monochrome Printer can save some money. The $400 WF-M5694 uses the company’s PrecisionCore technology and has an input tray that holds 580 sheets at a time. It can scan, fax and copy as well as print, but its huge ink cartridges allow the WF Pro M5000 family to deliver up to 10,000 pages on a tank. It connects to a wired or WiFi network and prints as many as 20 pages per minute and prints on both sides of the paper.

Freebee Friday: Bird’s Eye View

Interface-advancedIf you were to walk through your school and look at all the displays, you’re likely to find that most, if not all, are out of whack or poorly adjusted in one way or another. Enter the Asus Display Widget, which puts all the adjustments front and center. It only works with Asus’s Adaptive-Synch gaming monitors at the moment, but the company will widen its use over time. The key is that the Widget sits on the Windows desktop and gives you immediate access to do things like change the color temperature, pick the display mode and even pick what settings to use for different applications.


Chrome Toughens Up

Acer Chromebook 14 for Work_CP5-471_01The number one Chromebook seller shows why it’s in the lead with its Chromebook 14 for Work model. Designed and built to survive anything a school can mete out, the CB14 has passed five of the military’s Mil-Std 810G tests for ruggedness, including drops of up to 4-feet. Based on an Intel 6th generation Core processor, the system weighs 3.2-pounds and includes a security-conscious Trusted Platform Module as well as 100GB of GoogelDrive online storage. Its 14-inch display uses Corning’s Vibrant Gorilla Glass for extra toughness and can be ordered in full HD as well as wide XGA resolution. Pricing starts at $349.

The Little Projector that Could

Ph-550 aProjectors come in all sizes and shapes these days, from tiny cubes to monster large venue devices that seem like space heaters. One step up from the smallest is an emerging class of inexpensive palm-projectors that put out just enough light to be of use in the classroom.

Like the Dell MH900, LG’s Minibeam PH550, is small enough to carry around and is quick to set up, but the PH-550 is much smaller. At 1.7- by 6.9- by 4.3-inches and weighing 1.4-pounds, the PH-550 it can be stashed in a jacket pocket or corner of a backpack so it can go where you go all day.

The rounded white case has a focus lever on top, but the projector doesn’t have a conventional control panel. Instead, the PH550 has a minimalist joy stick that you press to turn it in and off. Click it right or left and it can turn the volume up and down.

You’ll need to use the full-size remote control to configure, tweak and use the PH550. There’s neither backlighting nor a laser pointer, but the remote can not only control the speaker’s volume and keystone correction, but it uses LG’s circular Q Menu format that’s been lifted from LG’s line of TVs. Incrementally go around the circle to adjust the aspect ratio, keystone correction, video mode and set up the sleep timer for between 10- and 24- minutes, which is helpful for those who always forget to turn the projector off after class.

Ph-550 cWith a 0.45-inch DLP imaging engine that delivers 1,280 by 720 resolution, the PH-550 can’t compare with full HD imaging, but for the small classroom or group work is should be fine. The projector uses LEDs to illuminate and project the image so you’ll never have to buy or change an expensive lamp ever again. On the other hand, with a rating of 550 lumens, it can’t keep up with traditional lamp-based devices that put out three- or four-times that.

There’s an adjustable front foot, but if you want to permanently mount it or aim it higher on a wall or screen as well as a single tripod screw underneath. In real world use, the PH550 was projecting its image in 20-seconds and managed to put 312 lumens of illumination onto a screen, about two-thirds its rating and half the output of the much larger M900HD.

Like other small LED projectors, the PH550 does without many of the things we take for granted in traditional projectors, like an optical zoom lens. In fact, the projector doesn’t even come with a lens cap – essential equipment if it’s to travel from room to room all day. The projector does include a soft felt bag that holds the projector, but not the AC adapter.

Ph-550 eIt also lacks an SD card slot for quickly presenting items, but can lift a wide variety of material from a USB thumb drive. The PH550 can play photos, videos (although not .MP4 ones) and .pdfs as well as Office .doc and .ppt files. In other words, you can put a semester’s worth of lessons on a tiny drive and plug it in when you need it.

You can project in a more traditional manner with an VGA, HDMI and with the included adapter a composite video source; it can work with an MHL-equipped phone or tablet. It worked well with a variety of sources, from a Samsung Tab Pro S to an iPad Pro.

Showing the PH550’s versatility, there’s another way as well. The PH550 can connect wirelessly over WiFi to WiDi laptops and Miracast phones and tablets.

The projector has a pair of one-watt speakers that are fine for small groups, but for larger rooms, they come up short. Happily, the PH550 can link up with a Bluetooth speaker set for rooms that don’t have a wired sound system.

Ph-550 dFinally, LG is unique in selling projectors that have TV tuners built-in. It won’t work with a cable TV set up, but the PH550’s tuner was able to connect with 30 direct broadcast stations. You’ll need to supply the antenna, though.

The PH550 can do something that most projectors can’t: run for nearly 2 hours and 30 minutes on its battery pack while its competitors go dark after 20 or 30 minutes of use. If you tap the remote’s Info key a small four-element battery gauge shows up onscreen. The ability to run for several classes gives the PH550 an incredible amount of flexibility to set ups in repurposed rooms that lack AC outlets.

Extremely inexpensive to operate, the PH550 uses only 35.2-watts of power at full blast – about one-tenth that of a conventional projector – and only 0.2-watts in sleep. That adds up to an estimated annual expense of only $5.25, making it among the cheapest projectors to use every day.

Overall, the PH550 is fine in darkened rooms or an overcast day, but with the sun shining or the lights on, the image quickly gets overwhelmed. The projector did well at filling up a 48-inch screen. Bigger than that and the images are washed out, making the PH550.


Ph-550 f

LG Minibeam PH550


+ Economical

+ Good input selection

+ More than two-hour battery life

+ Wireless connection

+ Video ports

+ TV tuner

- Lacks lens cap and optical zoom

- Really needs more brightness

Built to Last

TravelMate-B117-photogallery-02It’s hard enough for purpose-built (and expensive) rugged notebooks to pass the government’s stringent Mil-Std 810G tests for endurance and longevity, but Acer’s TravelMate B117 just did. The system made it through the tests for everything from temperature, moisture and humidity to vibration and shock. It survived drops, its hinge was opened and closed 25,000 times and 132-pounds of pressure was put on the screen lid. Still, rather than a 10-pound behemoth that costs $3,000, the B117 is less than an inch thick, weighs under three pounds and costs $230.

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.

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