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Power in its Place

Block headGot an Apple computer whose AC power adapter doesn’t seem to fit anywhere? You’re not alone but Blockhead has an alternative that only takes up 1.8-inches, half that of the stock adapter. The difference is the snap-on plug module that lets you sneak the adapter into places the standard one can’t. It works with all MacBooks as well as most iPads (although not the older 5-watt models) and costs $20 or two for $35.

Keeping a Mac’s Cool

Svalt composite bIt’s no secret that many MacBook Air and Pro models have trouble keeping their cool with fans that run full blast when you need lots of computing power for video editing or computationally heavy tasks. SVALT’s D2 Cooling dock can calm it down by blowing air into the notebook’s vents to keep it from overheating. Inside the flattened anodized aluminum pyramid is a huge heat sink along with an oversized cooling fan in the back that directs its stream of air right at the hottest part of the notebook. It works just as well with the notebook tilted at a comfortable typing angle or with the lid closed and connected to an external display. The D2 isn’t an on-or-off type of cooler, because its self-adjusting circuitry changes the fan’s speed between 900 and 3,600 rpm based on the computer’s temperature. The D2 Cooling dock costs $295.

LiftThere’s another way but you’ll need to be patient. That’s because Zenlet is currently seeking funds on KickStarter to manufacture its Lift handle-stand. The aluminum Lift weighs a little over a pound and its frame adds less than a tenth of an inch to a MacBook’s profile. it provides a sturdy handle for the system and extra protection in case you drop your precious MacBook. The top of the handle can raise the keyboard to three different angles, allowing extra cooling air to flow in. Current pre-sale pricing ranges from $119 for a 13-inch system to $209 for a 15-inch MacBook.

Charge and Compute

Kensington charger riserWith Kensington’s Charger Riser, you get the utmost out of every square inch of desktop space. The device is not only a raised stand for a notebook or tablet that can be adjusted to three different heights, but the base has an inductive Qi wireless charging pad built in. That way, while you’re working away on your notebook, your phone or tablet can be charging. It fits most notebooks up to 15.6-inch designs and a variety of Qi-enabled phones and tablets. There are thoughtful cable channels underneath and you can even fit a Kensington universal dock into the back of the stand for must-have connections. It costs $140.

The Big Book

AcerChromebook15-CB3-531-photogallery-04Acer’s latest CB3 Chromebook doesn’t strive to be the smallest or lightest computer at school. It's a big notebook with an enviably small price tag of $200. Built around a 15.6-inch reduced glare display that can show 1,366 by 768 resolution, it’s a far cry from HD displays but offers a big view of the Web, STEM data and just about everything that goes on at school.  Powered by a 1.6GHz Celeron N3060 processor, the Chromebook 15 comes with the basics:  2GB of RAM and 16GB of solid state internal storage; the system includes 100GB of online storage with GoogleDrive for two years. It’s big but at 4.3-pounds, it’s not a heavyweight, despite having HDMI and USB ports as well as Bluetooth and WiFi built in.


The Book on the New MacBook Pro

Macbook pro aApple hasn’t updated the McBook Pro line for quite some time and it shows, but the new version unveiled earlier today shows they haven’t been resting on their digital laurels. The new Pros look a lot like the old Pros but they’re thinner with a key difference: the Function keys are gone, replaced by a thin pressure-sensitive OLED display. This Touch Bar strip is flexible enough to be used like traditional Function keys, for controlling volume or for launching apps and shortcuts. Open an image and a set of basic editing tools show up automatically.

Macbook proAvailable in 13-, 15-inch screen versions for $1,800 and $2,400, the new MacBook Pro can be had in silver or gray. It’s now fully up to date, with one exception: no touch screen options. There are now quad core i7 processors available that promise to run cooler and quieter. Look for the system’s pressure sensitive touchpad to get larger and its elderly USB 2 and Thunderbolt 2 ports to be updated with faster and more flexible Thunderbolt 3 ports that can work with USB-C accessories.



Find that Chromebook

Aristotle locateChromebooks may be an inexpensive alternative for schools but they lag behind Macs and PCs when it comes to monitoring them and finding lost or stolen systems. In addition to filtering out inappropriate Web destinations, AristotleInsight K12 software can gather detailed usage stats and show on a map where every running Chromebook is. It’s not detailed enough to find the system left in a classroom closet at the end of the school year, but can show those that are home with kids or ones that have been stolen or lost. 


Android on a Chromebook

Chromebook androidSince their separate inceptions, there’s been a barrier between Google’s Chrome and Android products that divided two very similar products. The latest Chromebooks software erases that line, opening new vistas for teachers, students and schools.

At the moment the software is limited to a handful of Chromebooks, including the Asus Chromebook Flip C100, Acer Chromebook R11 and Google’s second-generation Chromebook Pixel. Later this year, there’ll be an update that will widen the circle to include several dozen models from Acer to Toshiba.

Android chrome with elipseIt took me less than five minutes to convert an Asus Flip Chromebook to run just about any Android app out there. Be warned: the software is still under development and might have a few quirks. For me, it was rock solid and made my Flip Chromebook much more powerful.

Here’s how to do it. Start by going to the Chromebook’s Settings page and scroll down to the Android Apps section just before the bottom. Click the box that says “Enable Android Apps” and your system will automatically download the needed software. After a restart, my Chromebook was transformed into combo Chrome-Android machine, capable of running most apps out there.

Word  install chromebookIn fact, the updated Flip now has a prominent PlayStore icon at the bottom of the screen. Click to select from the more than 2 million Android apps – many not available to Chromebook users – on offer. The big payoff is that you no longer need to use separate devices for Android and Chrome-based software and you can mix and match apps.

I set up my Flip C100 with the 123s and ABCs, Complete Chemistry, DuoLingo and Math Tricks. If that wasn’t enough, the system can now run the Android-based free versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, making them even more powerful in the classroom setting. All of the apps worked fine and the action of the Flip’s touchscreen made it feel like I was using an Android tablet with a keyboard.

Overall, the software works remarkably well with few glitches and essentially opens Chromebooks up to a whole new world of apps. It also marks the removal of one of the last artificial barriers between Androids and Chromebooks. You have to wonder why Google’s programmers didn’t do this earlier, but I’m happy they finally got around to it.

Splash-Proof Books

AuraONE_LyingLow_Reading_US_largeDo your school’s eBook readers stop working all too quickly because they’ve been accidentally dropped or dunked in water? Kobo’s upcoming Aura One is one fo the only tablets with an IPX8 waterproof rating. That translates into shrugging off a dunk in 6-feet of water for an hour. Let’s hope that this never happens to any tablet, but it’s good to know that the Aura One can survive. The $230 eBook reader has a 7.8-inch screen that just misses HD resolution at 1,872 by 1,404. It has enough space for thousands of books and weighs in at half a pound. It can display 11 fonts, can work with eBooks in any of the popular formats and can connect over WiFi.

While you’re thinking about a Kobo reader, consider that the company has a continuously updated site of the top 50 free ebooks. While it’s heavy in mysteries and romance fiction, they’re all free and all you need to do is register.



Drop-Proof iPads

Mbank254096_w560_h560How many iPads have been damaged or broken by clumsy kids (and teachers) dropping them? If the answer is too many, Kensington’s SafeGrip cases not only protect but can also hold them steady on a desktop. There are models from the latest iPads, Air and Mini versions that cost between $40 and $60. Made of padded plastic, the cases protect the delicate tablets from shock while keeping the screen from being scratched. Each has a hinged handle that doubles as an upright stand that can angle the pad so that typing is less of a chore. The cover comes is green, blue and red, has a pen holder and the connections and cameras are all in the open.


The Fun Tablet

NextbookFlexx11A_L_09At around $200, the E Fun’s NextBook Flexx 11A is all business. Based on Windows 10, the Flexx is built around an 11.6-inch touch screen that can show 1,366 by 768 resolution and is powered by an Intel Z8300 Atom processor along with 2GB of RAM. The tablet can be docked with its included keyboard for writing projects and assessments.


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