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Pixel Perfect

21040960556_a6afe1136f_oSpeaking of large, high-def slates, the next generation Toshiba Satellite Radius 12 not only has a superbly detailed 12.5-inch screen, but its color balance has been calibrated and certified by engineers at Technicolor and produces the entire RGB gamut. Able to deliver an astounding 3,840 by 2,160 resolution, it is the epitome of ultra-HD displays and will be the system to use for teaching everything from image editing to digital art. Based on the sixth-generation of Intel Core processors it still weighs less than 3 pounds and has a 360-degree hinge that lets it be a traditional keyboard-centric notebook, a tablet or set up on a table as either a presentation machine or in tent mode.

The (Really) Big Pad

Ipad proApple has upsized its iPad tablet in the hope that it will appeal even more to educators in search of a big screen for schools. To start, the iPad Pro has a 12.9-inch screen, making it one of the largest available on any kind of tablet. It can display 2,732 by 2,048 resolution images and videos, or roughly twice HD resolution and perfect for introducing 4K video to future movie directors, producers and editors.

The big pad is powered by Apple’s third-generation A9X processor that is nearly twice as powerful as the one used on the iPad Air 2. At less than a third of an inch thick, but might be a handful for younger students at 1.6-pounds.

PencilWhen you’re tired of tapping the screen, the pad Pro has a $169 snap-on Smart Keyboard that has 64 keys and a large number of shortcut keys that can streamline using the pad. The biggest step forward is the iPad Pro’s optional $99 Pencil, a stylus for the tablet that responds to pressure. Under its cap is a lightning connector that can charge it for 30 minutes of use in just 15 seconds.

It should be available in November with models starting at $800 or over $1,000 with the keyboard and stylus.



School in a Slate

MobyAs Android invade schools with low priced teaching tablets they are morphing into a variety of sizes, shapes and prices. Take MobyMax. It’s a 7-inch slate that’s aimed at K-through-8th grade curriculum with math, science and language arts components. It uses older Android 4.2 software, but sells for an unbeatable (at least for now) price of $69. Inside is a dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM and 4GB of storage space. You can try out a Moby pad for two weeks for $10.

Z580_kvAt the other end of the slate spectrum is Asus’s ZenPad S 8.0 Z580C, which sets a new standard for school slates by combining an Android 5.0 software, Intel Atom Z3580 quad-core processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and a PowerVR graphics engine. Its 7.9-inch screen is protected by Gorilla Glass and not only responds to up to 10 inputs but has the ability to show 1,536 by 2,048 resolution. In other words,  it leaves HD and lesser screens in the dust. In addition to WiFi and Bluetooth, it has the latest USB Type C connector for top speed connections. At $300, it's in a different league than Moby but packs a lot of technology into a 0.3- by 5.3- by 8.0-inch case that weighs 10.5 ounces. Asus sells an optional pressure sensitive stylus for an extra $30. 


Flip and Learn

Chrome Flip_White_ (1)If inexpensive notebooks have been dropping like flies at your school, Asus shows you a new way with its $250 Chromebook Flip C100. Well-made and just powerful enough to succeed at school, the Flip gets my vote as the best classroom notebook of the year, even though it’s only August.

The key to the Flip’s longevity is its pressed aluminum case that protects its delicate components better than a plastic case can. Generally reserved for more expensive systems, the dull-gray aluminum skin is gently rounded, looks great and is complemented by sophisticated bright edging. It’s sturdy enough to be grabbed by the screen and should stand up to daily abuse, regardless of whether it stays at school at night or undergoes the rigors of traveling back and forth every day.

Think of the Flip as a jack of all trades in the classroom that can assume four different computing personalities for different tasks. The first convertible Chrome system, it can be a traditional notebook with a mechanical keyboard for student writing assignments and teacher assessments but flip the 360-degree hinge all the way over and it’s a thick tablet with a 10.1-inch screen and the keyboard is disabled. In between the Flip can be a presentation machine for small group work or set up in tent mode.

At 0.6- by 10.3- by 7.1-inches, the Flip is halfway between the size of a small notebook and a 10-inch Windows tablet. Its 1.9-pound weight might seem a bit heavy for a tablet, but is spot on when you factor in the keyboard. It’s powered by a micro-USB cable and comes with a tiny power adapter that gives it a travel weight of 2.1-pounds.

Happily, the 10.1-inch screen is nearly flush with the surface, which makes for easy tapping, swiping and scribbling, although its wide 0.8-inch bezels around the screen are a bit large. It responds to 10 independent touch inputs for everything from marking up an assignment to an art class in finger painting. There’s no active digitizer, although it worked well with an off-the-shelf stylus, but its 1,280 by 800 resolution is second best compared to tablets, like the Surface 3’s full HD imaging.

Chrome Flip_White_ (10)It has an integrated graphics accelerator that has its own quad-core processor. Its screen is bright at 278 candelas per meter squared, rich and sharp. Unfortunately, its screen tends to wobble too much when tapped or swiped.

Inside is a mid-range computer that’s powered by a 1.8GHz quad-core Rock Chip 3288, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage space. Asus adds 100GB of online storage with GoogleDrive for two years; after that it runs about $2 a month.

Around its edge, the Flip has a power switch with a volume control as well as LEDs. There’s a micro-HDMI port for driving a projector or display along with a pair of USB connectors. On the downside, they are the older and slower USB 2.0 spec, not the newer one, but it’s a small price to pay. The system worked with everything from a memory key and LAN adapter to keyboard, mouse and Bluetooth speaker.

Its keyboard has 17.6 millimeter keys that are comfortable to type with, particularly when compared to the on-screen keyboard. The system’s speakers are under the wrist rest and pointed down. To my surprise they sound quite good and get loud enough for small groups. Beyond that you’ll want to use a pair of external speakers that are either connected via the system’s audio jack or Bluetooth

In addition to a micro-SD card slot that can accommodate up to 64GB modules, the Flip has Bluetooth 4.1 and 802.11ac WiFi for top wireless connectivity. For those who stay up nights worrying about remote connectivity, the Flip has a Trusted Platform Module (TPM).

While it won’t set any performance records, that misses the point of the Flip system. It should satisfy with the ability to perform most teaching-related tasks. Sure, it can’t run Windows or any of its software, but it was the ticket for browser-based services and the variety of Chrome software is increasing just about every day.

Chrome Flip_White_ (16)It started up in 8.2-seconds, two seconds faster than Acer’s Chromebook 13 CB-311. The Flip recorded 1,428 and 175 milliseconds on the PeaceKeeper and Sun Spider benchmarks, which puts it slightly ahead of the CB-311, but with about half the performance potential of LG’s desktop Chromebase all in one system. Still it’s more than enough for most classroom use.

There’s no cooling fan to make extra noise and cut into battery life. In fact, the system ran for 9 hours and 20 minutes on a charge. For some it will be more than enough for a full school day of use, but for others it will mean that the Flip won’t need to be charged every day. It was reliable and its video was remarkably strong with smooth streaming and good sound synchronization.

While it has a list price of $250 with a 1-year warranty, the DB01 Flip system that I looked at can be had for as low as $230 if you shop around. There’s also a $279 model with a generous 4GB of RAM. Either way, the Flip is a genuine steal and seems like it was designed from the start for school use. 


Chrome Flip_White_ (22)

Asus Chromebook Flip C100PA

+ Great price
+ Four computing profiles
+ Full school day plus battery life
+ Bright, rich screen
+ 100GB of online storage
+ Size and weight

- USB 2.0
- Display wobbles when tapped




Fabulous Phablet

IMG_20150813_114641Samsung’s Note5 straddles the worlds of large phones and small tablets with a super-portable device that puts the emphasis on the pen. That’s because the Note5 comes with the latest version of Samsung’s S-Pen, which not only allows teachers to mark-up items on the device’s 5.7-inch display, but it feels great in the hand. Its super-sharp quad-HD screen is bright and very rich, yet the Note5 is smaller, and at 6-ounces, is lighter than its predecessor. It not only comes with 4GB of RAM and the latest LTE mobile data abilities but can record and show 4K videos. The wild card for the Note5 is that there’s an optional snap on keyboard that puts it in the same class as RIM Blackberry phones. It’ll be available in a week.

Gen 4 Savings

IPadAir2-iPadMini3-Lockscreen-PRINT2You’re ready, your students are (reluctantly) ready, but are your tablets ready for school? Mac to School has reconditioned iPad 4 tablets ready to ship out at between 25- and 50-percent less than what new ones go for. All have been cleaned up with all worn or broken parts replaced so they are as close to new as possible. At $300 for a 16GB iPad 4, your school could save a bundle.

Surface Protection

Stm duxWhile the third generation Surface Pro 3 Tablets are pretty tough, they still demand a protective cover like STM’s Dux case. Made of aluminum, polycarbonate plastic and reinforced corners, the Dux case weighs just 5 ounces yet can keep dropping a Surface slate tablet from becoming a digital tragedy. Installing the case takes a minute and it doesn’t get in the way of the tablet’s ports, camera, kickstand or snap-on keyboard.

Double-Duty School Slate

Tosh encore 10Built around a bright 10.1-inch screen, Toshiba’s Encore 10K has been designed for school use. At $479, the Windows 10 tablet includes a snap-on keyboard making it just as good to use as a slate as at a notebook. Inside, the system has an Intel Atom x5 quad-core processor and 64GB of solid state storage space as well as WiFi and Bluetooth.


Small Wonders

Quantum  PC Stick aIf you think that micro-computers, like Acer’s Revo One are about as small as PCs gets these days, meet Quantum’s Access Windows Mini PC Intel Stick. At $130, it is not only about as cheap as a computer gets but it can go places and do things that other computers can’t.

Similar to Intel’s Compute Stick, the nano-sized Mini PC Stick is clothed in black, measures 4.3- by 1.5- by 0.5-inches and is no bigger than a pack of gum. It weighs just 3.3-ounces and can fit into a pocket. Rather than having the Intel device’s prominent vent holes, the Stick has a wavy rippled pattern on its surface. The stick’s single LED that goes from red to blue when it starts up.

As far as connections go, it’s slim pickings with a full size USB 2.0 slot as well as a micro-SD card reader and two micro-USB connectors, one of which is for powering the PC. It comes with an AC adapter, but you the micro PC can be powered by a display’s USB port and the system worked with a generic USB hub for connecting to a variety of devices, although the hub was on a par with the size of the computer itself.

Like Intel’s Compute Stick, the Quantum system is powered by an Intel Atom Z3735F quad-core processor that runs at up to 1.8GHz. It comes with 2GB of RAM and a generous 32GB of solid state storage space, but neither is upgradable, although a micro-SD card can give you more space for everything from lesson plans and videos to a gradebook and years’ worth of saved emails

Quantum  PC Stick dThe key to its unique abilities is that the stick has a full-size HDMI connector for plugging into just about any recent display. Behind the scenes, the system has Intel’s HD Graphics video engine with 64MB of dedicated memory. It can use up to 978MB from the system’s RAM.

It was perfect for doing anything from turning an old monitor into an all-in-one computer to adding a PC to a projector, turning it into a connected display capable of directly running an interactive app or Web lesson. Although it doesn’t include a keyboard and mouse, the Stick can connect with any off-the-shelf device, regardless of whether it’s wired or wireless. The system has Bluetooth 4 and 802.11n WiFi built in along with an adjustable antenna, but lacks wired networking; it worked with a generic USB-to-Ethernet adapter.

It all adds up to reasonable, though not stellar, performer that should easily fit into the educational landscape. It scored 504.3 on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 8.0 series of tasks. This puts in on a par with many tablets and small notebooks that are popular with schools. Its ability to get and process HD video was surprisingly good with smooth streams with well synchronized audio.

The best part is that it uses just 3 watts of power so that even if it’s left on 24/7, the system will use less than $7.50 a year worth of electricity over a year. If you’re looking for a minimalist computer that can be put anywhere, Quantum’s Stick does the trick. 


Quantum  PC Stick b

Quantum Access Windows 8.1 Mini PC Intel Stick


+ Tiny micro PC

+ Reasonable performance

+ USB connections

+ WiFi with antenna

+ 32GB of storage space


- Requires micro-USB power

- Doesn’t include keyboard or mouse

How Low Can You Go?

YK3uvhZHiJ3w8HVLH369gIZvcnIk4O9vG9b72BSe4mEIf you’re Acer, how does $170 sound for what they are calling an 11-inch Cloudbook. Rather than Chrome, the Cloudbook 11 uses the latest Windows 10 software, has an 11.6-inch screen and comes with things like a one-year subscription to Office 365 and 100GB of online storage space for the base models and 1TB for the high-end ones. At 0.7-inches thick and 2.5-pounds, it should easily fit into a student’s backpack and has USB, HDMI and audio connections as well as an SD card reader. Powered by an Intel 1.6GHz Celeron N3050 dual-core processor, the basic Cloudbook 11 comes with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of solid-state storage space; the $190 upgraded version has room for 32GB of all sorts of files.

_yHBIkljChTosfKJ2n3p6zpoatYFaND_GhwVeAq4HgMRather than skimping on amenities, the Cloudbook is surprisingly well equipped with 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth. In addition to stereo speakers, it comes with a dual-microphone array, but the 1,366 by 768 resolution screen is non-touch, a small price to pay to get to the enviable $170 price tag for the entry-level machine. There’s also a 14-inch version for $200.




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