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Big Slate on Campus

IPadPro-34-AllColors_iOS9-LockScreen-PRINTSmall tablets may be the way to go to save money at schools, but in the race to supersize slates, Apple takes the lead. Its iPad Pro not only has one of the biggest and highest resolution displays in a tablet, but it sounds great and can teach the others a lesson or two.

The Pro takes its place alongside the standard iPad and the Mini. As is the case with the others, it is beautifully sculpted from aluminum, has a flush screen and heavily rounded corners. At 0.3- by 8.7- by 12.0-inches and 1.6 pounds, it’s a pleasure to hold in your hand. Fractions of an inch wider and longer than Microsoft’s similar Surface Pro 4, the Pro is a couple of ounces lighter.

It’s great to use in landscape mode, although small children will likely do better with a Mini or standard size iPad. In fact, the iPad Pro can be a lot to carry around and hold in portrait mode, where it feels top heavy.

Add the snap-on Smart Keyboard and it is transformed into the equivalent of a small notebook or desktop computer that is half an inch thick and weighs 2.4-pounds; the keyboard costs an extra $169. The cover folds over to make it into a desktop stand that has an indent for holding the Pencil stylus, but it lacks the pull out leg of the Surface family.

The iPad Pro's keyboard has 19.2-mm keys that have just enough stroke to them to make them comfortable to type with. It, however, lacks a volume control. As is the case with other new iPads and iPhones, the Home buttons is also a fingerprint scanner.

Powered by a 2.3GHz 64-bit A9X processor, the iPad Pro comes with 4GB of RAM and your choice of 32- or 128GB of storage space. The 128GB version can be ordered with a cellular data card that adds $130, but you’ll need a monthly service plan. The Pro starts at $800 for the 32GB model and I looked at the $949 128GB version.

Just like older iPads, it has a single Lightning port that’s used to charge the system’s battery or drive a projector. By contrast, the SP4 has a USB 3.0 connection (such as for a memory key) as well as a mini Displayport (for projecting) and a microSD card reader (for adding storage capacity).

As is usually the case with iPads, the screen is the center of attention. The 12.9-inch display is more spacious compared to the Surface Pro 4’s 12.3-inch screen. It shows a pinpoint perfect 2,732 by 2,048 resolution, versus the SP4’s slightly boxier 2,736 by 1,824 resolution. Its colors are bright and vibrant and the display delivers smooth video.

It’s no slouch as far as audio goes either with four strategically-placed speakers. It sounds rich and deep without bass notes or voices booming. There’s a headphone jack for more personal listening.

IPadPro_Pencil_Lifestyle2-PRINTLike earlier iPads, the Pro comes with a pair of cameras: There’s a Web cam pointing at the user and one pointing out of the back of the case. The best part is that they can shoot bursts of images for catching something moving quickly, like a chemistry experiment, and a panorama that can be as big as 43-megapixels for something like a field trip or a class photo.

The screen works just as well with fingers as a generic stylus, but the Pro adds a new dimension: Apple’s Pencil stylus, which after a couple of weeks of use, I learned to love. The Pencil is long, narrow and its plastic case is a little too slippery for my taste.

For programs that can use it, the pen is sensitive to the angle it’s tilted at as well as how much pressure is exerted, so it can be used to teach drawing and calligraphy. I found it to be just as good for sketching a map as for writing math equations.

Unlike the ones that Microsoft has used in various Surface Pro models, the Apple Pencil doesn’t have a replaceable battery. Instead its battery gets recharged with a lightning plug that’s hidden under the Pencil’s cap. The pad comes with an adapter so you can use it with the included AC adapter or you can plug it into the side of the iPad Pro to give it a boost. You can’t, however, charge both the pad and the pen at once.

It doesn’t magnetically stick to the side of the system, although it does stay on the keyboard. Forget about calling up the OneNote program (or any app for that matter) by clicking the Pencil’s cap and the pen adds another $99 to the iPad Pro’s price tag.

IPadPro_Pencil_Lifestyle1-PRINTThe Pro uses the latest iOS 9.2 software that comes with the basics for use in the classroom, including the Safari Web browser, Pages (writing), Keynote (presenting), iMovie (video editing) and Numbers (calculating with spreadsheets). There are tens of thousands of school-ready instructional apps available on the iTunes App Store. In addition to split view, the iPad Pro can show picture in picture.

It all adds up to a system that is powerful, yet thin and light. It’ll easily slide into and out of a teacher’s or student’s backpack. The system I looked at scored 19,809 on the Java-based Octane 2 series of Web-based tests. That’s one-third better than a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and more than four-times the score of a $200 Lenovo IdeaPad 100s notebook. Clearly, the iPad Pro is the tablet to beat when it comes to online work.

The iPad Pro was able to continuously playback online videos for 8 hours and 20 minutes, putting it more than three hours ahead of the Surface Pro 3’s 5:07 battery life. It should be more than enough for a day at school as well as some correcting homework correcting or quiz grading in the evening.

It would have the potential to have a huge impact in the classroom if the iPad Pro weren’t so expensive. With school’s struggling to equip staff and students with $250 Chromebooks, a $949 Pad may be wishful thinking. It’s also just the start because to truly outfit the iPad Pro, you need the keyboard ($169) and Pencil stylus ($99) for a total of $1,217.

That’s enough to get about four or five Chromebooks and a pair of smaller Surface 3 tablets, but a slate with a lot of educational potential.



Apple iPad Pro



+ Ultra HD screen

+ Beautiful design

+ Online performance

+ Fingerprint scanner

- Can’t charge stylus and system at once

- Expensive

- Cumbersome in portrait mode

Power Tablets for Teachers

S4 x2 copmpositeIf you’re thinking of using Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 in classrooms, labs or your school’s offices, it’s not the only power-tablet in town anymore. The HP Elite X2 1012 just about matches the Surface Pro 4 (SP4) inch for inch and spec for spec, but might be the bargain of the two.

From a distance, they look like two peas in a digital pod with magnesium cases, pens, add-on keyboards and touch screens. But get a little closer and you can see their strengths and weaknesses. While the SP4’s 12.3-inch screen has ultra-HD resolution, the Elite X2 makes do with a slightly smaller 12.0-inch display that can show HD resolution. Still, it’s likely a big step up from the computer you’re using.

Despite its larger screen, the SP4 matches the thickness of the Elite X2 with a 0.3-inch profile. The bigger screen does mean that the SP4 is fractions of an inch bigger with measurements of 11.5- by 7.9-inches against the Elite X2’s 11.7- by 7.6-inch size. The SP4 is actually an ounce lighter than the Elite X2 at 1.7-pounds.    

HP20150914536The good news is that like few other tablets, they both have handy pull-out stands that allow both the SP4 and X2 to stand upright on a desk at a variety of angles, something that few slates can do. Happily, this can free your hands to work each slate’s touch-screen, but like earlier models of each, they both are better on a tabletop than on a lap.  

They are among the most secure tablets ever made, with the Elite X2 taking a lead with the ability to run only approved trusted start-up software as well as a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) that can make remote log ins easier and more secure. The SP4 gets by with just TPM.

You can order the Elite X2 with a variety of processors, components and software. For instance, it can be had with anything from FreeDOS or Windows 7 through 10 so that it can match the rest of the school’s systems. The SP4 can only come with Windows 10.

Meanwhile, you can order the SP4 with a Core M3, i5 or i7 processor and up to 16GB of RAM. The Elite X2 is only available in mobile-oriented M5 chips and tops out with 8GB of RAM. Both have snap on keyboards that transform them into the equivalent of sub-3-pound notebooks. The Elite X2's keyboard  has the advantage here with backlighting that makes it easy to type by the dim light of a projector-based lesson.

Sp4Ultimately, for two slates so well matched, price is the big difference. Both have $900 base models and a well-equipped Elite X2 with an M5-6Y54 processor, 4GB of RAM and the tablet’s snap-on keyboard selling for $1,100. By contrast, the better equipped Surface Pro 4 with a Core i5, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage goes for $1,300.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Surface 3 just might be the bargain tablet of the class. With an Atom X7 processor and 2GB of RAM, it cuts several corners, but should be more than enough for general classroom use. At $500 the Surface 3 is not only cheaper but smaller than either the SP4 or Elite X2.


More Chromebook for the Money

Tosh cb 2 bWhile others try to serve up the cheapest Chromebook for the classroom, Toshiba has taken a step back and created its Chromebook 2 with one eye on value and the other on making it the best equipped Chromebook around. At $330, it is not the least expensive Chromebook, but it might be the most computer for the money.

Toshiba’s top-shelf approach to Chromebooks starts with the system’s silver case, which has a textured bottom and lid that not only feels good in the hand but makes it harder to accidentally drop. Rugged and solidly made, the Chromebook 2 appears to be able to stand up to the everyday drops and abuse at schools.

At 0.8- by 12.6- by 8.4-inches and 2.9-pounds, the Chromebook 2 is fractions of an inch smaller than Acer’s CB311 Chromebook 13 and 5-ounces lighter. With its tiny AC adapter, the entire package travels at 3.2-pounds. In other words, it should just as easily fit into a child’s backpack as in to a desk drawer for lunch or a between-periods break.

In addition to an Intel Celeron 3215U processor that runs at 1.7GHz, the $330 Chromebook 2 model 3300 that I looked at came with 4GB of RAM and 16GB of a solid state storage. That’s a big step up from Acer’s $250 Chromebook CB311’s NVidia K1 processor and 2GB of RAM. You can augment its storage potential with an inexpensive SD card and the system comes with two years of 100GB of online storage with GoogleDrive.

If performance counts for more than price, Toshiba also sells a Core i3-based version for $100 more. Unfortunately, at that point, it’s on a par with a mainstream Windows notebook.

Tosh cb 2 cThe CB35 Chromebook 2 has a good assortment of connections with a USB 2.0 as a USB 3.0 port. You can connect a projector or large display via its HDMI jack and the CB35 has an output jack for audio. It has the latest wireless with 802.11ac WiFi and the lack of a wired LAN port can be fixed by using a USB-to-LAN converter to plug into a network. If you want to use a wireless keyboard or speaker, the system has Bluetooth 4.0. 

Without a doubt, the center of attention of the CB35 is its superb 13.3-inch screen. While much of the competition, like the Asus Flip C100 have wide-XGA displays, the Chromebook 2’s screen shows full HD resolution and is among the brightest and richest displays available today. On the other hand, there’s no touch option that would have extended the Chromebook 2’s usefulness in schools.

Above the screen, the system has an HD Web cam and dual microphone array and below there’s a keyboard with comfortable 19.2mm keys and a large touchpad that measures 2.7- by 4-inches. Happily, for those who teach by the stray light of a projector, the keyboard is backlit. It does without a super-secure Trusted Platform Module, though, which can make remote authentication easier. It’s included on the Asus Flip C100.

While everything else is well placed, the Chromebook’s speakers end up under the keyboard and despite branded Skullcandy hardware sound better for spoken word programming than for playing music. It not only can sound muffled at times, but is weak in midrange tones. On the other hand, it gets surprisingly loud without any external speakers.

Tosh cb 2As far as performance goes, the Chromebook 2 is top shelf. It scored a 327.9ms on the SunSpider test as well as 15,273 on Google’s Octane 2.0 benchmark. This makes it about twice as powerful as the Asus Flip C100 and able to complete any school task.

This performance potential is, however, at the expense of battery life with the CB35’s battery powering the system for 8 hours. That’s less than either the Acer CB311 (at 9:10) or the Asus Flip C100 (at 9:20), but still should be fine for most teachers and students. It’s more than enough for the typical school day with some battery time left over for a movie, game or homework correction session. It comes with a 1-year warranty.

If a large screen and lots of power sound good, this Chromebook may not be the cheapest around, but it is among the best around.


Tosh cb 2 d

Toshiba Chromebook 2 CB35



+ Excellent configuration

+ Responsive keyboard

+ Large touchpad

+ Bright display

+ Excellent performance

+ Optional Core i3 processor

- Lacks touch-screen option

- Audio light on mid-range tones

Yoga Time at Lenovo

YOGA_Home_900_EDUCATIONThe latest Windows 10 systems from Lenovo show a focus on thin, light and innovative desktop and ultra-portable PCs. To start the Home 900 Education system is an all-in-one design that picks up where the Horizon left off with a built-in battery and pull out leg that allows it to be used anywhere. It has a beautiful 27-inch HD screen that responds to up to 10 touch inputs so it can be thought of as a huge tablet. Available for $1,500, the Home 900 is high-performance all the way with has a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid state storage system as well as an Nvidia GeForce 940a graphics chip with 2GB of dedicated graphics memory.

05_Hero_Shot_Win10_GoldMeanwhile, the Yoga 900 has slimmed down to 0.6-inches, making it one of the thinnest notebooks anywhere. The key to its versatility is that its hinge allows the screen to rotate 360-degrees so that it can be a tablet, traditional keyboard-centric notebook or bet set up to display material to a group. It weighs in at 2.8-pounds and will sell for $1,200 with a 13.3-inch screen that can rival Apple’s Retina display at 3,200 by 1,800 resolution. It comes with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid state storage system and JBL speakers.

The iPad Killer

Galaxy-tab-s2-white-angleIn the race to capture America’s student’s palms and fingers, Samsung takes the lead over the iPad with its Galaxy Tab S2 tablet. It is not only lighter, more secure and has a brighter screen but the Tab S2 costs less than a comparable iPad. In other words, it should move to the head of the class.

At 13-ounces and 6.6- by 9.4- by 0.2-inches, the Tab S2 is fractions of an inch smaller and 2-ounces lighter than an iPad Air 2, making it the choice for those who don’t want to be weighed down by a tablet. If that’s still too big, Samsung also makes a 9-ounce model with an 8-inch display that mirrors most of its specs, but is $100 less.

Overall, the design is nothing short of spectacular, with a flush display, rounded corners and an angled back edge that feels natural in the hand. It has an on/off button, one for controlling the volume as well as the expected Android Home, go-back and open apps keys. A micro-USB charging port and headphone jack round out the Tab S2’s basics.

Tab s2 8 and 9.7While the iPad Air 2 and Tab S2 have screens that show 2,048 by 1,536 resolution and respond to 10 finger inputs, they couldn’t be more different. The Air 2’s Retina screen uses conventional liquid crystal screen technology and looks pretty good with saturated colors. By contrast, the Tab S2 uses the latest Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) display and is among the brightest I have ever seen. It can be set manually or to automatically adjust itself to suit the local lighting. In fact, I was able to comfortably use it for a variety of tasks with the brightness set at about half.

You can choose from several different color balance schemes suited for looking at images or reading documents. On the downside, it takes on a bluish tinge if you look at the display at an angle.

Unfortunately, the Tab S2 does without the Galaxy Note 5’s S-Pen active stylus. It worked well with a generic rubber dome stylus, though.

While it doesn’t have an HDMI-out port for feeding a projector or flat-screen display, you won’t need one. You can use an MHL adapter to connect the Tab S2’s display on the big screen for all to see. The system has 802.11ac WiFi as well as Bluetooth 4.1 wireless, and worked well with both Samsung’s All Share Cast wireless video connection as well as Google’s latest Chromecast device.

The $500 Tab S2 model that I looked comes well equipped with Samsung’s Exynos 1.9GHz 8-core processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage space and matches the 16GB iPad 2 on price. There’s also a $600 version that has 64GB of storage, equaling the 64GB iPad Air 2 model. There’s no 128GB Tab S2.

Black_5a_keyboard_cover_9.7The good news for data hogs is that –unlike the iPad – the Tab S2 has a micro-SD card slot for adding up to 64GB of extra storage space to the slate. It also comes with two-year’s worth of 100GB of online storage with OneDrive, which should be plenty of space.

Its accessories make the Tab S2 very versatile at school and home. The multimedia dock combines wired networking, video and USB ports, making it a good way to turn the Tab S2 into a the equivalent of a desktop PC. The $149 keyboard case connects via Bluetooth and the cover solidly snaps onto two small holes in the back of the Tab S2. While it delivers a 2.1-pound ultraportable computer, you can fold the keyboard case over, yielding a slate.

When it comes to security, the Tab S2 has the lead. It not only has Samsung’s Knox and its Enterprise security built-in, but can do 256-bit AES encryption.

Galaxy Tab s2While you can always load Microsoft’s Office apps on an iPad, they come preloaded on the Tab S2. It also has apps for sharing documents, video conferencing and saving files online. My favorite is the Smart Manager, which keeps any eye on all key areas of the tablet’s operations.

It all adds up to a hot slate that never gets more than warm to the touch. With single- and multi-core GeekBench 3 scores of 1,247 and 4,186, the Tab S2 falls a little short in the former but blows the iPad Air away in the latter. Its 5,870 miliamp-hour battery pack allowed the Tab S2 to run for 8 hours and 25 minutes of playing YouTube videos over a WiFi link, which is on a par with most recent iPads and plenty for every day use. While it charges quickly with the included USB power adapter, the Tab S2 does without the Qi inductive wireless charging that the company’s S6 Active has.

If you’re looking for a tablet that has the power and display to replace notebooks or desktop computers in the classroom, look no farther than Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S2. It not only undercuts the iPad on price but outdoes it in just about every category, making the Tab S2 nothing short of the best slate available today.



Samsung Galaxy Tab S2

$500 with 32GB of storage; $600 with 64GB of storage

+ Inexpensive

+ Spectacularly bright OLED screen

+ Lightweight

+ Top security

+ Optional dock and keyboard case

+ Smaller 8-inch model also available


- Doesn’t work with keyboard folded over

- Lacks inductive charging

High-End Chromebook

21605127705_109ca3172c_oWhile others are aiming to underbid each other with basic Chromebooks, Toshiba is aiming for the high-end with its Chromebook 2. Powered by either an Intel Core i3 or Celeron processor, it can hold up to 4GB of RAM and has a backlit keyboard, perfect for lessons lit by the stray light of a projector. It has a 13.3-inch HD screen, but weighs 2.9-pounds and has all the ports you could want. Pricing starts at $330.

The No Decision Notebook

21145543838_29cf89c207_oTired of having to decide between tablets and notebooks? Don’t, because Toshiba’s Click 10 provides both at less than an iPad goes for. Built around a 10.1-inch screen that can show full HD material, the Click 10 weighs 1.2-pounds and is only about one-third of an inch thick. The key to its usefulness at school is that it comes with a one-pound snap-on keyboard that transforms it into a mini-notebook that’s better equipped than just about any tablet with the latest 1.8GHz Intel Atom processor, 2GB of RAM and either 32- or 64BG of storage space. It has WiFi and Bluetooth built-in, a pair of cameras, two USB ports and a micro-HDMI connector for putting a lesson on the big screen. Price: $350.


Next-Gen Pixel

Hero-image_2xGoogle has used its first two Pixel Chromebooks as demonstration platforms to try out new ideas for squeezing a lot of computing power into a small and very portable case. The latest, the Pixel C, is no exception and takes this concept into new territory with the ability to be a tablet for viewing content or a keyboard-centric system for writing.

Unlike Asus's convertible Chromebook Flip, Pixel C is a detachable system with a tablet that docks with a keyboard. Under its silver skin, the Pixel C is a full Android tablet that will be based on Google’s new Marshmallow OS. It’s powered by an Nvidia Tegra X1 processor with 3GB of RAM and high-performance graphics. The system will be available with either 32- or 64GB of storage space and is charged with the new Type C USB connector that also can move data into and out of the system.

Pixel c bWith a 10.2-inch screen, the new tablet shows 2,560- by 1,800-pixel resolution at a 1:1.4 aspect ratio that mimics the shape of A4 paper. The key to its flexibility is that the system has an optional Bluetooth keyboard, but rather than using physical connectors, the keyboard is held in place with strong magnets. You can tilt the screen to a comfortable angle or stow the keyboard underneath when you don’t need it. A nice design touch allows the keyboard to be inductively charged when the two are mated.

It all adds up to what could be the most advanced tablet ever created, and one that should fit right into the classroom. It won’t be available for several months, but when it comes out, pricing will start at $500 for the Pixel C tablet and $150 for the keyboard. Together, that's less than the upcoming iPad Pro on its own.



Putting Tablets in Their Place

ARMTBLTITablets are great for education but sometimes you need an extra hand, and that’s where StarTech’s Desk-Mountable Tablet Stand with Articulating Arm for iPad or Android comes in. The $142 stand can be clamped to a desk and allows any tablet that has a screen between 9- and 11-inches to be rotated 360-degrees move up and down as well as swivel and pivot. This means it will work fine with most Androids and all iPads except for the upcoming iPad Pro, which has a 12.9-inch screen.

New OS, New Support

Ios 9iOS 9 for iPhone and iPads is here and JAMF is already on the case with its Casper Suite. Whether it’s existing devices that get upgraded or for new ones like the upcoming iPad Pro, the suite not only lets IT administrators inventory every device, old and new, but they can check and modify each tablet’s security settings.



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