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Two Good Things Get Better

Tablets leadWhen I first looked at Toshiba’s Portege Z10t and Asus’s Transformer T100 a little more than a year ago, I was impressed by the ability of these convertibles to go from a standalone tablet to a traditional notebook in matter of seconds. Well, these quick-change artists have improved their acts by getting slimmer and lighter while adding larger screens and – above all – running longer on battery power. What else could you ask for in a Windows tablet?

The Transformer T300 Chi and Portege Z20t pick up where their predecessors leave off. They are dead-ringers for each other with 12.5-inch touch screens, the latest Core M processors and super-slim tablet profiles of 0.3-inches. On the other hand, side-by-side the differences jump out at you. They have weights of 1.6- and 1.5-pounds for the T300 and Z20t, respectively. That’s about 5-ounces lighter than the previous generation Z10t, despite having a larger screen.

Of the two, the Z20t slate is smaller with a 12.1- by 7.8-inch footprint, 0.3-inches narrower and shorter than the T300 tablet. While the Portege has a magnesium case, the Chi is encased in an aluminum skin, but both are easy to carry and can easily slide into an out of a bag or backpack.

Asus-transformer-book-t90-chi-100538616-origThey each come with a snap-on keyboard that turns the tablet into a notebook. Here, the T300 leads with a slightly thinner profile (0.8- versus 1.0-inch) and lighter weight (3.1- versus 3.3-pounds). Both come with small AC adapters, but the Portege’s is a traditional one with a power cord while the Asus adapter goes right into a wall outlet.

The Z20t mechanically mates the tablet to the keyboard, which contains an extra battery, while the T300 attaches with powerful neodymium magnets and lacks a battery for anything other than running the keyboard’s Bluetooth link with the tablet. As a result, the T300 can take an annoying second or two to wake up when you try to use the touchpad. The T300’s magnets can help by sticking to a metallic tabletop.

Despite having 12.5-inch displays that can respond to 10 independent touch inputs and using Intel’s HD Graphics 5300 video processor, the displays couldn’t be more different. The Z20t tops out at 1,920 by 1,080 resolution, which should be plenty for school work, but the T300 takes a big step forward with 2,560 by 1,440 resolution, allowing it to show greater detail.

As notebooks, they both can be opened to only 130-degrees and can’t be used flat on a table. The T300’s display is rock solid while the Z20t’s screen wobbles noticeably when it is tapped, poked or swiped. I really like that the Z20t comes with a pressure sensitive stylus, but both worked well with a generic stylus.

A big bonus for teachers who need to be flexible is that both of them can work with the screen pointing away from the keyboard for small group presentations. The screens can also be folded down onto their keyboard, making a thick tablet.

Z20t eAfter two weeks of working with both of them daily, I’m convinced that either can be used as a slate for roaming around the classroom looking over students’ shoulders, but in a second you can snap on its keyboard for typing lesson plans or progress reports to parents. Both have comfortable 19mm keys, but the Z20t’s is backlit, which can help when teaching by the dim light of a projector.  

Inside, they both have Intel’s latest low-power Core M 5Y71 processor that runs at between 1.2- and 2.9-GHz and 8GB of RAM. Because the processor uses less than 5-watts of power at full blast, neither has a cooling fan. Unfortunately, the back of the T300 gets hot when it is doing heavy work.

Of the two, the Z20t is better equipped with 256GB of solid state storage versus 128GB for the T300. On the other hand, the T300’s storage capacity is augmented with a year’s worth of unlimited online storage.

Both slates have an adequate assortment of tablet ports, but the Z20t leads with a pair of USB 3.0, audio, a mini-HDMI and a micro-SD card reader. Snap on the keyboard and the Z20t adds a full-size HDMI, VGA, two USB 3.0 slots and something that’s becoming a rarity among notebooks: a wired LAN connection. In other words, the Z20t is one of the best connected notebooks around.

In addition to audio and micro-HDMI connection, the T300 tablet has an innovative, micro-USB 3.0 micro-B plug that is much thinner than a standard USB port. You can directly plug in a micro-USB cable and the system comes with an adapter that lets you use a standard USB 2.0 plug or memory key as well as a cable for charging the keyboard base. But, the T300 lacks a really useful and inexpensive adapter that would have converted it into a full size USB 3.0 port.  

Asus info box finalYou may be able to bypass the cable connection altogether for teaching because they each come with Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi networking, although the Z20t uses the newer 802.11ac protocol while the T300 uses 802.11n. I was able to connect each using the WiDi wireless receiver in the Epson PowerLite 1985WU projector.

As far as tablet battery life goes, the T300 is the big winner with its 4,150 milli-amp hour cells running for 6 hours and 5 minutes of continuously playing online videos. That’s slightly longer than the Z20t’s 3,150mah battery ran for, but the Z20t has a second battery stashed in the keyboard that brought the notebook to an exceptional 12 hours and 15 minutes of battery life.  

Either way, it’s good enough for a full day of school work and the Z20t can run for several days of typical work on a charge. Happily, the combined system drains the keyboard’s cells first and then the tablet’s.

Despite their similar hardware, the T300 sprinted ahead of the Z20t with a 1,863.0 on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 8.0, making it the performance champ and roughly on a par with a high-end and more expensive Core i7-based system. The Z20t scored a 1,599.2 on the PerformanceTest 8.0 benchmark, 15-percent lower than the Z20t, but the difference is marginal in light of the fact that either of these systems is roughly three-times as powerful as an Atom-based slate, like Lenovo’s Yoga 2.

The top of the line Z20t B2112 version I looked at cost $1,700 and came with Windows 7 Pro; it includes DVDs to upgrade it to Windows 8.1. There are models that start at $1,400, which brings it closer to the Win 8.1-based T300’s $1,000 price tag.

Info box z20t final
By contrast, the T300 that I looked at sells for $900, but can go lower, Asus has a model with a slower 5Y10 Core M processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space for $700, half that of a comparable Z20t. This makes it easier to fit into a school’s tight budget and quite a bargain.

With a three-year warranty, the Portege Z20t is in a class by itself and a return to a day when three- years of coverage was the norm. By contrast, the Transformer T300 Chi comes with a one-year warranty, but has the advantage of it covering accidental damage.

Both of the systems are small wonders that are thin and light, exquisitely powerful and can do just as well in the classroom or a school’s office. They each have their strengths and weaknesses for school use, but if you crave more than 12 hours of battery life, the Z20t is for you. Personally, I prefer the size, weight, performance and especially price tag of Asus’s Transformer T300 Chi.

Science in your Palm

Sparc element bPasco has squeezed the physical sciences into the palm of a student’s hand with its Spark Element tablet. The Android-based handheld is rugged enough to survive the harshest science classroom and clumsiest students. It can link with 70 different digital Pasco sensors, from an angle sensor to voltage probes, as well as load curriculum materials and instructions for performing labs. It has a color screen, an HD camera and kids can connect to a school’s network (with WiFi) or a phone (with Bluetooth ). It comes with sophisticated data acquisition and analysis software.

Charge Them All At Once

CS16USB-OTHER01-MForget about taking up every outlet in the room to charge iPads and other tablets one at a time because Tripp-Lite’s 16-Port USB Tablet Charging Station can do them 16 units at a time with a single plug; Tripp-Lite also makes units for 32- and 48-systems. Each charging system can draw up to 2.4-amps of 5-volt USB juice so every slate is ready for school. The sturdy black steel can be screwed into a wall, floor or shelf and has adjustable dividers or can be mounted in optional casters for taking it from class to class. The vault-like steel door can be locked at the end of the day or between calsses. It comes with a 10-foot power cord has a powerful cooling fan and costs $675 with a two-year warranty.

Yoga 2 Hangs It Up

Yoga tab 2 cLenovo’s innovative Yoga Tablet 2 can do one big thing that other slates can’t: in addition to its expected four modes of viewing and interacting, you can easily hang the tablet on a wall. This might not seem like a big breakthrough and before seeing it in use, I didn’t think that it was all that important. However, after using and hanging it, I’m convinced that this little change can have a big impact on teaching.

Yoga 2’s step forward is surprisingly simple and is based on its fold-out leg. The leg can hold the tablet up at angles from nearly vertical to 30-degrees, but can be a bit of a chore getting it out. With it, the Yoga 2 can be used flat on a desk, as a presentation machine, as a stand-alone tablet or with its included keyboard as a small notebook.

The key is that its sheet-metal leg has a small oval cut-out that can be used to hang it from a nail, hook or screw like a picture on any wall. It took me less than a minute to securely hang it on a plaster wall. This not only allows teachers to set up small group classes in odd places that lack traditional school furniture but allows schools set up the tablet on a wall without expensive mounting hardware.

It results in the ability to turn any vertical surface into an interactive teaching zone, whether it’s a repurposed corner or library catalog station. The best part is that when you’re done, the tablet can be lifted from its hook and off you go.

Yoga tab 2 aThe rest of the Yoga 2 is no slouch either. It weighs 1.4-pounds and measures 0.3- by 10- by 7.2-inches. On the whole it’s a little bigger and heavier than an iPad Air 2, but the Yoga 2 has a slightly larger 10.1-inch screen (verus 9.7-inches). Its most prominent feature is the large cylindrical bulge for its battery that widens the case to 0.8-inches at the bottom.

This makes it more stable when used on a tabletop by putting most of the weight low. It also means that the battery can actually help by forming a handle when you’re holding the tablet vertically – righty or lefty, it doesn’t matter.

The display can show 1,920 by 1,200 resolution, responds to 10 touch inputs and is flush with the case, which eases writing on the screen. Unlike many of its competitors, the Yoga 2 doesn’t include a stylus, but worked well with a generic stylus.

Below the screen is a pair of speakers at the bottom corners that unlike many tablets, like the iPad, point directly at the viewer. The sound is remarkably rich and crisp thanks to Lenovo’s use of the Wolfson’s WM8753 24-bit Master Hi-Fi audio chip, which is made by Cirrus Logic; it uses Dolby audio.

Inside is Intel’s Atom Z3745 quad-core processor that runs at 1.3GHz, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of solid-state storage space. In addition to a pair of cameras and the expected WiFi and Bluetooth wireless, the system has the bare minimum of ports, including a micro-USB, micro-HDMI and an audio jack. Under the fold-out stand is a cleverly-hidden micro-SD card slot.

Yoga tab 2 eAt $370, the Yoga 2 might appear to be kind of expensive compared to 10-inch Windows slates like Toshiba’s $250 Encore 2. But, the Yoga 2 comes with its add-on keyboard, something other charge as much as $100 for, which levels the buying field. Rather than physical contacts, the keyboard connects with the tablet via a Bluetooth link, so it needs its own battery. Its small battery uses a micro-USB port for charging and should be good for weeks – if not months – on end.

While the keyboard doesn’t have a USB port or a mechanical latch, it delivers 17.4 millimeter keys, a textured touchpad and useful shortcut buttons for multimedia and volume, including a handy mute key. It’s held is place magnetically and works well with the pull-out leg, but is better for working on a desk than a lap.

Happily the two fold up to a small package that weighs just over 2 pounds and can be stashed in a backpack or small book bag. On the downside, it’s all too easy to hit the on-off button when trying to adjust the volume because the three buttons are too close together.

If you don’t want the keyboard, you can get virtually the same system with Android software and half as much storage space for $250. Be warned, though, you’d be missing out on one of the best mobile keyboards around.

Based on its Atom-based hardware, the Yoga 2 performed admirably, but is no screamer. It scored a 543.5 on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 8.0, about one-third the potential of a Core i5 system. Having an extra gigabyte or two of RAM would probably have helped here, but it’s not an option with the Yoga 2. Over two weeks of daily use, it acquitted itself well and didn’t let me down, although some of the keys were a little sticky.

Yoga tab 2 fThe pay-off for the Yoga 2 using a low-power processor is that its 9,600-milli-amp-hour battery can run for 9 hours and 15 minutes on a charge for playing videos continuously over a WiFi connection. That’s nearly three-and-a-half hours longer than the Encore 2 is capable of and should be plenty for even the busiest school day.

The system I looked at is available only in black, has a one-year warranty and includes Windows 8.1 with Bing software as well as a year’s subscription to Office 365. It’s got Lenovo’s SHAREit app preloaded for wirelessly distributing documents and classroom materials. For the polyglot classroom, the software also works with Android tablets and iPads.

All told, the Yoga 2 seems like it has been designed for the classroom from the start with adequate power, long battery life, an included keyboard and one of the best stands available. But, the best part is that at $379, it is not only several hundreds of dollars less than an iPad (without a keyboard), but a small fraction of what the Toshiba Portege Z10t goes for. This makes the Yoga 2 a superior tablet that schools can afford.


Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2

Yoga tab 2 b

$370 with keyboard base

+ Price

+ Innovative hanging stand

+ Includes keyboard

+ Battery life

+ Small and light

+ Office 365 included


- Adequate performance


Flipped Learner

Spectre x360The latest convertible, HP’s Sceptre x360 13t can not only be a traditional notebook with a mechanical keyboard, but its 360-degree hinge allows the screen to be flipped over, transforming it into a screen-centric tablet. It can also be used in tent and presentation modes. In other words, the Windows 8.1 system is one of the most versatile portables around with a 13.3-inch HD or ultra-HD touchscreen, Core i5 or i7 processor and up to 512GB of solid state storage. Still, it can run on battery power for more than 10 hours of use, according to HP. The 3.3-pound system is only 0.6-inch thick, yet has surprising luxuries, like three USB ports and both a mini DisplayPort and full size HDMI video connectors. The system has a  lighted keyboard, a machined aluminum case with rounded corners and a nicely equipped Core i5 model goes for $900.

Ninja iPad Protection


If iPads have been breaking faster than you can say “iTunes Store,” then maybe you need a stronger case to protect them from clumsy teachers and students.  Kensington’s BlackBelt 1st Degree Rugged Case for iPad Air 2 and Mini systems Built around cushioned rubber, the Black Belt cases can stand up to the drops that happen at schools every day. At $30 for the Air 2 and $25 for the mini models, the case is inexpensive insurance against breakage.



Two of a Kind

VENUE 10 (13)To provide a richer educational experience while lowering deployment and support costs, Dell’s latest tablet is actually two slates: the Venue 10 runs Android 5.0 while the Venue 10 Pro uses Windows 8.1. Other than software they are exactly the same slate with a 10.1-inch screen, Atom quad-core processor and a snap-on mechanical keyboard. They are identical twins with micro-HDMI, micro-USB and audio jacks as well as the ability to wirelessly send audio and video to a projector via WiDi and Miracast. There’s an optional pressure-sensitive Wacom pen and the back of the tablet has a near field communications (NFC) chip for tap-to-connect data transfers. Look for the Venue 10 Pro to be available in March for $330 with the keyboard adding $50. The Venue 10 will be out later this year. 

Thinking with the ThinkPad

Lenovo-laptop-thinkpad-11e-front-3Getting a ThinkPad for students and teachers is no longer an impossible dream because the 11e model is the right size at the right price. Based on an 11.6-inch screen and Celeron processor, the 11e weighs in at 3.3-pounds and comes with 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive for about $550. The system includes the company’s WRITEit and REACHit apps for doing everything from taking notes to submitting homework assignments.

Best Buy

AspireSwitch11_SW5-171_photogallery_02Every once in a while a system comes along that has all the right parts for schoolwork, and Acer’s Switch 11 is one such machine. It starts with an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of solid state storage space and has an 11.6-inch HD screen. The display is not only touch-sensitive with 10 independent inputs, but the Switch 11's tablet portion can be separated from the keyboard base or attached backwards for a presentation machine. All told, it’s perfect for a backpack or small bag and weighs just 3.4-pounds and sells for $800.

HP’s Either-Or Tablet

HP EESchool slates are available in Android or iPad’s iOS, but HP has a new idea: Build Android and Windows versions of the same system. The HP Pro Slate 10 EE (Android 4.4) and Pro Tablet 10 EE (Windows 8.1) are like two 10.1-inch peas in a pod, powered by Atom processors and include just about everything needed for class. They each weigh roughly 1.9-pounds and come with WiFi, have Trusted Platform Modules and there’s a passive stylus that has a nice place to store it when it's not in use. They're not identical, however, because the Android version has Near Field Communications (NFC), while the Windows tablet has twice as much storage space at 32GB. The best part is they each have optional snap-on mechanical keyboards available, which can instantly turn them into notebooks or desktop computers. The Windows Tablet EE will be sold to schools for $300 while the Android Slate EE will go for $280.



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