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A Pair of Tough Chromebooks

Chromebook compositeThe sweet spot these days for school notebooks is Chromebook models with 11.6-inch displays that are not only easy to carry and toss into a backpack, but can be had for around $300. That’s music to the ears of district officials trying to outfit entire schools with hundreds or thousands of computers.

The latest pair of Chromebooks from Acer and Dell shows that good things still come in small packages. To start, these two Chromebooks excel at packaging, with each weighing less than 3-pounds. Yet, they still deliver enough performance for everything from homework to online assessments.

After that they go their separate ways with different focal- and price-points. While the touch-screen-equipped Dell Chromebook 11 sells for $330, the Acer C740 Chromebook 11 comes with a standard display and sells for $50 less.

Both can fit into any school’s IT landscape, run for a full school day of classes on a charge and – best of all – are tough enough to be abused with a variety of ruggedized elements. Which you choose depends as much on whether touch is important to teaching at your school as whether you have an extra $50 in your budget for each system.

Acer Chromebook 11 C740

Acer-Chromebook-11-C740-nontouch-gallery-02Value is the name of the game when it comes to Acer’s Chromebook 11 C740 with an excellent mix of the latest components and a ruggedized design that should outlast even the clumsiest teacher, student or administrator.

From a distance, the gray and black C740 looks just like the CB 11 Touch, but it is significantly smaller and lighter. It has dimensions of 0.8- by 11.2- by 7.9-inches and weighs 2.8 pounds. With its AC adapter, the C740 has an enviable travel weight of 3.2-pounds.

On the downside, the system has a cold, hard feel to it, particularly compared to the soft finish of the CB 11 Touch. It does have a textured bottom that can help keep it from being accidentally dropped while running between classes.

At wide-XGA, the C740’s resolution matches that of the CB 11 Touch, but lacks the innovative activity light of the CB 11 Touch and doesn’t have its touch-sensitive screen. Acer does sell a touch-enabled C720p model.

Acer-Chromebook-11-C740-nontouch-gallery-05While it lacks the CB 11 Touch’s Gorilla Glass, the C740 is one tough customer. Its corners have been reinforced to protect it from sudden impacts and can survive a 17.7-inch drop. Plus, the case has strengthening ribs that can tolerate 132-pounds of force and the system has stouter hinges. Unfortunately, the screen doesn’t fold fully flat on a table.

Rather than the Celeron N2840 that’s on the CB 11 Touch, the C740 has a newer 3205U processor. It runs at a slower 1.5GHz, but has twice the amount of processor cache compared to the N2840. The C740 includes 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage space and the bonus of 100GB of online space for two years with GoogleDrive. Acer also sells a $249 version that has 2GB of RAM.

If that’s not enough, you can add to its capacity with an SD card. It matches the C740 port for port with USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports as well as HDMI and audio connections. It was able to connect to a network with a USB-to-LAN converter or with its 802.11ac WiFi system. The C740 also has Bluetooth 4.0.

It was the speed king with the ability to start up in 6.5 seconds. The system’s Peacekeeper and SunSpider scores of 2,920 and 327.8 milliseconds provide roughly twice the performance potential of the CB 11 Touch. Still it ran for only five minutes less on a charge. In fact, the 8 hours and 35 minutes of playing back HD videos delivered over WiFi means that the system may not even need to be charged every day.

Acer-Chromebook-11-C740-nontouch-gallery-06The C740 comes with a 1-year warranty and if you get them 100 at a time, you get a couple of bonuses. To start, Acer’s Premier Care adds dedicated service and can let you jump to the head of the support line. The Educare warranty adds battery replacements, paid shipping and accidental damage coverage. If you buy it through CDW, you can extend its warranty to three years with accidental damage protection for $142. 

With $150 Chromebooks from Asus on the way from Asus, the C740 has its place in schools because it is a rugged, well-designed system that has all the right parts.

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Acer-Chromebook-11-C740-nontouch-gallery-02

Acer Chromebook 11 C740

$280 

+ Performance

+ Small and light system

+ Up-to-date components

+ Tough design

+ Battery Life

 

- No activity light

- Wide XGA display

  

Dell Chromebook 11 Touch

Cb 11 touch cFrom the start the Chromebook 11 Touch has been designed with education in mind. From the ruggedized case to the touch-display, it is a small notebook that was made for schools. It, however, falls short (particularly in comparison to the Acer Chromebook C740 Chromebook) in two key areas: price and performance.

At 0.9- by 11.4- by 8.6-inches and 2.9-pounds, the jet black CB 11 Touch is easy to carry, pack and use. It has an inviting soft finish that’s grippy and the case has protective bumpers around its edge. On the downside, it’s larger and a couple ounces heavier than the C740. With the included AC adapter, the CB 11 Touch has a travel weight of 3.4-pounds.

While I’m disappointed with the CD 11 Touch’s 11.6-inch wide-XGA resolution, it has a secret that can help teaching. It can respond to ten individual inputs, regardless of whether it’s from a child’s finger or a stylus. While Google is readying a software update that will make touch more central to the operating system, at the moment it’s still a big help. You can not only tap to open and close apps, but you can draw or finger paint directly on the screen.

The screen has a good stiff hinge that makes for a stable place to tap and swipe the display. Plus, its display can fold flat onto tabletop, which is a big advantage when it comes to touch-screen work.

Cb 11 touch aA big step forward for school notebooks, the CB 11 Touch has a unique activity bar on the back of the screen lid. Using included software, a student can put up a green light (get teacher’s attention), a red one (ask a question) or a blue one (raise hand). This is such an intuitive addition to the Chromebook’s repertoire that I’m surprised nobody thought of it sooner.

Designed to survive the harsh environment of schools, the CB 11 Touch has a Gorilla Glass reinforced screen. It has also been tested to stand up to everything from having 16-ounces of water spilled on it to being repeatedly dropped from a desk onto a wooden floor.

Powered by a Celeron N2840 processor that runs at 2.1GHz, the CB 11 Touch is a step behind the newer Celeron 3205U on the C740. Both come with 4GB of RAM, but the CB 11 Touch's 16GB of storage space is second best. It has an SD slot for adding storage capacity.

They both have the same ports with an older USB 2.0, a newer USB 3.0, audio and HDMI for connecting to a display or projector. It lacks a wired LAN port but worked well with a USB-to-LAN converter and has 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. The CB 11 Touch adds an optional mobile data card for always-on Web access.

Cb 11 touch bThe CB 11 Touch takes the backseat to the C740 when it comes to performance. It can start-up in 9.1-seconds, nearly 30 percent slower. With 1,491 and 522.5 millisecond scores on the Peacekeeper and Sun Spider tests, the CB 11 Touch has roughly half the potential of the C740. 

Still, the CB 11 Touch was able to continuously play back videos over a WiFi connection for 8 hours and 40 minutes, more than enough for a full day of school with some time left over for listening to music, playing a game or grading tests. The C740 ran for a nearly-identical 8 hours and 35 minutes on a charge.

While its one-year warranty matches that of most school notebooks, the CB 11 Touch’s coverage can be extended to a more fitting three years and include accident protection for under $100. To my mind it is money well spent considering that they will be tossed, sat on and generally abused every day.

Touch has the power to turn a tiresome lesson into a tactile experience, and the Dell Chromebook 11 Touch can make school seem more like fun. 

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Cb 11 touch d

Dell Chromebook 11 Touch

$330

 

 

+ Rugged design

+ Student activity light

+ Display folds flat

+ Touch screen

+ Battery Life

+ Mobile data option

 

- Wide XGA screen

- Performance

- Price 

Special Needs Tablet

TD-T7-right-sideWhile most school tablets have been designed for the most-capable common denominator in the classroom, Tobii Dynavox’s T7 has been made for those with physical disabilities and special needs. The 7-inch tablet weighs 1.3-pounds and is 1.4-inches thick, but has an HD screen, a handle and is Medicare- and Medicaid-certified for speech generation. Powered by a quad-core Rockchip RK3288 processor, the T7 comes with 2GB of RAM, uses Android 4.4.4 software and comes with the company’s Compass software. It sells for $4,549.

The New Switcheroo

Acer_Switch_10_E_Blue_04_highIf you liked Acer’s Aspire Switch 10 convertible notebook, you’ll love the new Switch 10E. The second-generation Switch 10 is not only smaller and lighter, but is now available in five colors. It is powered by an Atom processor and comes with either 1- or 2GB of RAM and up to 64GB of solid state storage. Built around Acer’s Snap Hinge 2, the 1,280 by 800 touchscreen is stable regardless of its angle. While the base model will go for $280, there will be a special edition Switch 10 with a Gorilla Glass screen lid for $400.

 

Fold Up Notebook

Aspire_R_11_R3-131T_07_highWith a 360-degree hinge, Acer’s Aspire R11 provides a lot of computer for its $250 price tag. It can be a tablet, traditional notebook, tent or presentation machine and can switch among its various modes quickly and easily. Based on Intel’s Pentium platform, the system comes with up to 8GB of RAM, up to a terabyte of storage space and a Gorilla Glass 11.6-inch display. While it comes with Windows 8.1, it is the start of an onslaught that will offer a free upgrade to Win 10 when it becomes available later this year.

Snap Together Notebook

Venue 10 bWhen a traditional notebook isn’t flexible enough to take on the variety of classroom tasks at hand, try tearing it apart and putting it back together in different arrangements. This Transformer-like ability is exactly what Dell has done with its Venue 10 Pro 5055, which can assume at least five different computing personas, depending on the situation.

The center of attention is the Venue 10 Pro 5055 tablet and its matching snap-on keyboard, which together blur the line between laptops and tablets. It does best as a tablet, but can also be a notebook, in tent orientation or set up as a presentation machine (with the screen pointing at the user or away towards a small group). It’s possible to fold the keyboard over the back of the system to make a thick tablet, but using the slate system on its own is much more satisfying.

At 0.4- by 10.2- by 6.9-inches, the Venue 5055 tablet is sleek, easy to handle and thinner than the Asus Transformer T100. Although it weighs the same 1.4-pounds as the T100, the Venue 10 Pro feels lighter and its back doesn’t wobble on a tabletop

Unlike other two-piece PCs, such as Lenovo’s Yoga 2 Tablet, the Venue 10 Pro’s keyboard is mechanically connected to the screen. It, however, can be hard to make sure that the slate and keyboard are firmly locked in place. The slate and keyboard together weigh a reasonable 2.5 pounds. As a notebook, it is a reasonable 0.8-inches thick and 7.3-inches deep.

On the downside, the keyboard does without extra ports, an internal battery or the Yoga 2’s ability to be hung on a wall. When it’s set up for notebook use, its hinge not only wobbles when you tap the screen but the whole thing wants to tip over.

Venue 10 eThe 10.1-inch screen will be a delight for those used to squinting at low-resolution systems. It can show HD images and video and can respond to 10 individual touches.

The $429 version I looked at came with the keyboard, but I got the optional $35 pressure-sensitive stylus as well. A nice addition to the tablet, it uses an AAAA battery, but there’s no place to stow it. The total cost was $464.

If this is too steep, Dell has less expensive alternatives. There’s also a wide-XGA model that costs $329, but it lacks the keyboard, making it a tough decision to make.

Inside the Venue 10 Pro is an up to date system built around a low-power quad-core Intel Atom Z3735F processor that can run between 1.3- and 1.8GHz. It comes with 2GB of RAM and room for 64GB of storage, of which about 50GB are available for lesson plans, homework assignments and general school business. If you need more room, the system includes 20GB of Dropbox online storage space for a year.

Around the edge, there’s the expected variety of ports, including a micro-USB plug for charging, a full-size USB 2.0 connector for data as well as a micro-HDMI connection and an audio jack for multimedia. While it does without a wired LAN connection, it worked fine with a USB adapter. The system includes 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.

Around its edge, the tablet has controls for adjusting the volume as well as turning the system on and off. Rather than a Windows key at the bottom of the screen, the Venue 10 Pro has it as a button on the side edge, which takes a little effort to get used to it.

Venue 10 cThe system has multimedia covered with cameras front and back as well as a dual microphone array pointing at the user. Its speakers are aimed out the side of the tablet and deliver surprisingly rich sound. It doesn’t get loud enough for a full classroom activity and you might want to think about adding Dell’s $50 Bluetooth speaker, which has its own 5-watt amplifier.

While this Atom-based system won’t set any performance records, it did acquit itself nicely with a Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0 score of 505.9, roughly what you’d expect and on a par with the T100’s 503.7. Clearly, adding some extra RAM would have enhanced its performance nicely, but this, unfortunately, isn’t an option. Still, it handled everything I threw at it and ran for 8 hours and 25 minutes of video playback over a WiFi network. This translates into a system that can handle schoolwork but, happily, may not need to be charged every night.

Although the system comes with a 1-year warranty, Dell will extend it to 3-years and include accidental damage for $119. A bonus is that in addition to Windows 8.1, the system comes with a year of Office 365.

It all comes down to price and the Venue 10 Pro 5055 package with keyboard and a stylus is not only priced less than a $500 Surface 3 on its own, but is one of the best values in classroom computers today. It is so flexible that having the right teaching tool at hand will be second nature.

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Venue Pro 10

Dell Venue 10 Pro 5055

$464 with stylus

+ Excellent price

+ Includes snap-on keyboard

+ Optional active stylus

+ HD screen

+ Year of Office 365

+ 5 computing personalities

 

- No battery or ports in keyboard

- Tips over too easily

Three Kinds of Chrome

Asus leadAsus’s latest crop of Chromebooks will hit the market from three totally different directions and have the effect of making traditional school computers look very expensive. The upcoming trio of Asus Chrome systems could change the teaching dynamic with a convertible touch model, what could be the cheapest Chromebook around and a novel Chrome-based stick that plugs directly into a display or projector. Together, they have the school market covered – or at least will when the devices come out over the next few months.

Asus Chromebook FlipTo start, the Flip C100 Chromebook can turn teaching on its head. Rather than a standard clamshell format, Flip has a screen that rotates to flip over, creating a Chromebook convertible that can be used as a keyboard centric system, a presentation machine or a tablet. The system has a 10.1-inch screen, can show 1,366 by 768 resolution and responds to 10 independent touch inputs. It includes 16GB of on-board storage, has 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity so it should fit into any school’s IT landscape. It should be available by summertime.

Haier 11EMeanwhile, Asus has a bargain for you. Its Haier and Hisense Chromebooks should be out a little sooner and will sell for $149. They are similar, though not identical and while they skimp here and there, but the two are functional and very portable computers that undercut the competition by fifty dollars. The Haier model will be sold through Amazon while the Hisense system can be purchased at Walmart, which should fit into schools that specify, but don't supply systems to kids. They are similar to the Flip with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, but each system has an 11.6-inch screen in a more traditional notebook format. They’re small and weigh in at 2.5-pounds, perfect for teachers ans students on the go.

Asus ChromebitFinally, there’s the innovative Chromebit, a self-contained computer on a stick that is like no other Chrome system. Small and light enough to wear on a lanyard, it will be available in three colors. Similar to Google’s Chromecast, it is easily the most inventive computer of the year. Looking like a memory key on steroids, Chromebit plugs directly into the HDMI port of a display, but is a full Chrome system with its own memory and storage space. Created with help from Google, Chromebit will cost just $100. Smaller and less expensive than the $260 Hannspree’s Stick PC, Chromebit has the power to change the entire teaching dynamic. Instead of equipping kids and teachers with more expensive notebooks or tablets, they could get less expensive Chromebit sticks that they plug into displays already set up in each room. The system on a stick will hold the user’s personal history, preferences and key files with the rest being stored online.

 

A School's Worth of Data

WdfMyCloud_DL4100 (1)Districts that invested tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in centralized data storage will feel cheated when they see Western Digital’s My Cloud Business Series DL4100. Small enough to stash in a closet or on a shelf, the inexpensive DL4100 can not only hold up to 48TB and keep student data safe, but can be set up to never lose a bit of precious data.

Aimed at small businesses, the DL4100 can hold up to 24TGB of capacity and fit right into a school’s data infrastructure as an alternative to a centralized rack of server blades. If that’s not enough, you can gang two DL4100s together to open up 48TB of data potential. In a school with 250 students and teachers, that adds up to nearly 50GB a year per user for four years.  

In spite of its capacity, the network attached storage system is surprisingly small. At 7.5- by 6.7- by 9.2-inches, the sturdy steel case holds four 3.5-inch SATA hard drives. You can get it without drives for $530 and with 8TB capacity for $850, but I looked at the $1,530 24TB version that came with four 6TB Western Digital Red drives that run at 5,400rpm; it has a raw capacity of 24TB. On the downside, there’re no high-performance drives available as an upgrade, but the system can use just about any WD network drive.

WdfMyCloud_DL4100 (2)As powerful as a tablet computer, the DL4100 has a 1.7 GHz Intel Atom C2338 dual-core processor and 2GB of RAM; it maxes out at 6GB of memory. The back has a pair of wired Ethernet connectors and power supply inputs for redundancy, but comes with only one AC adapter; an extra costs $100. There’s also a recessed reset button.

Upfront, the DL4100 has a USB 3.0 slot, for transferring the contents of a memory key or digital camera; the system can be set to automatically move and delete or copy the data after the device is inserted. The drive case also has a pair USB ports in the back.

In addition to activity lights below the drives, the system has a 2.4- by 0.6-inch monochrome status screen that shows what’s going on inside. It displays the device’s name, temperature of the drives, capacity, IP address, fan speed and firmware version. You can cycle through the options with up- and down-buttons to the right.

To get the DL4100 started, you need to let it take 2 minutes to warm up after plugging it in. Once you’ve set a password and checked for software updates, aim a connected browser to its IP address or just “wdmyclouddl4100” and the system’s management window appears. It shows the available capacity in large characters as well as major categories of data in a pie chart format. At a glance, you can see the firmware version, if the drives are healthy and what’s connected. It has an informative fever chart of network activity as well as indicators for memory and processor usage.

Wd dl4100 managementDig a little deeper and you can change its name, set the system to static or automatic IP addressing and establish IP version 6 addresses. I used it to set the system to be a file transfer protocol server for serving up large files. At any point you can run a system-wide diagnostic, disk check and save the DL4100’s configuration so that every drive in a district has the same settings.

The software also lets you look at each drive’s temperature and its SMART operational data, like spin up time and error rates. It can even send email or text-message alerts in the event of a drive failure or overheating issue.

Along the top there are tabs for assigning shares, adding (or deleting users), managing back-ups, software and changing the system’s settings. Everything is well laid out with large icons, but there’s no place to look inside the drives to see a file list.

It can not only encrypt all the data on its drives with 256 AES security coding, but can be set up with the right balance of performance and data redundancy. In addition to setting the DL4100 up with simple disk spanning using the JBOD technique or by striping the data using RAID 0, a school that doesn’t want to lose a bit of data can go a step further. You can choose among RAID 1 (where each drive is mirrored), RAID 5 (striping with data to rebuild a lost drive) or RAID 10 (stripping, mirroring and the ability to rebuild lost data).

WD DL4100 android screenThe beauty of the DL4100 is that if you build your in-house data infrastructure around RAID 5 or 10 and a drive goes bad, the system will rebuild the lost data while the storage system is still operating. If that’s the case, just pull on the bad drive’s lever, remove it and slide a new one in. Replacement drives cost $280 and it’s impossible to put them in incorrectly. After setting the software to rebuild the lost data, sit back and relax because it can take hours to rebuild a drive’s contents.

To be on the safe side, you can install the DL4100 with an off-the-shelf UPS back-up power source. But, if the system does lose power, it can take an annoying 8 to 10 minutes for its contents to become available.

In addition to being able to house Time Machine back-ups and operate as an iTunes server, the DL4100 works with a DropBox online storage account. In addition to a Web File viewer, there’re a slew of cloud apps, including ones for working with WordPress Web sites and streaming media. Western Digital adds WD Photos iPad and Android apps for viewing images, but the most useful programs are the My Cloud tablet and phone apps that allow you to look at the files and download just about anything the DL4100 holds.

Using RAID 5, the DL4100 takes 5 seconds to wake up from standby mode, when all the data becomes available. The 24GB DL4100 model yielded 17.9GB of usable storage space when set up in RAID 5, but that drops to 11.8GB by using the extra protection that RAID 10 adds. It was able to read data at 111.3MBps and write at 97.9MBps, according to Crystal DiskMark’s Sequential data tests. That’s more than twice as fast as WD’s MyBook Live using the same network. In real world use, the DL4100 was WdfMyCloud_DL4100 (4)surprisingly good at distributing data quickly and worked with a wide variety of systems, old and new. I set it up to play HD videos on 10 separate clients and all played back smoothly with good audio synchronization.


All told, the DL4100 consumed 35.1 watts while operating and 12.5 watts in sleep mode. Assuming it’s used pretty heavily during an 8-hour school day and then asleep the rest of the time, it has estimated operating expenses of $17.50 per year. This is based on electricity costs 12 cents per kilowatt-hour and a 200-day school year. It’s a lot less than the typical blade storage server that districts are using.

Western Digital has freed schools from having to store their data in off-campus repositories by making the DL4100 secure-enough, fast-enough and – above all – cheap-enough to put one or more in every building.

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WdfMyCloud_DL4100

Western Digital’s My Cloud Business Series DL4100

$1,530 with 24TB capacity

+ 4-drive storage enclosure

+ Works with RAID 0, 1, 5, 10

+ Inexpensive

+ Three-year warranty

+ 256-bit encryption

+ USB port in front for memory key

 

- No option for high-speed drives

New Tablet Surfaces

FamilyIf the current Surface Pro 3 seems intriguing, but its $800-plus  price tag makes it a non-starter at your school, there’s a new Surface 3 in town that starts at $500. For that, you get a 1.4-pound magnesium slate with a 10.8-inch HD screen that can handle multiple touch inputs and a $50 optional stylus. It uses Windows 8.1 (and comes with a free upgrade to Win 10 later this year) as well as either 2GB of RAM and 64GB of storage space for $500 or 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space for $600. Powered by a quad-core Intel Atom Z8700, the system’s speed ranges from 1.6- to 2.4GHz and should have enough battery life for a full-day of even the most challenging classes. It’s got the same kickstand as the more expensive Surface Pro 3 and has a $130 snap-on keyboard cover.

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.

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