With 7- and 8-inch tablets proliferating for schools, HP goes big with its ElitePad 1000. The system has a 10.1-inch HD display that can respond to up to 10 individual touches and is made of hardened Gorilla Glass 3. Inside is Intel’s Atom processor, 4GB of RAM, Windows 8.1 and a copy of Microsoft’s Office Home and Student. It can be set up with either 64- or 128GB of solid state storage and comes with WiFi, Bluetooth and a Near Field Communications connection spot. It weighs in at 1.5-pounds and will cost $739.
Samsung, an early adherent to the Chromebook philosophy of minimalist hardware notebooks for schools that use Google’s Chrome OS software, has a new generation of systems coming out. The Chromebook 2 family has 11.6- and 13.3-inch members that are powered by Samsung’s new Exynos Octa 5 8-core processor and come with 16GB of storage space and 4GB of RAM. They each have padded vinyl covers with retro edge stitching that can protect the systems from damage.
While the 13-inch system weighs 3.1-pounds and has a 1,920 by 1,080 HD screen, the smaller 11.6-inch Chromebook 2 weighs in at 2.5-pounds and sports a 1,366 by 768 display. Unfortunately, neither have touch-screens. The two systems will cost $319 and $399 when they become available next month. The good news for schools who have invested in the current 11.6-inch model is that it will continue to be sold for $250.
It’s only fitting that the next generation school slate, Intel’s Education Tablet, comes with the most advanced stylus, N-trig’s Duo-Sense Pen. The two together will hopefully take this genre to a new level for teaching and learning.
Powered by a 1.2GHz Intel Atom processor, the Android 4.2-based education tablet comes with 1GB of RAM as well as 8-, 16- or 32GB of solid state storage space. Its 10.1 touch-screen shows 1,280 by 800 resolution, can respond to finger touches and the device is housed in a water- and shock-resistant case.
The tablet really comes into its own with N-trig’s stylus, which responds to 256-levels of pressure for everything from a drawing map of the 13 Colonies or scribbling out math equations to writing musical notation or creating digital artwork. The truly amazing part about the DuoSense stylus is that unlike other active pens, it isn’t powered by a hard-to-find disposable battery that needs to be replaced. Rather it gets recharged every time it’s stowed in the tablet. According to Ntrig, a 15 second charge is good for several hours of use. It’s also the rare stylus that comes with a tether so it won’t get lost on the first day of school.
Convertibles are a great way to have the attributes of a tablet and a notebook in one system, but they’ve been too expensive for schools to afford. That is, until HP’s $400 Pavilion x360. It features an 11.6-inch touch-screen that has a 360-degree hinge so that it can be folded from a traditional notebook into a tent-like system, a presentation machine for small groups or a slate. The system has a soft touch finish that should stand up to daily abuse and will be available with either a Celeron or Pentium processor along with a hybrid 500GB hard drive. Look for it later this year.
It’s true, Acer is offering K-through-12 schools a one month trial of the company’s newest Chromebook. All they have to do is apply online and participate in two conference calls about the system. It’s a great way to explore what the latest Chromebooks and available software are all about. The program runs through April 5th.
With all the hype and claims about putting Android tablets or iPads in the hands of kids, one important point has been ignored: these systems use different software that the school has to separately purchase ort license. Not the case with Windows tablets, like Toshiba’s Encore.
As slates for school get smaller, they get easier to use and fit better into a school’s curriculum. Encore’s screen is 8 inches and the whole device fits easily into the hand. It’s just as good for teaching as for learning and has a built-in software bonus.
At just 0.4-inches thick, it is as easy to handle as an iPad or Android tablet. Its 5.4- by 8.4-inch footprint is slightly wider than Dell’s Venue 8 Pro and at 15.3-ounces, it is 2 ounces heavier. Still, the silver and black design has a flush screen that makes poking, swiping and tapping easy.
Unlike some small Windows tablets, the Encore has a Windows button upfront and delivers a gentle vibration when it starts up. The 8-inch screen can show 1,280 by 800 resolution and has Intel’s HD Graphics, but only responds to five independent touch inputs, rather than the expected ten. While it looks bright, rich, has gently rounded corners and is perfect for small hands, the 8-inch screen can sometimes take a couple (or three) pokes or swipes to get the machine to do what you want it to do.
It worked well in normal use and was a step up from a full-size notebook or tablet for working with things like the University of Colorado’s PHET science and math simulations or watching a Khan Academy instructional video. On the downside, Toshiba doesn’t offer an optional pressure-sensitive stylus for more precise work, but the system worked fine with a generic stylus.
In addition to a dual microphone array, the Encore has speakers on the bottom when you hold it vertically. The system comes with Dolby Digital Plus audio as well as cameras front (2-megapixel) and back (8-megapixel).
I looked at the 32GB version that at $300 is on a par with Android slates. Toshiba also has a 64GB version that goes for $350. At any time, you can use its micro-SD card slot to add a 64GB card for extra storage space. There are micro-HDMI and audio ports. Like its peers, the Encore comes with 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 built-in.
Inside is an up-to-date quad-core Atom Z3740 processor that runs at between 1.3- and 1.9GHz. On the other hand – like many other Atom-based tablets – the system is limited to using 2GB of RAM. While not crippling its operations, it does put a damper on its performance.
The system’s performance potential is modest and roughly matches that of the Venue 8 Pro with a Passmark PerformanceTest 8 score of 526. That’s on a par with a low-end Core i3 system and should be more than enough for 99-percent of what’s needed in a classroom.
Encore’s 2,000milliamp-hour battery is charged with a micro-USB adapter plug, which at 2-ounces is not only light and small, but the prongs fold-up. The battery was able to power the Encore for 7 hours and 17 minutes of continuous use, nearly an hour longer than the Dell Venue 8 Pro and likely twice as long as the typical notebook in your school. With some power conservation, this should translate into something like needing to charge the system every other or third day.
It comes with Windows 8.1 and Norton Internet Security with a month of updates. The bonus is that the mini-tablet comes with a full copy of Office 2013 Home & Student, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote; all you’ll need to do is type in the license number.
The bigger bonus is that the Encore will work with just about every piece of Windows software that the district or school has invested in. This is a technological feat that no Android or iPad can touch.
Good things do come in small packages these days, but don’t let its $330 list price on Toshiba’s Web site fool you. Dig deeper and you’ll see that with a 1-year warranty, the Encore sells for closer to $300, exactly the same price as the slightly smaller and lighter Dell Venue 8 Pro, making two very compelling arguments against filling a classroom with iPads and Android tablets.
+ Excellent battery life
+ Dual microphone array
+ Office included
+ Windows software
- Limited to 2GB of RAM
- Slightly heavy and bulky
- No stylus option
- 5-finger touch-screen
The next big thing for tablets in the classroom is Samsung’s Galaxy Tab for Education, a mix of hardware and software that can assist education. The slate uses Android’s latest 4.4 KitKat version of the software and has been designed to work directly with Google’s Play for Education store. The system has a 10.1-inch WXGA screen along with a slew of school software for management and configuration of a single system or an entire school’s worth of pads. It will go on sale in April.
Instead of a general purpose slate, Fourier’s einstein Tablet+ is an Android-based tablet that has a 7-inch touch-screen with a dual-core processor that concentrates on science education. It has lessons for teaching everything from human physiology to chemistry built in. It comes with 8 sensors, can connect to others externally and can run any Android-based app. It costs $350.
When shopping for a notebook, why settle for a traditional system or even a two-in-one convertible that is a tablet or a keyboard-centric system when you can get something that is at least four computers in one. Acer’s Aspire R7-572 unique physical design allows it to bend onto itself to provide the most flexible computer ever made.
Like a Transformer toy, the R7 can be changed from a traditional notebook to a tablet, desktop or presentation system for small group work. The key is Acer’s innovative cantilevered Ezel Hinge design. It’s actually two hinges in one that allows the display to be placed at just about any angle. With minimal effort you can raise and pull the screen forward for a desktop-like experiencve, flip it over so that the display faces away from the keyboard for small group work or fold the screen over the keyboard to create a carry-anywhere slate.
In fact, one of its best attributes is the R7’s distinctive ability to be used as a touchscreen set at any angle between 5-degrees and full vertical orientation. This makes it perfect for use with small hands in the classroom for finger painting, educational games or even writing.
While the hinge is sturdy, the screen can wobble, particularly when it is horizontal, such as in an art class. Plus, if it’s in desktop mode, it’s easy to make the whole thing unstable if you tap the screen too hard. Still, the R7 is a masterful mix of form, function and – above all – flexibility.
The price you pay for this flexibility is that at 5.3-pounds, the R7 is a bit heavier than other notebooks with similar equipment and can be a lot to lay on your lap as a tablet. As a slate, it works better on a tabletop. With its small AC adapter, the system has a travel weight of 5.8-pounds, but requires a three-prong outlet.
Folded closed like a traditional notebook, the system measures 0.9- by 14.8 by 10.0-inches and is a little bigger than other 15.6-inch systems. With the R7’s screen folded down and the system in its wedge-shaped slate configuration, the system is between 1.0- and 1.8-inches thick. While the display sits at a comfortable 5-degree angle, the top of the tablet is a little wobbly.
Make no mistake, the R7 has its quirks. Because the system lacks a wrist rest area below the keyboard, its large touchpad is located above the keyboard. This takes some getting used to and it can be out of reach with some of the screen’s possible positions. On the other hand, the system’s 19.2 millimeter keyboard is backlit with two different brightness settings and can be turned off with a Function key combination.
Inside is an up to date system with a mid-range fourth-generation Core i5 processor that runs at between 1.6- and 2.6GHz depending on what you’re using it for. The R7 is one of the best equipped systems sold today with 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive. There’s no room for a DVD drive, but the R7 can be set up to share files with a variety of computers using Acer Cloud’s technology.
The 15.6-inch screen is HD ready with 1,920 by 1,080 resolution and uses Intel’s 4400 Graphics with 128MB of dedicated video memory; it can use nearly 1.8GB of system memory. The images are rich and more than bright enough for school use. Above the display are a 1,280 by 720 Web cam and dual microphones. Its audio uses Dolby Digital Plus Home Theater and the R7 has four speakers that deliver surround sound that’s best in class.
It is very responsive to touch and finger friendly with a near flush display and the ability to interpret up to 10 individual inputs. It works with an off-the-shelf stylus, but I much prefer using Acer’s $50 pressure-sensitive stylus. Made by N-Trig, it’s good for everything from sketching a map of the world to writing math equations. It uses a single AAAA battery.
While the R7 lacks a wired Ethernet connection, it has 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4 built in. It has Intel’s WiDi wireless display system and connected on the first try with a Netgear NeoTV receiver. There’s also Acer’s proprietary Converter Cable port that with a $35 adapter can yield a mini-USB, a wired LAN and a VGA connector.
It has all the ports you’ll need to use it as a teaching and learning machine. In addition to one USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 connectors, the R7 has a full-size HDMI port and an audio jack.
It is a good performer with a Passmark PerformanceTest score of 1,442.8 and won’t freeze up or bog down on processor intensive tasks. In other words, the R7 should be able to handle just about anything a student or teacher throws at it, from video editing to graphics-intensive science simulations. It’s not at the expense of battery life, though, with the system’s 3,650 milliamp hour battery able to run for 6 hours and 6 minutes of continuous playback of online videos; unfortunately, you can’t swap batteries.
The system comes with Windows 8.1, ArtRage and several Touch Tool programs from Acer, like an app for grabbing screens that can streamline setting up lessons. It includes McAfee LiveSafe Internet Security with a month of updates.
If the R7-572’s $900 price tag is too much, Acer also sells a $700 571 model that has an older processor, a 500GB hard drive and lacks the stylus but should do just fine in a school setting. With the ability to adapt to different classroom conditions, Acer’s Aspire R7 is the most versatile teaching tool that’s been created.
+ Incredibly flexible design
+ Excellent performance
+ Optional stylus
+ Battery life
+ Top configuration
- No wired LAN
- Slightly heavy and bulky
Lenovo thinks that 11 just might be their lucky number. The company has a family of 11.6-inch notebooks and convertibles coming that should fit right into how schools work. While the ThinkPad 11e looks like a traditional small notebook that has been designed to stand up to student (and teacher) abuse, the Yoga 11e is a little thinner, lighter and can transform between a slate and a traditional keyboard-based system. Both can be had with Windows (for $449) or Chromebook software (for $349).