If tooling around an iPad Pro with your thumb is awkward and not quite precise enough, the $99 Apple Pencil is a big help with accurate placement and pressure sensitivity. Annotable, a powerful iPad app, works just as well with a finger as with the Pencil and takes the pro pad to a new level. In addition to adding the ability to annotate and draw circles and squares, you can add arrow heads to any screen, even while it’s connected to a projector. My favorite is Anotable’s pixelate function that blurs anything you select. Other items, like colors and a cool spotlight tool cost a few dollars, but you can get everything for $8.
Need anything from a classroom of MacBook Air models to a few Pros for a computer lab? Gazelle has them all at surprisingly low prices. The company’s inventory of refurbished systems available includes phones, iPads and MacBooks. The site not only shows their condition and the specs but what the price would be to buy or lease it for a year and a half. For instance, a late 2011 MacBook Pro model with a 13-inch screen, 8GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive and 30-day warranty costs $650.
If you like the variety of PC school software, but have a school of iPads, the latest emulation software from Parallels lets you run just about any Windows app on a 12.9-inch iPad Pro system, adding an incredible amount of versatility to the pad. It costs $20 a year, but you can try it out before you commit to buy the software.
How do you follow up on the superb Asus Flipbook? By adding more features but keep its size, weight and price under control. The Transformer Mini carries a 10.1-inch display, yet weighs in at 1.2- pounds on its own and 1.7-pounds with its snap on keyboard. The system, is only 0.3-inches thick, yet has everything a class could need, from 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth and a pull out stand that makes using it on a desk much easier. You get a year’s worth of unlimited online storage.
If you keep breaking tablets or phones, you might need one built for the rigors of work and school. That’s where Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Active comes in. Like the S6 Active, the S7 can stand up to a lot of punishment, including being dropped from five-feet and dunked underwater. It’s 5.1-inch quad HD screen, is made of shatter-resistant glass. It will be available via AT&T and Samsung’s enterprise sales department.
The latest pair of classroom notebooks from Lenovo are sure to get your attention, both because they have what you need to teach, but are moderately priced. To start, the Lenovo N23 is a Windows 10 convertible with an 11.6-inch screen that can go from a traditional keyboard-based notebook to a tablet or show its display in its tent or presentation modes. Like the N22 it replaces, it’s rugged enough for 1st through 12th graders with reinforced ports and a spill-resistant keyboard that can take years of pounding. Meanwhile, the N42 Chromebook is bigger with a 14-inch display, but can only be a notebook. They should be available in a few weeks for between $200 (N42) and $250 (N42).
The latest Chromebook from NComputing, the CX110, not only provides cost effective student computing at $200, but allows a school-day’s worth of different kids to share machines. By using the company’s vSpace client software, a single system can service several students throughout the school day. The system combines an 11.6-inch screen with 8.5-hours of battery life, according to NComputing. If you like, the system can be ordered with 6,000 video lessons from brainstorm.com in English, science and math as well as ACT and Advanced Placement test prep for $179.
It’s a fact of life at schools that iPads can require three hands sometimes to hold, tap and have papers handy. ISkelter’s Canvas Creator can help with a sturdy wooden base for an iPad that holds it, a stylus and provides a trough for holding a phone, a thin book or the pad.
Made of bamboo and machined to fit the 9.7- or 12.9-inch iPad Pro models, the Canvas Creator is about as natural as it gets. At 0.75- by 12.2- by 9.4- and 0.75- by 14- by 11.5-inches, respectively, the two models fit well on school desks. There are also models that provide some room on the side for a book or pile of papers, but these extend a few more inches.
It has been well sanded and has rounded corners, but the Canvas Creator base’s bamboo wood is unfinished and could stand to be oiled or protected with a polyurethane coating for longevity. On the other hand, if you spill something on it or it gets too dirty to clean, you can always just lightly sand the surface.
The pad fits perfectly into the Canvas Creator base with the screen nearly surface flush with the base. On the downside, the iPad’s side buttons and the rear-facing camera become inaccessible once it’s in place. It has a soft felt lining so that the iPad’s back doesn’t get scratched. If you like, the Canvas Creator base can easily be screwed into place on desks or a lab bench so that kids come into the class or lab and put their iPads into place.
To the right is a slot for Apple’s iPad Pencil stylus. It’s easy to drop in and remove, but the Canvas Creator base lacks a tether to keep it from getting dropped or lost. It’s not a surprise because the Pencil doesn’t have a place to attach a chain or string.
There’s also a handy trough for holding a phone, short book or a clipboard with papers – my favorite. If you want to work with the iPad upright or share something with a small group, you can put it into the slot. It sits at a comfortable 150-degree angle and is just as good with the slate sitting horizontally or vertically.
To the left is a cut out for slipping your thumb under the iPad to remove it from the wooden Canvas Creator. Unfortunately, the round indentation can’t accommodate the slate’s Lightning power cord without awkwardly lifting the left side of the iPad out of the base. In other words, the Canvas Creator’s key shortcoming is that you can’t charge and use the iPad for school work at the same time.
The Canvas Creator base comes in sizes for the 9.7- or 12.9-inch iPad Pro that cost $50 or $70. It’s a small price to pay for such a simple, yet powerful, base that can change the way you work and learn with an iPad.
+ Made of sturdy bamboo
+ Holds pad and stylus
+ Trough for phone, book or clipboard
+ Screen sits flush
+ Stand for iPad
- Power cord doesn’t fit
- Unfinished surface
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.
For 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.
At 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.
In 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.
Both 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.
+ Thin and light
+ Keyboard case
+ Bright screen
+ Latest TPM chip
+ Screen size and resolution
- No SD card slot