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Charge and Compute

Kensington charger riserWith Kensington’s Charger Riser, you get the utmost out of every square inch of desktop space. The device is not only a raised stand for a notebook or tablet that can be adjusted to three different heights, but the base has an inductive Qi wireless charging pad built in. That way, while you’re working away on your notebook, your phone or tablet can be charging. It fits most notebooks up to 15.6-inch designs and a variety of Qi-enabled phones and tablets. There are thoughtful cable channels underneath and you can even fit a Kensington universal dock into the back of the stand for must-have connections. It costs $140.

The Big Book

AcerChromebook15-CB3-531-photogallery-04Acer’s latest CB3 Chromebook doesn’t strive to be the smallest or lightest computer at school. It's a big notebook with an enviably small price tag of $200. Built around a 15.6-inch reduced glare display that can show 1,366 by 768 resolution, it’s a far cry from HD displays but offers a big view of the Web, STEM data and just about everything that goes on at school.  Powered by a 1.6GHz Celeron N3060 processor, the Chromebook 15 comes with the basics:  2GB of RAM and 16GB of solid state internal storage; the system includes 100GB of online storage with GoogleDrive for two years. It’s big but at 4.3-pounds, it’s not a heavyweight, despite having HDMI and USB ports as well as Bluetooth and WiFi built in.


The Book on the New MacBook Pro

Macbook pro aApple hasn’t updated the McBook Pro line for quite some time and it shows, but the new version unveiled earlier today shows they haven’t been resting on their digital laurels. The new Pros look a lot like the old Pros but they’re thinner with a key difference: the Function keys are gone, replaced by a thin pressure-sensitive OLED display. This Touch Bar strip is flexible enough to be used like traditional Function keys, for controlling volume or for launching apps and shortcuts. Open an image and a set of basic editing tools show up automatically.

Macbook proAvailable in 13-, 15-inch screen versions for $1,800 and $2,400, the new MacBook Pro can be had in silver or gray. It’s now fully up to date, with one exception: no touch screen options. There are now quad core i7 processors available that promise to run cooler and quieter. Look for the system’s pressure sensitive touchpad to get larger and its elderly USB 2 and Thunderbolt 2 ports to be updated with faster and more flexible Thunderbolt 3 ports that can work with USB-C accessories.



Find that Chromebook

Aristotle locateChromebooks may be an inexpensive alternative for schools but they lag behind Macs and PCs when it comes to monitoring them and finding lost or stolen systems. In addition to filtering out inappropriate Web destinations, AristotleInsight K12 software can gather detailed usage stats and show on a map where every running Chromebook is. It’s not detailed enough to find the system left in a classroom closet at the end of the school year, but can show those that are home with kids or ones that have been stolen or lost. 


Android on a Chromebook

Chromebook androidSince their separate inceptions, there’s been a barrier between Google’s Chrome and Android products that divided two very similar products. The latest Chromebooks software erases that line, opening new vistas for teachers, students and schools.

At the moment the software is limited to a handful of Chromebooks, including the Asus Chromebook Flip C100, Acer Chromebook R11 and Google’s second-generation Chromebook Pixel. Later this year, there’ll be an update that will widen the circle to include several dozen models from Acer to Toshiba.

Android chrome with elipseIt took me less than five minutes to convert an Asus Flip Chromebook to run just about any Android app out there. Be warned: the software is still under development and might have a few quirks. For me, it was rock solid and made my Flip Chromebook much more powerful.

Here’s how to do it. Start by going to the Chromebook’s Settings page and scroll down to the Android Apps section just before the bottom. Click the box that says “Enable Android Apps” and your system will automatically download the needed software. After a restart, my Chromebook was transformed into combo Chrome-Android machine, capable of running most apps out there.

Word  install chromebookIn fact, the updated Flip now has a prominent PlayStore icon at the bottom of the screen. Click to select from the more than 2 million Android apps – many not available to Chromebook users – on offer. The big payoff is that you no longer need to use separate devices for Android and Chrome-based software and you can mix and match apps.

I set up my Flip C100 with the 123s and ABCs, Complete Chemistry, DuoLingo and Math Tricks. If that wasn’t enough, the system can now run the Android-based free versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, making them even more powerful in the classroom setting. All of the apps worked fine and the action of the Flip’s touchscreen made it feel like I was using an Android tablet with a keyboard.

Overall, the software works remarkably well with few glitches and essentially opens Chromebooks up to a whole new world of apps. It also marks the removal of one of the last artificial barriers between Androids and Chromebooks. You have to wonder why Google’s programmers didn’t do this earlier, but I’m happy they finally got around to it.

Splash-Proof Books

AuraONE_LyingLow_Reading_US_largeDo your school’s eBook readers stop working all too quickly because they’ve been accidentally dropped or dunked in water? Kobo’s upcoming Aura One is one fo the only tablets with an IPX8 waterproof rating. That translates into shrugging off a dunk in 6-feet of water for an hour. Let’s hope that this never happens to any tablet, but it’s good to know that the Aura One can survive. The $230 eBook reader has a 7.8-inch screen that just misses HD resolution at 1,872 by 1,404. It has enough space for thousands of books and weighs in at half a pound. It can display 11 fonts, can work with eBooks in any of the popular formats and can connect over WiFi.

While you’re thinking about a Kobo reader, consider that the company has a continuously updated site of the top 50 free ebooks. While it’s heavy in mysteries and romance fiction, they’re all free and all you need to do is register.



Drop-Proof iPads

Mbank254096_w560_h560How many iPads have been damaged or broken by clumsy kids (and teachers) dropping them? If the answer is too many, Kensington’s SafeGrip cases not only protect but can also hold them steady on a desktop. There are models from the latest iPads, Air and Mini versions that cost between $40 and $60. Made of padded plastic, the cases protect the delicate tablets from shock while keeping the screen from being scratched. Each has a hinged handle that doubles as an upright stand that can angle the pad so that typing is less of a chore. The cover comes is green, blue and red, has a pen holder and the connections and cameras are all in the open.


The Fun Tablet

NextbookFlexx11A_L_09At around $200, the E Fun’s NextBook Flexx 11A is all business. Based on Windows 10, the Flexx is built around an 11.6-inch touch screen that can show 1,366 by 768 resolution and is powered by an Intel Z8300 Atom processor along with 2GB of RAM. The tablet can be docked with its included keyboard for writing projects and assessments.


From Pen to Type

Nebo aMyScript, the right tablet and an active stylus can make everything from taking notes to creating a diagram as easy as doodling and tapping. The software not only digitally inks the screen with lines, letters and numbers, but captures enough of the information behind it to quickly convert it into type. It’s not perfect but better and quicker than OneNote’s system and you can more intuitively edit what you’ve created before transferring it to Word, PowerPoint or other programs.

At the moment, the Nebo app works only with iPad Pro and Surface Pro systems, though. It’s free and more of a demonstration project to show of how MyScript’s pen technology works, but it’s actually a better way to take notes, create diagrams, mark up images and even create math formulas, something that’s not exactly trivial with any word processing program.

Nebo bThe 33MB program has a nice tutorial to show how to use the app and you can pick the weight of your lines, the color as well as the language you want the scribbles to be rendered as. You can just start writing and the program converts it on the fly, showing progress in a small box on the left. Double tap and it’s converted. Double tap again and you can edit it.

This is just the start. Look for Nebo to be incorporated into all sorts of educational software that requires the teacher or student to reply to something or write a passage. On the downside, it only has one font available at the moment and only works with iPad Pros (with the Pencil stylus) and Surface Pro 4 (with the Pro Pen), but you have to start somewhere.


Top Shelf Cart

Iq-30Getting a classroom’s worth of notebooks or tablets from A to B is no trivial matter, but lockncharge’s iC 30 cart can make it one of the easiest parts of the school day. Sturdy, well-made and secure, the cart can put fully-charged computers into any classroom.

At 36.6- by 29.0- by 26.4-inches and weighing a hefty 158-pounds, the iC 30 is built like a tank and has a rugged white enamel finish. In fact, it’s so well made that it should outlast several generations of the computers that it will house.

Happily, the cart’s top slides sideways to create a 24- by 25.5-inch worktop that works well for handing out systems or for holding a large monitor. The cart’s inside has a large central storage area.

PCL-LNC_Carrier30Cart_MK4_05-smallThe bottom of the cart has a false floor made of four sheet metal panels. They can not only be set at three different heights, but if you pull them out, you’ll see a series of hidden power strips to charge the systems.

There are 30 110-volt grounded outlets that are protected against power surges and the iC 30 has a single AC power cord that can deliver up to 15 amps of charging current. You can wrap any excess electrical cabling around a cleat in the back. As sophisticated as the iC 30 is, the cart lacks USB power ports for charging tablets and some Chromebooks. In about 30-seconds, I retrofitted the iC 30 with a couple of 4-port USB power supplies, which made charging Androids and iPads much easier.

It comes with a small remote control that lets you pick from several power modes. They can also be accessed from a panel on the back of the cart, but you’ll need to get on your knees to get to the switches and read the LEDs.

Inside, there are side cable guides that can keep the cables from getting tangled. The cart comes with 30 Velcro ties for wrapping up the excess cables. Still, plugging in and unplugging 30 systems – particularly if they’re a mix of pads and PCs – can be a tedious process that’s made easier with the inclusion of sets of small circular numbered labels for the systems and their power cables.

Mobile-device-basketsInstead of dividers or shelves to hold the gear, the iC 30 has six unique plastic baskets. Each is meant to hold five iPads, MacBooks, Android tablets or notebooks. The baskets have a sturdy handle, so kids can carry a table’s worth of computers. You can get replacements for $80 each.

The baskets are big enough to accommodate Chromebooks, tablets and notebooks up to those with roughly 13-inch screens, but it can work with some 14-inch systems, like Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Yoga. Oddly, many smaller tablets won’t fit if they have padded cases or keyboard covers. The large iPad Pro barely fits, but you can easily fit 20 to 30 calculators into the carrier.

Solid and sturdy, the iC 30 has a padlock hasp for locking it shut and comes with a programmable lock. With smooth rolling casters, even the smallest teacher can push the cart from room to room and then lock in place. At the end of the day, the whole thing can be chained to one location, but you’ll need the optional $35 anchor kit. It comes with a lifetime guarantee on the mechanical elements but the electronics are only covered for two years.

Edge_Tote_Down_654_640_80_s_c1-e1461249036853It’s a workhorse in the classroom with the ability to store, charge and dole out computers 30 at a time. If that’s too much, the company sells similar carts and cabinets that use the baskets can hold 10 or 20 items.

Although the cart works with all kinds of computers, large and small, you can only buy it from Apple for about $1,800. Still, the iC 30 cart can turn any room into a computer lab.



lockncharge iC 30



+ Holds and charges 30 systems

+ Unique baskets

+ Single power cord

+ Hidden power strips

+ Slide out top


- No USB power

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