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Trash to Treasures

Mac to schoolIf your IT staff and teachers have lusted after Apple Macbooks, xServers, iPads and iMacs but the budget doesn’t allow it, there’s another way to equip a school with the computers it needs. Mac to School is a unique organization that acquires, refurbishes and sells a variety of Apple gear to schools for about half of their original price tags.

While many of Mac to School’s wares are upwards of four years old, most look as new as when they were made and will fit into an exclusive Apple or mixed IT landscape. That’s because after the company acquires the systems, it rehabs them physically as well as electronically to as close to new condition as possible.

In fact, Mac to School also runs a repair facility for Macs with certified Apple technicians. After wiping the drive clean, technicians run diagnostics on all its major components, including the processor, display, hard drive, networking gear, ports, battery, Bluetooth and keyboard. They replace or repair any worn or bad parts and fix cracks, scratches and physical defects.

When it’s ready, Mac to School’s technicians put the latest software on the system and can load a custom image, if you like. About the only thing they don’t do is run a burn-in test overnight or over a 24 hour period to look for overheating or intermittent faults.  

UnnamedThe result is that the systems are pretty close to new. Maybe a little better because they have the latest software and patches that can help with performance and security issues.

The company has everything from iPads and MacBooks to Minis, iMacs, MacPros and they even sell classroom packages with carts. On the downside, what’s available is determined by what the company can buy used and you might need to wait until they can get what’s needed. At any time, you can check their inventory to see what fits into your needs, but you’ll have to email them to check on pricing.

The pay-off is that the refurbished systems are generally available at about half of their cost new. All of the company’s products include a 1-year warranty, but customers can get an extra two years of coverage for about $150. Unfortunately, the company doesn’t lease any of its gear to districts who want or need to account for computers as a monthly expense.

I took a look at four Mac to School systems – two MacBooks and a pair of iPads – and found that they were an effective way to fill a school with quality computers on a tight budget. I was astounded that each looked like it was brand new. In fact, they were in much better shape than anything I have that old.

Each came with the original equipment AC adapter, but there were no manuals included; you can get them online. In fact, the biggest faux pas is that one iPad came with the wrong charging cable, but that’s easily fixed.

MacbooksAs far as the MacBooks go, the Air and Pro that I looked at were up to snuff for the most intense classroom and homework with systems that performed without a flaw on typical school tasks for a week. I used them to create, view and share documents. All the ports worked, they ran well on battery power and had Geekbench 3 scores of 1,810/2,858 and 2,272/4,752 on the benchmark’s single- and multi-core tasks. This is on par with their original scores and the Pro model’s scores were very close to a brand new Core M-powered PC notebook, despite being four years old.

On the downside, the Pro and Air’s 13.3- and 11.6-inch screens show 1,366 by 768 and 1,280 by 800 pixel resolution and use Intel’s HD Graphics 3000 with either 256- or 288-MB of RAM dedicated to video. Even today’s entry-level notebooks have more powerful graphics engines, access to more video memory and higher resolution.

The iPads aren’t as old with second- and fourth-generation systems. Still their 9.7-inch screens pale next to the latest iPad Air2 with its fabulous Retina display. Still, they perform as if they were straight from the Apple Store with Geekbench 3 scores of 262/498 and 770/1,413 for single- and multi-core scores.

As to price, the systems are nothing short of a bargain compared to when they were the latest and greatest. For instance, while the revamped Air and Pro go for $400 and $700, when they were new they cost closer to $1,000 and $1,500. And the refurbished iPad2 and 4 models at $200 and $300 used to go for $629 and $529. That adds up to between a 40- and 70-percent discount. In effect, a school or district can roughly double their purchases by buying used equipment.

IpadsA slew of schools from coast to coast are discovering the cost savings by getting refurbished systems. For instance California’s Fullerton School District saved $50,000 when it outfitted schools in a one-to-one deployment while Texas’s Trinity Independent School District cut the bill for computers from $42,000 to $30,000.

If all this sounds like a good technological Plan B that can save a pile of cash, there’s one important aspect to take into account. While they were state of the art two or three years ago, today the refurbished computers’ components and specs are below typical entry level systems. In other words, they run the risk of becoming obsolete in a year or two.

Still, getting refurbished systems from Mac to School can help fill classrooms with computers for much less. 


Mac to school all 4

Mac to School Refurbished Apple systems:

MacBook Pro (MD313LL/A): $700

MacBook Air (MC968LL/A): $400

iPad 2 (A1395): $300

iPad 4 (A1458): $400

+ Roughly half of price when new

+ Refurbished inside and out

+ Latest software installed

+ 1-year warranty with extended coverage available

+ Good variety of models available

+ Performance


- Danger of becoming obsolete


Third Time, the Charm

029_RedIf Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 is too much tablet for your school at too high a price, it now has a little brother that just might be the best Windows tablet to date. While it could still stand to shed an ounce or two, the Surface 3 packs a lot of punch for everything from teaching a math lesson to using reading comprehension software.

Like the Pro 3 and unlike the original RT Surface model, the Surface 3 uses a full version of Windows 8.1 and can run a wide range of general-purpose and specialty education apps. At 1.3-pounds, the Surface 3 is half a pound lighter than the Pro 3 model but 5-ounces heavier than the current iPad Air 2, although the Surface 3 provides a much larger screen than the iPad. It feels good in the hand, never gets more than warm and should be fine for a day of teaching or learning.

Add in the $130 snap-on Surface 3 Type Cover keyboard and you have a 2.1-pound package that is the equivalent of a mid-range notebook or desktop computer. Available in two shades of red and blue as well as black, the keyboard cover has 18.5-mm keys, although the Tab and tilde keys are smaller than the rest. Plus, like its predecessors, the shallow keys take some getting used to. A nice design touch is that the Type Cover is lined with soft felt on the bottom so you won’t be scratching up a library table.

A big bonus is that rather than the Pro’s proprietary power adapter and magnetic connector, the Surface 3 can use a USB adapter with a micro-USB cable, although with a peak power consumption during charging of 13-watts, you should use the included adapter. It should work with most charging carts and enclosures designed for Android and iOS devices.

021_sequenceThe Surface 3 is only 0.3-inches thick, just a hair thicker than the iPad and a tenth of an inch slimmer than the Pro 3. With its unique fold out stand, the Surface 3 is excellent on a tabletop, although using it with the keyboard on a lap can be awkward. It can be set to three angles (22-, 40- and 60-degrees) rather than the Pro’s stand that can be adjusted to just about any angle from nearly flat on the table to almost vertical.

The 10.8-inch display may not be up to the iPad Air2’s 2,048 by 1,536 resolution, but it is more than an inch larger, making navigation and work much easier on the eyes. Its HD imaging should be more than enough and is a big step up for those used to XGA displays. One of the brightest screens around, the Surface 3 uses Intel’s HD Graphics accelerator.

Its 10-point multi-touch screen is not only responsive and accurate, but with the $50 optional Surface Pen, it becomes an art tool with 256-level pressure sensitivity. The pen uses an AAAA battery and comes in colors that match the keyboard.

Pen_v4_001_RedThere’s a shirt-pocket clip at the top of the stylus that conveniently can attach the pen to the keyboard, but there’s no way to attach it to the tablet. That’s where Microsoft’s Surface Pen Loop comes in. Essentially, a piece of fabric that can be attached to the side of the tablet to hold the stylus in place when it’s not in use, the loop comes with the pen, matches the keyboard’s colors and extras cost $5.

It is tightly integrated with OneNote and can do a magic trick in the classroom. Click the button on the top of the stylus and OneNote pops up for quickie scribbles or twice to automatically save the current screen.

Inside, the system is powered by an Intel Atom x7-Z8700 quad-core processor that runs at between 1.6- and 2.4GHz. The $600 model I looked at includes 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space, but the more popular one at schools will likely be the $500 one that has 2GB of RAM and 64GB of space.

Regardless of which you get, the Surface 3 includes some cool goodies. In addition to a year of Office 365 and 1TB of online storage space with OneDrive, the system comes with an hour of Skype time per month.

It has the basic connections you’d expect from a tablet, with a single USB 3.0 port, mini Displayport and the ability to use a micro-SD card. It has a headphone jack, WiFi and Bluetooth, but no wired LAN port; it worked fine with a USB-to-LAN converter.

The port selection can be augmented with Microsoft’s $200 Surface 3 Docking Station, which is money well spent for teachers and computer labs. In addition to charging the system, the dock can connect with a wired LAN and has four USB ports, two of which are the newer USB 3.0 type. There’s also audio jack and a second mini-Displayport jack.

Its performance isn’t as stellar as the Core processor-powered Pro systems, but is good enough to rate a 775 on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 8 benchmark. That puts it solidly in the middle of current systems. Its battery pack powered the system for a reasonable 6 hours and 40 minutes of continuous video playback over a WiFi network. That’s an hour and a half longer than the high-performance Surface Pro 3 but about an hour short of the iPad’s abilities, but plenty for a full day of sustained school work with a little left over at the end for grading or homework.

004_SilverThe system I looked at came with a 1-year warranty and Windows 8.1, but includes a free upgrade to Win 10 when it comes out, just in time for the 2015-16 school year. It might seem ironic (and a bit of a tease) in a world where you’re likely still using Windows XP (or at best Win 7), but this might be the impetus needed to start the transition.

While I admire its starting price, the costs add up quickly if you want the full package, which I think will be the case with teachers. With the keyboard cover, stylus and dock, the complete system comes to nearly $900. The good news is that Microsoft gives teachers and students a 10-percent discount if you get the Surface 3, cover and pen.



Surface 3

$450 with educational discount

+ Price

+ Beautiful display

+ USB power

+ Stylus

+ Includes Office and online storage

+ OneNote integration


- Gets expensive with accessories

- Heavy




The All-Day Chromebook

Cb 311aThe beauty of Chromebooks at school is that there are now a couple dozen models on the market to choose from, with a variety of screen sizes, processors and even a few with touch-screens for fingertip control. Acer’s Chromebook 13 CB-311 takes this variety a step farther with a 13-inch screen along with a new low-power processor that does better on battery life than performance.

At 0.7- by 12.8- by 8.9-inches, the all-white Acer Chromebook 13 is a lot of computer, compared to the latest 11.6-inch models. It weighs 3.2-pounds on its own and with its matching AC adapter, it travels at 3.7-pounds, roughly a pound heavier than the CB-311’s smaller cousins. Still, it easily fits into just about any backpack or school locker.

The system’s white case makes a statement – whether it wants to or not – compared to the black or gray Chromebooks that seem to be everywhere in schools. It looks great and I can imagine that kids will immediately see the CB-311’s surface as a sticker magnet. It also has more trouble hiding dirt and smudges than darker systems.

While it is well-designed and -made, the CB-13 lacks the reinforcements and ruggedized features that some of the latest 11.6-inch models have. Inside, the CB-311 uses a 2.1GHz Nvidia Tegra K1 processor. Based on ARM’s Cortex A15 hardware, it has four computing cores in addition to an innovative processing section dedicated to power-saving that helps it to get every last minute out of its battery.

Cb 311cIts 13.3-inch screen can show HD resolution, but can neither fold flat on a desk nor has a touch option as is the case with Acer’s and Dell’s 11.6-inch Chromebooks. Unlike many of its peers, the CB-311 comes with a high-power graphics engine that is descended from gaming computers. It has 192 computational cores.

At $300, it is a genuine bargain that is priced like many systems with smaller screens, such as Samsung’s Exynos-powered Chromebook 2. But, for those who need to cut back, there’s also a very economical $225 model that is identical, except that it has a more conventional wide-XGA screen.

In addition to 2GB of RAM, the system has 16GB of storage space, which should be plenty to get through a school year. If that’s not enough, you can add capacity with the SD card slot and the CB-311includes 100GB of online GoogleDrive storage space for two years. After that, it’s about $24 a year.

It has great connection potential with two USB 3.0 ports (one in the back and one on the side) as well as full-size HDMI and audio jacks. While the system has 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0, like most Chromebooks it does without a wired LAN connector. It worked fine with an off-the-shelf USB-to-Ethernet converter for those who like being tethered to the network.

Cb 311dThe CB-311 has a large touchpad and a responsive keyboard with white lettering on 19.5-milimeter black keys. They’re comfortable to use, but aren’t backlit, which would have been an advantage during projector-based teaching. It also lacks Dell’s latest innovation, the student activity light that can signal the teacher that attention or help is required. 

Above the display is a Web cam that can capture 1,280 by 800 resolution video streams and should do just fine for Web journals, video conferences and even snapshots of a lab. Unfortunately, the CB-311’s speakers point down onto the desk and can sound dull and muffled.

While this points to a powerful Chromebook for tackling the classroom’s toughest teaching tasks, there’s something missing: performance. While it does OK and handled all the apps I threw at it, the CB-311 lacks the speed and command that are available with Chromebooks like Dell’s Chromebook 11 and other non-Tegra-based Acer systems.

For instance, it took 10.2-seconds to start the CB-311 up, 3-seconds longer than Acer’s C720p model and scored 1,323 and 614.5 miliseconds on the Peacekeeper and SunSpider benchmarks. That translates into roughly half the performance potential of many other mainstream Chromebooks.

The payoff is that its 3,200 miliamp-hour battery pack was able to continuously play WiFi-based video for 9 hours and 10 minutes. That’s more than twice what many other Chromebooks can run for and more than an hour and a half longer than the newest Dell or Acer 11.6-inch Chromebooks.

That could mean that with the CB-311, you might no longer need to carry the AC adapter with you and always be on the look-out for AC outlets for a quickie charge. With luck, you might even be able to get away with charging the system every other night. That sounds like a good lesson plan to me.



Cb 311b

Acer Chromebook 13 (CB-311)


+ HD screen

+ USB 3.0

+ 100GB of online storage

+ Nearly 10-hours of battery life

+ Quad-core processor


- Low performance potential


Two Sizes Fit All

Ideapad_100_14_Black-8-OutlookAs penny-pinching administrators and IT folks stock schools with 11.6-inch notebooks, 14- or 15-inch systems have come down in price. The latest entry is Lenovo’s Ideapad 100, which has 14- and 15-inch models that start at $250. The systems include a Pentium N3540 processor that can be paired with up to 8GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. Either screen can show up to 1,366 by 768 resolution and use Intel’s Graphics HD system. They come with the right assortment of ports, including USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports as well as HDMI, audio and networking. It comes with 802.11n WiFi as well as Bluetooth 4.0. The good news is that it all fits into a modestly sized case that weighs a tad over 4-pounds for the 14-inch model and just over 5-pounds for the 15-incher.

Chromebook Power Lock-Down

CS16AC-FRONT-SIf the Tripp Lite’s tablet charging station was interesting, but not really what you were looking for because your school uses Chromebooks, the company has a new model for these systems. The sturdy steel charging station can be ordered in white or black and it still has a keyed lock to make sure the systems stay put. There are models that can hold up to either 16-, 32- or 48-Chromebooks, allowing them to get power through the station’s USB ports. The station can be attached to a wall, floor or shelf. Pricing ranges from about $600 to about $2,000.



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.



Acer Chromebook 11 C740


+ 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. 


Cb 11 touch d

Dell Chromebook 11 Touch




+ 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.


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



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