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Touch on a Budget

TravelMate_B115 Left Angle Open Windows 8Using your fingers doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Acer’s TravelMate B115 notebook has an 11.6-inch screen that shows 1,366 by 768 display resolution and responds to 10 independent touch inputs and has an anti-glare coating. Weighing about 3-pounds, the B115 is about an inch thick and comes with a 1.8GHz Celeron N2940 processor, 500GB hard drive and 4GB of RAM for $379.





Thin is In

Man using HP EliteBook 1020 in the officeHP’s EliteBook Folio 1020 is among the thinnest and lightest systems around and seems custom designed for district executives who need to travel between schools. The base Folio 1020 system uses conventional materials and weighs an impressive 2.7-pounds, but the real gem is the 2.2-pound 1020 SE model, which has a carbon fiber and magnesium-lithium case; it’s 0.6-inches thick. Both systems are powered by the latest Core M processors, solid state storage and have 12.5-inch ultra HD screens, although the SE model doesn’t have a touch-screen option.

Little Big Phone

Nexus 9 H Image aAs tablets get smaller and phones get bigger, they are meeting in the middle with devices like the Nexus 6. The Motorola-made Nexus 6 is one big phone, that’s for certain. It barely fits into a shirt pocket, occupies 6.3- by 3.2- by 0.4-inches and weighs in at a hefty 6.5-ounces, nearly 30 percent bigger and half an ounce heavier than the iPhone 6 Plus

Still, it feels good int eh hand, but its curved back menas that it wobbles if you use it on a desk. The system’s 6-inch AMOLED screen is one of the best and brightest displays around and can show 2,560 by 1,440 resolution, putting it at least two steps ahead of the iPhone 6 Plus’s Nexus 6bdisplay. Made of Gorilla Glass it should stand up to punishment and the phone has a pair of cameras front and rear that can create 2- and 13-megapixel images.

Powered by a 2.5GHz Snapdragon 805 quad-core processor, 3GB of RAM and 32- or 64GB of storage space, the Nexus 6 uses Google’s latest Android 5.0 software and will cost $650 when it is introduced later this year, although you can get it for a lot less with a two-year service contract.

The Tablet that Projects

Yoga 2 w projectorFlexibility and strength are the watchwords for yoga as they are for Lenovo’s second-generation Yoga convertible tablets. The Yoga Tablet 2 uses Android 4.4 software and is powered by a quad-core Atom Z3745 processor that runs at between 1.3- and 1.9GHz, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of solid state storage. Its 13-inch screen is about as detailed as they get these days with the ability to show 2,560 by 1,440 resolution. It has Bluetooth, 802.11ac WiFi and can be a standalone tablet, a traditional notebook or a presentation machine, yet weighs 2.1-pounds.

It may be bigger and heavier than other tablets, but the Yoga has a secret for teachers: in the thick cylindrical hinge, the Yoga 2 Pro has a micro projector. It can create up to a 50-inch image in wide-VGA resolution, but is rated at only 50 lumens, so the lights need to be off. It costs $500.

A Smaller Radius

Toshiba Satellite Radius 11 #6If Toshiba’s Radius P55W is too much of a convertible notebook, try its smaller cousin, the Radius 11. Like the P55W, the Radius 11 can be a notebook with a mechanical keyboard, a tablet or a presentation machine, but with an 11.6-inch HD touch-screen, it can fit more easily into a backpack. At less than 3-pounds, the Radius 11 can be outfitted with a Pentium or Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM and either 32GB of solid state storage or a 500GB hard drive. It starts at $379, perfect for a stressed school budget.


Beyond the Surface

Surface pro 3 edWe all know that the latest Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is the best one yet with a 12-inch ultra-high resolution screen and a snap-on keyboard cover. But it’s less well known that the company is offering discounts on it for schools. There are three configurations available that include the black keyboard cover and range from a Core i3 with 64GB of storage to a Core i5 with 256GB of storage. If you get them for school with a minimum 5 unit order, you save 10 percent.


Cheap to Keep

Hp stream 11.6If spending $350 or $400 on a school notebook is too much, HP’s latest Stream systems cut the price to the bone. Available with 14-, 13.3- and 11.6-inch high-definition screens, the systems can be had for $300, $229 and $199. Powered by an Intel Celeron or AMD A4 processor, each Stream system comes with Windows 8.1, 32GB of solid-state storage as well as a year of Office 365, 1 TB of online storage and a $25 Microsoft gift card.


The Power Tablet

Portege-Z10t-A1110-600-12If you ever wanted to see what the most powerful tablet looks like, here it is. Toshiba’s Portege Z10t not only is a high-performance ultra-portable slate, but with its included keyboard base, it can double as a regular old notebook computer.

The textured gray tablet itself weighs in at 1.8-pounds, 6-ounces heavier than the iPad, which has a smaller screen. It is half an inch thick and occupies 11.6- by 7.4-inches of desk space. On its own, the slate feels good in the hand, sits flat on a table and automatically rotates its screen when the unit is turned.

With the included snap-on keyboard, its weight rises to 3.1-pounds. The system takes up 0.8- by 11.6- by 8.8-inches – about what you’d expect from a small notebook these days.

Rather than have up to five distinct computing profiles, as is the case with other convertibles, the Portege Z10t can be a tablet or keyboard-centric notebook. It can neither be set up in presentation mode, in tent mode nor flat on a table with the keyboard in front as is the case with the Toshiba Radius P55W.

While the slate and keyboard base mate easily and are locked in place with a single latch, it has a traditional hinge that allows the screen to open to only about 115-degrees. If you tap the screen too energetically, the whole thing tips over.

On the other hand, pulling the slate free of the keyboard dock takes a bit of getting used to because the latch release is a little stiff. I prefer the magnetic design used on Acer’s Iconia Switch 10 where you just pull it free of the base.

Portege-Z10t-A1110-600-13The 11.6-inch display can show full HD material and responds to up to 10 independent touch inputs. I found that the long narrow display is great for reading a long online article with less scrolling or watching a widescreen movie.

Although it worked well with a generic stylus, the system includes a small stylus that fits into the slate and is good for quick notes or sketches as well as a larger more comfortable one that that has a pocket clip and an eraser for those apps that support it, such as Sticky Notes. I really appreciate that the screen’s surface has a roughened feel to it that makes touch and writing on it seem more like paper.

With the keyboard in place, the system is the equivalent of a small notebook. Its keyboard has a cut-out above its release latch for the screen’s Windows key and there’s a full set of 19.1-milimeter keys, which feels like a big step up from on-screen keypads. While the keys can quickly wake the system up, unfortunately, they lack the depth that other add-on keyboards, like the one for the ThinkPad 10, provide.

The keyboard has the luxury of both a touchpad and a pointing stick. Because the keys are backlit, the Portege Z10t is perfect for lessons given by the light of a projector. The base, however, doesn’t have a second battery that could have extended the system’s time away from an AC outlet.

Happily, it has been designed for abuse at school with a tough skin and a 256GB solid state hard drive. The A2110 model I looked at has been built for speed with a Core i7 processor that usually runs at 1.7GHz but can go as fast as 2.9GHz. It has 8GB of RAM, 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 and a security-conscious TPM module. At $1,900, however, it is priced out of the reach of all but the best endowed schools. Toshiba sells a less powerful Portege Z10t model with a Core i5 processor and half as much RAM and storage space that starts at $1,500.

Portege-Z10t-A1110-600-03With cameras front and back, the system can be used for video conferences as well as for shooting a class picture or taking a video of pictures of a lab. Around its edge, the Z10t slate has a basic set of ports with USB 3.0, micro-HDMI and a headphone jack; there’s an SD card slot for adding to its storage potential. Snapping on the keyboard adds another USB port as well as a full-size HDMI, LAN and VGA plugs.

Not only can the system be powered by plugging the 6-ounce AC adapter into either the tablet or the keyboard, but its two-prong plug that should come in handy in older schools with older electrical outlets. On the downside, the Z10t has a loud fan that makes too much noise when it’s working hard.

It all adds up to the top-performing tablet I’ve seen with a Passmark PerformanceTest 8 score of 1,889.2, putting it in the upper echelon of educational computers.  As powerful as it is, the Z10t’s 3,600-milliamp hour battery was able to power it for 4 hours and 50 minutes of non-stop work, an hour and a half short of the company’s larger Radius convertible system. Still, it’s enough for a full school day of on-and-off work with more than enough left over for playing games or grading tests.

Expensive and worth it, the $1,900 Portege Z10t-A2110 model I looked at comes with its snap-on keyboard, Windows 8.1 Pro and a 3-year warranty, which together are worth about $650 compared to lesser slates. It may not be able to assume five different personalities, like the larger Satellite Radius, but the Z10t is equally good as either a slate or a mini-notebook and can outperform the competition.

In other words, if price is no object, this is the keyboard and slate combo to get.



Toshiba Portege Z10t-A2110


+ Top tablet performance

+ Includes two passive pens

+ Backlit keyboard

+ 3-year warranty

+ Two-in-One design

- Expensive

- Tablet latch hard to use




The Business of Educational Notebooks

Tecra c50If you think that you can’t afford the security, ruggedness and warranty of a business-ready notebook, you haven’t seen Toshiba’s Tecra C50 notebook. Rather than bulking up a consumer system, the C50 is a pure commercial system that has a 15.6-inch display, a Core i3 processor, 500GB hard drive and 4GB of RAM for $579; a Core i5 version costs $699. The system weighs 5-pounds, is an inch thick and comes with either Windows 7 or 8.1.

iPad Protection Program

03For those schools that have invested in iPads and have spent too much time, effort and money repairing and replacing broken units, there’s hope. Zagg’s Rugged Folio encases the fragile pad in body armor that can protect it while providing a real keyboard for typing.

Made of five layers of polycarbonate plastic and a sheet of stainless steel, the Folio case may have soft rubber bumpers and a textured finish, but its skin is solid and able to absorb or deflect the stress of being dropped or abused. The exterior has a soft grippy surface that actually feels better in the hand than a naked pad and is harder to drop.

At 1.1-pounds, the Folio designed to be used with an iPad Mini is significantly heavier than the pad itself. With the Mini installed, the pair weigh in at a hefty 1.8-pounds and is just over an inch thick, making it much bulkier than an iPad. On the positive side, it’s still smaller and lighter than most mini-notebooks and the Folio case can easily be slipped into the outer pocket of a backpack or briefcase.

You install an iPad into the Folio by squeezing it into and under the case’s flexible silicone edging. It’s a bit awkward and feels like you need three hands to do it, but a pad can be installed or taken out in a few seconds. The two fit together solidly and there are cutouts for all the switches and the pad’s camera. The fit is perfect and the iPad feels like it was designed for the Folio case rather than vice versa.

06With the case in place, you can use the iPad like a traditional mini-notebook. It has 16.5-millimeter keys that feel a little cramped, but are a big step forward from  using the screen-based keyboard. There’re specialty keys for getting to the iPad’s home screen, playing multimedia and controlling the volume. It lacks a touchpad so you’ll have to use the touch-screen.

A big bonus for those who teach in the dark is that the entire keyboard is backlit. It’s easy to adjust the brightness and Folio gives the choice of seven colors.

At any time, you can grab and remove the screen from the base to use it like, well, a tablet, but with its armor covering all the sides except for the screen. Its magnetic clasp actually grabs the slate when it’s close to the keyboard base.

In addition to using it as a notebook or tablet, the Folio case can also be used in tent and presentation modes as well as holding it like an open book. It can’t be set up flat on a desktop with the mechanical keyboard available as is the case with many convertible computers. On the downside, the screen feels a little loose when it’s being used as a notebook and the Folio case has the tendency to tip over when it’s swiped or tapped too vigorously.

01There’s no electrical connection between the pad and keyboard and the Folio connects using Bluetooth. The two linked on the first try and re-established contact many times after that. Even though the keyboard isn’t physically connected to the tablet, it can wake it up by double tapping a key. It will go to sleep when you close the lid and wake up when you open it.

Its lithium polymer battery is more than enough to power the keyboard for two years of daily use, according to the company, and it didn’t fail me over a month of using if for a few hours every day. On the downside, it has only the crudest battery gauge and requires a micro-USB connection to charge it, compared to the lightning plug used for charging the iPad itself. In other words, you’ll need to keep cables for both on hand.

If you’re looking for a way to make iPads last a lot longer, Zagg’s Rugged Folio delivers with the closest thing to making them bullet-proof.



Zagg Rugged Folio



+ Tough case

+ Removable screen

+ Long battery life

+ Backlit keyboard

+ Four computing personalities


- More than doubles size and weight of pad

- Tips over

- Battery requires micro-USB plug



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