About this blog Subscribe to this blog

Pair of 10s

10-i9nch tabsAndroid tablets come in all shapes and sizes these days – from enlarged phones to slates the size of serving trays. That said, the 10-inch design seems like a good compromise between size, weight and cost for today's classrooms. A new pair of 10-inch systems from Lenovo and Archos show the range of thinking when it comes to large slates with each having its pros and cons.

TAB3 10 Business - front lockTo start, Lenovo’s Tab 3 10 stands out with the best of everything. Based on Android for Work software, it leads with improved security and manageability over standard Android slates and has the bonus of a pull out rear leg that turns it into a self-standing mini-desktop system. The tablet’s MediaTek 1.3GHz Quad-core processor is augmented with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage space. Its 10-inch HD display is made of super-tough Gorilla Glass 3 and the system is virtually dust- and moisture-proof for greater longevity. In addition to Bluetooth and 802.11 AC Wifi, the tablet has Near-Field Communications (NFC) for tap and connect maneuvers. Pricing starts at $200.

101b oxygenBy contrast, the Archos 101b Oxygen tablet picks up where the original Oxygen 101 leaves off, but with Android 6 (Marshmallow) software. Based on a quad-core 1.3GHz MediaTek processor, the Oxygen comes with 2GB of RAM, but only 16GB of storage space. Its sleek aluminum case holds a 10.1-inch screen that can show 1,920 by 1,080 material and the Oxygen has a Mali 720 MP2 graphics accelerator. It falls a little short by using 802.11n WiFi, but has the latest Bluetooth 4.0 wireless system. All told, the system costs about $150.


The Just Right Pad

ZenPad_Z580C_BlackIf things like Apple’s iPad Pro are too big and the latest smartphones are too small, Asus’s ZenPad S 8.0 could be just right. Starting at $200, it offers an economical alternative to the iPad Mini.

At 8- by 5.3-inches and only a quarter of an inch thick, the ZenPad is a dead ringer for the latest iPad Mini and can slide into and out of a jacket pocket with ease. Available only in black, the ZenPad weighs in at 10 ounces, exactly what the iPad Mini 4 weighs. While the ZenPad has a grippy edge on one side that works well for it in horizontal and vertical mode, it, however, does without the pull-out tripod support that’s on the Surface family of tablets.

It uses a 2,048 by 1,536 resolution IPS screen that is comparable to the Mini’s display, except at 8.0-inches, it is slightly bigger. Still it takes up 74-percent of the surface, versus 71-percent for the iPad Mini. The screen is more rugged than any of the iPads because it is made of Corning’s ultra-tough Gorilla Glass 3 and pumps out exceptionally detailed and vivid images.

The screen quickly and reliably responds to 10 independent touch inputs and offers an optional $30 Z Stylus active pen that can work with 1,024 levels of pressure. While it has two programmable buttons, the stylus is kind of bulky and the slate lacks a place to stash it. Asus’s inexpensive TriCover has a loop for the pen, though.

Asus’s software helps a lot here with the ability to adjust the color temperature of the display, which you can set for pure white document backgrounds or for better photo-realistic color reproduction. Preset modes include those for displaying a vivid color pallet, using a Bluelight filter to potentially reduce eye strain or creating your own mix of settings.

Inside, the $300 ZenPad I looked at had a quad-core Intel Atom Z3580 (2.33GHz) processor along with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage space. There’s also a 32GB model that has a Z3530 Atom, 2GB of RAM for $200.

ZenPad_Z580C_Black_(25)Either should be more than enough because the system comes with an extra 100GB of GoogleDrive space for two years and a lifetime stash of 5GB on Asus’s Cloud servers, plenty for even the most dedicated file hoarder. Plus, unlike any iPad, at any time you can add up to a 128GB micro-SD card to the system to top off its capacity.

Rather than Apple’s iOS 9, the Zen Pad runs on the latest Google Android 5.0 software, aka Lollipop.  The company’s Zen UI extensions take this to a new level with a secure mode for kids and the ability to create shortcuts from finger motions.

While it has 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth built in for connecting, the ZenPad skimps on ports. Like the latest Macbooks, the ZenPad has only a Type C USB port, which can be a point of frustration. Even though it’s been more than a year since the first Type C systems came out, the accessories are still few and far between, but it worked with a Kensington four-port hub.

On the downside, the Type-C port is for data and power only, not video. At any time you can show the display to the class by broadcasting to a nearby Chromecast or Miracast receiver attached to a projector or big screen. It includes EZCast software for connecting.

ZenPad_Z580C_Black_(20)In short, the ZenPad is a screamer with the ability to run just about any software you’re likely to encounter. It scored an impressive 7,195 on the Octane 2 series of Web tests, but lagged behind the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 on the GeekBench 3 series of processor tests with a 926 (on single-processing tasks) and 2,876 (on multiprocessing tasks).

The system’s 225 milliamp-hour battery pack is small compared to other tablets but was able to power the system for 6 hours and 10 minutes of continuously playing YouTube videos, a little short of the Mini’s mark, but still good enough for more than a full day of teaching, grading and email. 

While the increasingly antiquated iPad Mini 2 starts at $269 and the Mini 4 at $100 more, the the ZenPad S 8.0’s $200 and $300 price tags significantly undercut the competition, yet will likely last longer in the hands of clumsy students and teachers. To my mind, the ZenPad S 8 is the bargain performer of the small tablet crowd.



Asus ZenPad S 8.0


+ Thin, small and light

+ Vivid Ultra-HD screen

+ Top performance

+ 5GB of online storage

+ Gorilla Glass 3


- USB Type C port

- Can’t directly plug into a projector

iPad Goes to College

IPadPro_20151209_049_web_1024x683I usually stick to the goings on at elementary, middle- and high-schools, but Apple just finalized a deal with Florida’s Lynn University to equip all incoming freshmen with iPad Pro systems. The roll-out includes the pad, the Pencil stylus and Apple’s Smart keyboard. It’ll add up to 1,800 units a year and those at primary and secondary education need to take notice that this might be the direction for college digital projects.

Chromebook Built to Last

HP Chromebook 11 G4 EE_electric green_sideThe latest Chromebook, HP’s $200 Chromebook II G4 Education Edition, may be a mouthful, but it has been upgraded in all the right places for schools. To start, the system is rugged and sturdy enough to stand up to daily abuse at schools with molded edging and a spill-resistant keyboard. Then, it has been test-dropped from 27-inches, about desk height. While it weighs 2.7-pounds, the CB 11 EE has an 11.6-inch screen that folds flat on a table, Celeron processor and can go for a full day at school on a charge. For those seeking anything but a gray or black system, the CB 11 EE can be ordered in bright green.

Freebee Friday: Windows 7, Watch Out

Netmarketshare OSNearly six months after its debut, Windows 10 is still lagging behind Windows 7 in adoption, according to NetMarketShare’s online survey of which OS people are using to log onto the Internet. As of the end of December, Win 10 stood at 10% of Web traffic and just behind the 13% for the combined Win 8.x systems. The irony is that Win 7 held firm at 56% of the market while Windows XP continues to be strong with 11% market share, despite Microsoft cutting users loose with no more security updates. Mac’s OSX software garnered 5% while everything else, including Linux software was good for 5%

Small and Sturdy

Acer TravelMate B117 Screen Straight OnAcer’s TravelMate B117 notebook sets the pace for school notebooks with a system made for education that should stand up to the worst abuse that a teacher or student can give it. Based on Windows 10 Pro software, the system will be the first in Acer’s TeachSmart line and has been built around an 11.6-inch screen, yet weighs less than 3-pounds. A big step forward is its lid light that allows a student to either answer a class question (instead of a clicker) or alert the teacher to a need for help. It can blink in four different colors, which are registered on a teacher console. The system itself is rugged enough for everything from preschoolers to high schoolers with a water resistant keyboard, rubber bumpers and a lid that can survive up to 130 pounds of force. Inside, it’s powered by either a Pentium or Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM and has WiFi and Bluetooth built in. A big bonus for the $250 system is that it has a security conscious Total Protection Module for remote log-ins.

Acer TravelMate B117 Lid Left AngleSound good? Acer has started a seeding program to let schools try out either the B117 or a C730E-C4BA Chromebook for free. Just fill out the online application and talk to Acer about the details of your school and the system should be on its way.


Seeing’s Believing

Spectre x360Anyone who’s seen a display that uses Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) technology generally sticks with it because it not only uses less power than standard Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) but are lighter, brighter and richer. HP moves the OLED state of the art forward with HP’s Spectre x360 convertible computer. Its 3,820 by 2,160 resolution OLED screen can be flipped over to assume several computing personas, from a standard notebook to a tablet and presentation machine. Despite having a 13.3-inch screen, the Spectre x360 still weighs 3.2 pounds. Look for it in the spring for about $1,150.

Chrome Polishers

06_Thinkpad_13_Black_Hero_Shot_pptWindows is Windows and Chrome is Chrome, right? Well, Lenovo is offering schools the freedom of choice of which operating system to include on its ThinkPad 13 system. This can not only lower upfront costs, but maintenance and repairs as well. The TP13 is built around a sixth-generation Core i5 processor with the security minded vPro extensions, can be outfitted with up to 16GB of RAM and as much as 512GB of solid state storage. It sports a full-size HDMI port, three USB 3.0 and a Type C connector, yet the TP 13 fits in a slim system that weighs 2.3-pounds. While the Windows version will be ready by April, you’ll have to wait until summertime for the Chrome machine. 

XE500C13K_003_L-Perspective_BlackMeanwhile, Samsung has its third generation Chrome design on the way, which can cross over between Windows and Chrome software. The Chromebook 3 has a metallic skin and is just 0.3-inches thick yet carries an 11.6-inch screen and weighs just over 3 pounds. Inside, the system is powered by an Intel Celeron N3050 processor, has your choice of 2GB or 4GB of RAM and has 16GB of storage space. It can connect with 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 and a pair of USB ports. It should sell for about $400.

The wild card is packages that Samsung is putting together for schools with a variety of software components. The most interesting pairs 100 CB 3 systems with software from Neverware that runs Windows virtually in Chrome’s environment. There’re also packages that team 30 systems with McGraw Hill’s ELA software and a three-month subscription to Reading Labs 2.0 or subscriptions to the company’s Thrive curriculum and three-months of ALEKS. A third package includes 10 CB 3s with Smart Technologies’ Amp content and enough licenses to cover six users per system.

C202 blue(new)-13DRuggedness is the center of attention for Asus’s C202 system. Designed to survive everyday drops and spills at school, the C202 is built around a sturdy frame with reinforced corners and rubber edge bumpers. Plus, the system has a scratch-resistant finish so that three-year old systems look almost new. If anything should break, the major components, including the power port, battery and keyboard, can be quickly removed and replaced. Powered by a Celeron processor, the C202 comes with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of solid state storage space. Its 11.6-inch screen shows 1,366 by 768 resolution and can fold flat onto a table top.

Chromebase 24 (CA24I)_05Meanwhile Acer has been working on Chrome computers, big and small. To start, the Chromebook 11, aka: CB3-131 is an 11-inch system that has been redesigned for durability. It costs $180. As to the big, the Chromebase 24 just might be perfect for public access kiosks, libraries and study halls. It has a Core i processor, a 23.8-inch display that can show full HD material and the one-two networking punch of 802.11ac WiFi and wired gigabit Ethernet. The system can connect via a bunch of USB ports and Bluetooth and can be ordered with the luxury of up to 8GB of RAM. Look for it later this year.

HisenseToo expensive for your school? The HiSense C11 Chromebook might downsize the display to 11.6-inches, but it also cuts the price tag to $99. It comes with a quad-core 1.8GHz Cortex processor and 16GB of storage space. If that’s not enough, you can add more space with a microSD card. It weighs 2.4-pounds.


The Complete Ed Notebook

HP ProBook 11 EE G2_right sideInstead of a fragile budget notebook, students need (and deserve) rugged systems, like HP’s ProBook 11 G2 EE: the EE stands for Education Edition. Built around the latest Intel Core processors, the EE is not only thinner and lighter than the G1 version, but it’s resistant to spills and its molded trim protects it from drop damage. The system has super-tough Gorilla glass as well as DTS audio and 802.11ac WiFi. In addition to Windows 10 Pro, the $359 EE system can be ordered with HP’s School Pack 2.0 array of software. It includes copies of Classroom and TouchPoint Manager as well as HP’s Adaptive Learning app.

Freebee Friday: iPad Goes to School

Ios 9.3Those who have a lot of iPads are certain to have noticed that this past Monday, the beta of iOS version 9.3 was released. In addition to the expected bug fixes, enhancements and its intriguing Night Shift mode, the release has four cool augmentations that can help schools deploy and use pads in the classroom. The best part is that all are free.

>Shared iPad. As the name implies you can now set iPads up for general use where students log in and their files and apps show up automatically. There’s no limit to the number of users and teachers can even set iPads up for kids in advance to have their photo, name or initials on the screen so they know which one to use.

>Classroom app. While it falls well short of a full-featured LMS program, this new feature can help teachers get the most out of classroom education apps. They can not only lock iPads to a specific app, Web site or ebook, but can connect them to Apple TV for IOS9-3_iPadAir2_PR-PRINT (1)projecting their screen to the whole class. If a student forgets his or her password, the teacher can quickly reset it so the class is hardly slowed down.

>School Manager. This new feature uses a student’s Mobile Device Management details for buying apps in bulk and originate Apple IDs for students and teachers. You can even use it to manage hardware and software.

>Managed Apple ID. This could be the biggest step forward because school or district IT managers can now set up serialized Apple IDs that get fed into Student Information System software. There’s no limit to the number of student log in credentials it can manage and there can be prefixes for different schools or programs followed by student info. As time goes on, Apple hopes to integrate this into SIS apps.

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