About this blog Subscribe to this blog

The Price is (Now) Right

Ipad aAs Apple brings out the 2017 version of its iconic iPad tablet, the company concentrates on value with the best iPad for school uses yet. In most aspects, it resembles the now discontinued Air 2 model, except a very important one: price. The $299 price tag for schools (versus roughly $400 for the Air 2) makes it one of the best buys around.

At 0.3- by 6.6- by 9.4-inches and just over 1 pound, it may be a little heavier than the Air 2 model, but it’s still easy to carry around, hold in your hand or throw into a backpack. It has lost the size and weight edge over Samsung’s year-old Galaxy Tab S2 Android-based tablet, which weighs 13 ounces. If you want something smaller, both Apple and Samsung make mini-sized 8-inch pads.

Like two tablet peas in a pod, both have 9.7-inch displays that show the same 2,048 by 1,536 pixel resolution with sharp images as well as the ability to play smooth video. On the other hand, the Tab S2 uses OLED display technology to deliver a brighter image than the iPad’s traditional LCD display.

Unlike the iPad Pro, its younger iPad sister lacks a purpose-designed stylus for the slate, although it worked with a generic rubber dome pen. The response with fingers or stylus was quick, accurate and able to integrate up to 10 independent touch points, so the iPad can be the center of classroom collaboration.

Ipad school bUnder the skin, the iPad has an A9 processor that runs at 1.9Ghz and includes a coprocessor for video playback. The iPad comes with 2GB of RAM and either 32- or 128GB of storage space. Inside, it has a powerful 32 watt hour battery pack that was good for 8.5-hours of continuous video playback.

As expected, the new iPad can connect via WiFi with an 802.11ac radio as well as Bluetooth 4.2 for a keyboard or external speaker. There are versions with mobile data abilities that add about $150 to the price tag and require a monthly check to the mobile phone network.

In addition to its HD Web cam, the iPad’s front-facing 8-megapixel camera can create surprisingly detailed shots as well as 40-megapixel panorama images by panning the landscape; a nice art project is to use this abillty to have students create a Mobius strip image. It has precise exposure control, image stabilization and can even be used to burst a bunch of rapid fire shots.

All this adds up to a powerful tablet that scored an impressive 9,720 on the GeekBench 4.1 overall Compute test. That’s three-times the 2,656 score of the Tab S2, putting the iPad in its own class.  

Logitech rugged caseNeither the Tab S2 nor the current iPad have been designed for the abuse that is so often encountered in the classroom, but the iPad has the next best thing: Logitech’s $100 Rugged Combo Keyboard Case. The snap-on plastic cover can make the pad last and last, but adds to its bulk.

With the plastic case, the pad and keyboard add up to a 2.7-pound package that works both as a standalone tablet or a more conventional keyboard-centric notebook. Made of sturdy ABS plastic, the case has rounded corners and a soft fabric coating. While it protects the iPad from the shock of a 6-foot impact, the case can’t protect the pad against spills.

The iPad slips into the Logitech case in a matter of seconds. All the connections and cameras are available via port holes with one exception. The system’s main Lightning pug is covered, but the case has a pass-through connection to one next to it.

Pull out the back, and the case has a stand for holding the screen at between 20- and 60-degrees. On the downside, the rugged case tends to be top heavy and you can easily tip it over if you tap or swipe too vigorously.

Rather than using Bluetooth to connect the system with the keyboard, there’s a four-pin physical connection and is powered by the iPad’s battery. Its keyboard is a joy to use compared to the iPad’s on-screen keypad with specialty keys for multimedia, screen brightness and locking the screen. On the downside, there’s no touchpad so you’ll spend a lot of time reaching for the screen to tap and swipe.

Logitech rugged case bA strong magnet holds the pad to the keyboard base. Any first grader should be able to detach the two.

The bad news is that the case only fits the new 9.7-inch iPad. The good news is that it only adds $100 to the pad’s price tag and will be available through Apple’s education purchasing page. At less than $400, the two work like hand in glove and can make an ordinary iPad last and last.



iPad (2017) with Logitech Rugged Case

$299 plus $100

+ Value priced iPad for schools

+ Inexpensive

+ Powerful

+ Rugged with case

+ All ports and cameras are available for use

+ Mechanical keyboard with pull-away slate

- Thick and heavy package with case

Flipping over a new Flip

UntitledIf you liked the original Asus Chromebook Flip C100 as much as I did for its ability to transform from a tablet to a keyboard-centric notebook to a self-standing presentation system and its newfound ability to use Android apps, you’re likely to love its follow-on Flip C213. Based on a Celeron N3350 processor (instead of the original’s RockChip), it should be more powerful. It also has protective rubber bumpers and an 11.6-inch 1,600 by 900 display that can respond to 10 individual touch inputs. It comes with 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage space and cameras, front and back.

As was the case with the original Flip, it’s younger brother can use the latest Android apps as well as Chromebook ones, including the free versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. There’re two happy surprises with the second-generation Flip. First, it has a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) built-in for enhanced security. It also is like several other rugged Chromebooks, the new Flip has passed the Mil-Std 810G drop test, so it should last and last. With a stylus, it will cost $400.

Desktop in your Pocket

Apps_dex_feature07_pcAs if Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 and S8+ superphones weren’t the current last word in mobility with thin profiles, large high-resolution screens and top-class processors, they add one big new item to the mix that can’t be matched. With the $150 DeX Station fold-open dock, you can connect the phone to a display and keyboard, effectively transforming it into the equivalent of a desktop PC. When it’s time to move to a new class, you can pull the phone from the dock and put in your pocket.

You’d think that after Samsung’s Note 7 disaster, the company would go conservative, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The S8 and S8+ are marvels that squeeze even more power and potential into smaller packages.

The key is how quickly Android software has caught up with Mac and PC apps. With the addition of Android versions of Microsoft’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint, there’s little need to get a more expensive and sometimes cranky Windows computer when a phone is all you’ll need. Plus, those schools that use Windows client-server emulation software, the DeX-S8 combo includes Citrix and VMware software built in as well as apps for Skype and Adobe Lightshop. The phone can natively run Gmail, Google Drive and YouTube apps.

On the downside, many general-purpose and educational apps haven’t been adapted to work with DeX and can’t run full-screen or are missing some features. Look for more companies to jump on the DeX bandwagon with optimized desktop Android apps.

Inside, the S8 and S8+ are like tiny tablets. Powered by a Qualcomm 8-core Snapdragon 835 processor that runs at a top speed of 2.35GHz, the chip delivers faster action but uses less power than earlier versions. Each phone comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage space, so it can handle just about any task – online or off. All this adds up to a powerful phone that scored between 30 and 40 percent higher on the GeekBench 4 single- and multi-processor tests compared to a year-old Galaxy S6.

S8+ and s8The Galaxy S8 and S8+ with their 5.8- and 6.2-inch AMOLED screens (versus 5.1- and 5.5-inches for the S7 and S7 Edge models) are not only among the brightest displays available but can show super-sharp UHD resolution. Still, with all it has, the S8 is thinner, narrower and slightly lighter than the S7 or S7 Edge.

The DeX dock is the phone’s perfect companion with the ability to connect a display, keyboard, mouse and more. The back of the fold-open DeX Station dock has a USB C, pair of USB 2.0 and an HDMI connection, but neither a VGA port for connecting to an older display nor an audio jack. Using the dock’s Bluetooth capabilities put sound it its place. It has an Ethernet port for connecting to the school’s network or you can use the phone’s WiFi or mobile data abilities.

When closed, DeX has a Moon Pie look, but open it and it has a pair of interlocking circlular plastic pieces. The upright portion looks like a Qi inductive charging plate, but all it does is hold the phone inplace. All dock-to-phone connections are made via a Type C USB plug. It’ll likely require some patience and trial and error get the phone and plug to line up.

EE-MG950_004_Front-Slide-Open_BlackSetting up the phone-to-screen connection took a few minutes with an S8 phone, but it’s time well spent. Rather than a tall thin image of the phone’s screen showing up on the display, you get a full landscape view of the phone’s contents in HD resolution. Later when I docked the phone, it took 8 seconds for the phone to link up with the dock, screen, keyboard and mouse.

Overall, it looks and feels a lot more like what you’re used to with a PC, Mac or Chromebook and less like a phone. When its connected, the keyboard, mouse or incoming call can wake up the phone. In addition to printing, the DeX dock lets you drag and drop items between windows, use Control-V, -C, and -X and right click to get contextual menus.

While it worked fine with Word, Excel and Acrobat, the Kiwix version of the PHET science and math simulations show up in partial-screen portrait format. Clearly, a work in progress, you can’t set up printing with a right click, the system balked at opening older PowerPoint files and Samsung’s vaunted voice-activated artificial intelligence agent, Bixby, won’t be available for another six months in the U.S.

EE-MG950_002_Back1_BlackStill, it has the phone-desktop dynamic down pat. When a call comes in, it shows up on the desktop and you can take it, ignore it or push it to the voicemail system for a message. Unfortunately, when it comes to using Skype for video chats in the DeX holder, the S8 camera is aimed at the ceiling, but it can be re-aimed by propping up the phone to point it downward; a stack of business cards or Post-It note pad works well.  

Overall the Dex concept has its pros and cons. To start, for the school, there’s one device to buy, set up and maintain. On the other hand, at $150 plus the $750 (for the S8) or $850 (for the S8+) it’s not a cheap set up. But, instead of some bits of data being scattered on a phone, notebook, tablet and online repositories, it’s all in one place.

Is the Galaxy 38/Dex combo a powerful phone or a mini desktop computer? The answer is yes.



Samsung Galaxy S8 with DeX dock


+ Phone to screen connection

+ Wired Ethernet included

+ Excellent desktop software

+ Single place to put files

+ Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other apps

- Lacks VGA and audio output

- Hard to aim camera for video calls

New OS, New Surface

WindowsCloud_PreOrder_Angle_1920After four and a half years of steadily increasing acceptance and sales of ever more powerful Microsoft’s Surface Tablets and Books, there’s a new Surface in town: The Surface Laptop. Built around a 13.5-inch UHD screen the system fits into a 2.8-pound package that is 0.6-inches thick – perfect for throwing into a backpack between classes. Inside is a Core i5 or i7 processor that should be more than powerful enough for typical classroom and administrative tasks. The gem in the crown is the Surface’s Dial Dock, which has a big knob that is context sensitive so that in Word, it can flip through pages, but in Spotify it changes the volume. Starting at $999, it should be out by mid-month in maroon, blue, gold and silver.

W10_Surface_Full_Start_3x2_en-USTo make it all work, Microsoft has written a variant of its flagship operating system called Windows 10 S. It might stand for School, Streamline or Security because it hits at each of these items. The new software promises faster start-ups, the ability to set up and manage systems as well as run programs in a secure container, but can only add software that comes from the Microsoft Store. It’ll not only be on the Surface Laptop but less expensive notebooks from the likes of Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Samsung and Toshiba.

An A in Chromebook Design

Chromebook plus compositeSamsung’s Chromebook Plus sets the pace for Chromebooks at school with an unequaled combination of size, weight and versatility. It may cost more than plain utilitarian systems, but it’s a powerful and versatile Chromebook that punches above its weight. And, a more powerful model is on the way.

At 8.7 by 11.0-inches and 0.6-inches thick, the 2.4-pound (2.7-pounds with its small AC adapter) Chromebook Plus is significantly smaller and lighter than either the Acer C731T or Asus C202, in spite of the fact that the Chromebook Plus has a slightly bigger screen. In fact, the Chromebook Plus’s dull silver case is only marginally thicker and heavier than the Asus Flip C100A, a convertible Chromebook with a similar design that has a smaller 10.1-inch screen versus 12.3-inchs for the Chromebook Plus.

Despite its slim profile, the system is a convertible notebook with a 360-degree hinge that allows it to assume several computing profiles. It can be a traditional keyboard-centric system, but if you want a tablet, flip the screen over. You can even set it up on a tabletop in tent orientation or with the keyboard facing down and speakers facing up for presentations or small-group video watching.  

Chromebook plus bIts hinge action is smooth, the display doesn’t wobble too much when you tap it and the display locks in place when it’s set to tablet mode. Overall, the system feels good in the hand as a slate and its 18.5-mm keys are easy on the fingers.

Just like Flip, the Chromebook Plus has a tough metallic skin over a strong internal frame to protect it from damage. Unlike the C202 and the C731T, the Chromebook Plus is not Mil-Std 810G certified for rugged use.

It lacks the Celeron processor that many other Chromebooks use and instead has the RockChip OP1 ARM-based six-core chip that runs at 2GHz. An evolutionary update of the RockChip used in the Asus Flip C100A, it’s faster and has more computing cores to work with, yet doesn’t overwhelm the battery.

In addition to the $450 Plus model I looked at, Samsung plans an all-black $550 Pro model that’s aimed at businesses, but just might be the ultimate teacher or administrator’s system. It uses an Intel Core m3 processor that runs at between 1- and 2.2GHz, but otherwise mirrors the Plus system.

Either way, the systems come with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage space. Need more room for lessons, assignments and grades? You can add extra storage space with a micro-SD card.

As is the case with many newer systems, its ports are a mixed bag. The Chromebook Plus has a pair of USB-C ports, one of which is used for charging the system. In other words, like others, you’ll need to get an adapter to connect with a projector, display and accessories. It worked fine with a Minix Neo C Mini adapter, which also provided a pair of USB 3.0 ports and HDMI connections, but you’ll probably be using its 802.11ac networking and Bluetooth 4 wireless connections more often.

Chromebook plus iLike many new Chrome-based designs, the Chromebook Plus lacks a cooling fan, which can make it a more reliable system with longer battery life. While it generally keeps its cool, there’s a hot spot near the USB-C port while it’s plugged in.

The 12.3-inch display is a gem that is not only able to interpret 10 independent touch inputs but has a highly detailed 2,400 by 1,600 resolution versus 1,366 by 768 screens for the competition. In fact, it handles UHD videos extremely well with sharp detail and smoothness, but could be a weak link it its longevity by not having reinforced glass, like Gorilla Glass.

At an aspect ratio of 3:2, the screen is taller than most of the competition and might end up being a way for kids to hide from the teacher during class. It lets you work comfortably with three taller documents or Web pages at once, though.

Above the screen is a 720p Web cam, but there’s no camera in the screen lid. It does have a pair of microphones that can filter out background noise, something that’s usually reserved for more expensive models.

A big step forward for this class of Chromebook is the inclusion of the Chromebook Plus’s pop-out stylus for sketching and annotating what’s on the screen. It does a good job of mimicking the feel of a pen on paper, but there’s no way to tether it to the system. 

The stylus software on the Chromebook Plus lets you define an area and save it as a screen shot and write notes, but there’s also a magnifying glass tool. My favorite is the cool laser pointer mode that leaves a bright blue trail that’s perfect for highlighting something on-screen. There’re also downloadable programs that can use the pen, from math graphic and drawing to note-taking and signature apps.

It’s more secure than most with a second-generation Trusted Platform Module. The Chromebook Plus, however, lacks a fingerprint scanner or Web cam capable of facial recognition for log-ins.

With version 56 of the Chrome OS software, the Chromebook Plus has one more trick up its long sleeve. In addition to including ArtCanvas and AirDroid Premium, it can run manyAndroid apps. Unfortunately, this doesn’t yet include the free versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, but Samsung is working with Google and Microsoft on an update to open these apps to the Chromebook Plus.

Chromebook plus gThis is a Chromebook that won’t set any performance records, but it was more than powerful enough to work with those apps as well as things like MathWays online graphing calculator and the University of Colorado’s PHET science simulations. It scored 521.1 milliseconds and 9,675 on SunSpider and Octane benchmarks, slightly ahead of the Celeron-based Acer C731T. 

Its battery ran for 8 hours and 45 minutes of non-stop video playing. This should translate into more than enough for a full day of lessons, assignments and Web searches with a little left over at the end of the day. Still, it was more than an hour short of the Asus Flip C100’s 9:20. The system was able to start up and be ready for class in 7.8 seconds.

At $450, penny-pinching districts will see the Chromebook Plus as more expensive than the typical Chromebook, but it pays dividends with an excellent design and a slew of unexpected goodies, like an ultra-HD screen, TPM security and included stylus. Look for the $550 Intel Core M3-powered black Chromebook Pro in the coming months that will have more processing power and could be the ultimate teacher’s computer.

When the Android compatibility software is ready later this year, the Chromebook Plus/Pro pair will set a new standard for school computers. Which you get depends on whether your outfitting students or teachers with what will likely be the best all-around school system ever made


Cb plus a

Samsung Chromebook Plus



+ Versatile convertible design

+ UHD screen

+ Thin and light

+ Includes stylus

+ Two USB-C ports

+ TPM module

- Doesn’t work with Android-based Word, PowerPoint and Excel apps

Stand by Me

C36_4We all know that juggling papers, books and a tablet can lead to disaster, but Armor-X’s 3-in-1 stand lets your slate stand on its own. The $35 device not only securely holds an iPad Pro 9.7, Air 2 or mini 4, but just about any tablet that has between a 7- and 10.5-inch screen, including most Android devices. Unfortunately, this leaves out the larger Pro model. The stand can sit on a desk with the screen at a comfortable angle or attached to a wall, although at any time you can take the tablet out. A big bonus is the ability to set up the screen in horizontal or vertical orientation or at any angle you choose.

Newcomer to Convertible Trade

SlideYou may not have heard about Slide, but chances are you will. That’s because the company’s Lap116 convertible notebook squeezes a lot of computer into a small price tag. To start, the Lap116’s 11.6-inch full HD screen can rotate 360-degrees so that it’s just as good as a traditional keyboard-centric notebook as a tablet or with the base holding the screen upright for presentations. Powered by a quad-core processor, it comes with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage space and uses Windows 10. It’s available in white, black or red for $399.

Freebee Friday: Chromebook Test Drive

C731tLooking to try out Acer’s latest rugged Chromebook? The company is offering trial loaner machines to schools at no cost, all you have to do is apply and then listen to a call with their marketing people. A few weeks later, a Celeron-powered C731T touch-screen Chromebook will arrive to try out. There’re neither shipping fees nor any obligation to buy any systems, making this one of the best freebees we’ve seen.

More iPad for Less Money

Ipad-201703-gallery1The latest iPad is like a breath of fresh air by replacing the Air 2 line at a steep discount. The updated 9.7-inch iPad is powered by the latest A9 processor, has enough battery to last for 10 hours of use and comes in silver, gray and gold. It combines iOS software with access to more than a million apps, many of which are free educational programs. It comes with 32GB of storage, WiFi and Apple’s Retina 2,048 by 1,536 resolution screen. Starting on Friday, it’ll be available for $329, $309 for students and teachers and $299 for schools -- at least $70 less than the retiring Air 2.

Super Secure Systems

CyberWith hackers seemingly hiding behind every server or WiFi access point, digital security is as important as door locks and video surveillance at schools. It might start with strong passwords and having an air-tight network, but the digital safety of every schools often comes down to the systems a district buys. These two notebooks are among the most secure available today, but neither skimps on the ability to teach or learn.

Which you choose depends on whether you value keeping malicious software out of your school or you want to make it easier to log in. Personally, I think all new system should have both of these advances built in.

X360 g2HP’s EliteBook X360 1030 G2 just might be the most secure convertible notebook ever created. It not only has a fingerprint scanner, Trusted Platform Module (TPM) and HP’s SureStart method of not allowing the system to start up with suspect software, but adds the company’s new Sure Click security feature. Sure Click supplements malware protection by running any newly opened Web browser window in an isolated virtual machine within the processor, essentially cordoning it off from the rest of the computer. That way, if it contains malicious software, it can be shut down without any detrimental effect to the computer. The Windows 10 system weighs just 2.8-pounds, yet has two USB 3.0 and one Type C ports along with an HDMI connection and audio jack. There’s a 13.3-inch HD screen, your choice of a Core i5 or i7 processor, 8- or 16GB of RAM and 128-, 256- or 512GB of solid state storage. It comes with a Wacom pressure-sensitive stylus and starts at $1,700.

Galaxy Book 12in Silver_3Meanwhile, Samsung’s 2-in-1 Galaxy Book should give it competition for most secure status. The Windows tablet not only lets you log onto your system via a wireless link with your phone, but has a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) for remote log-ins. The Galaxy Book lets you link your phone to it via an NFC (Near Field Communications) to Bluetooth connection that is encrypted in Samsung’s Flow software. Just swipe your finger or enter your password on your Android phone and the Galaxy Book system picks up from where you left off. An evolutionary step up from the Tab Pro S, the Galaxy Book continues as a tablet with a snap-on keyboard cover. On the other hand, it’s not a one-size fits all system, with 10.6- (1,920 by 1,080 resolution) or 12-inch (2,160 by 1,440 resolution) Super-AMOLED screens. They’ll all run Windows 10 software, but the 12-incher will use a Core i5 processor while the 10.6-incher will have a Core M3 chip; both have at least 4GB of RAM and either a 128- or 256GB solid-state storage module; the smaller Galaxy Book also will have a 64GB option. The larger Galaxy Book has a pair of USB C ports, a micro-SD card slot and Samsung’s S-Pen for writing or drawing directly on the display, while the smaller Galaxy Book makes do with a single Type C USB port. The good news is that rather than an expensive option, each Galaxy Book comes with its backlit keyboard cover. It’s coming in the spring.

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