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Three Kinds of Chrome

Asus leadAsus’s latest crop of Chromebooks will hit the market from three totally different directions and have the effect of making traditional school computers look very expensive. The upcoming trio of Asus Chrome systems could change the teaching dynamic with a convertible touch model, what could be the cheapest Chromebook around and a novel Chrome-based stick that plugs directly into a display or projector. Together, they have the school market covered – or at least will when the devices come out over the next few months.

Asus Chromebook FlipTo start, the Flip C100 Chromebook can turn teaching on its head. Rather than a standard clamshell format, Flip has a screen that rotates to flip over, creating a Chromebook convertible that can be used as a keyboard centric system, a presentation machine or a tablet. The system has a 10.1-inch screen, can show 1,366 by 768 resolution and responds to 10 independent touch inputs. It includes 16GB of on-board storage, has 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity so it should fit into any school’s IT landscape. It should be available by summertime.

Haier 11EMeanwhile, Asus has a bargain for you. Its Haier and Hisense Chromebooks should be out a little sooner and will sell for $149. They are similar, though not identical and while they skimp here and there, but the two are functional and very portable computers that undercut the competition by fifty dollars. The Haier model will be sold through Amazon while the Hisense system can be purchased at Walmart, which should fit into schools that specify, but don't supply systems to kids. They are similar to the Flip with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, but each system has an 11.6-inch screen in a more traditional notebook format. They’re small and weigh in at 2.5-pounds, perfect for teachers ans students on the go.

Asus ChromebitFinally, there’s the innovative Chromebit, a self-contained computer on a stick that is like no other Chrome system. Small and light enough to wear on a lanyard, it will be available in three colors. Similar to Google’s Chromecast, it is easily the most inventive computer of the year. Looking like a memory key on steroids, Chromebit plugs directly into the HDMI port of a display, but is a full Chrome system with its own memory and storage space. Created with help from Google, Chromebit will cost just $100. Smaller and less expensive than the $260 Hannspree’s Stick PC, Chromebit has the power to change the entire teaching dynamic. Instead of equipping kids and teachers with more expensive notebooks or tablets, they could get less expensive Chromebit sticks that they plug into displays already set up in each room. The system on a stick will hold the user’s personal history, preferences and key files with the rest being stored online.


A School's Worth of Data

WdfMyCloud_DL4100 (1)Districts that invested tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in centralized data storage will feel cheated when they see Western Digital’s My Cloud Business Series DL4100. Small enough to stash in a closet or on a shelf, the inexpensive DL4100 can not only hold up to 48TB and keep student data safe, but can be set up to never lose a bit of precious data.

Aimed at small businesses, the DL4100 can hold up to 24TGB of capacity and fit right into a school’s data infrastructure as an alternative to a centralized rack of server blades. If that’s not enough, you can gang two DL4100s together to open up 48TB of data potential. In a school with 250 students and teachers, that adds up to nearly 50GB a year per user for four years.  

In spite of its capacity, the network attached storage system is surprisingly small. At 7.5- by 6.7- by 9.2-inches, the sturdy steel case holds four 3.5-inch SATA hard drives. You can get it without drives for $530 and with 8TB capacity for $850, but I looked at the $1,530 24TB version that came with four 6TB Western Digital Red drives that run at 5,400rpm; it has a raw capacity of 24TB. On the downside, there’re no high-performance drives available as an upgrade, but the system can use just about any WD network drive.

WdfMyCloud_DL4100 (2)As powerful as a tablet computer, the DL4100 has a 1.7 GHz Intel Atom C2338 dual-core processor and 2GB of RAM; it maxes out at 6GB of memory. The back has a pair of wired Ethernet connectors and power supply inputs for redundancy, but comes with only one AC adapter; an extra costs $100. There’s also a recessed reset button.

Upfront, the DL4100 has a USB 3.0 slot, for transferring the contents of a memory key or digital camera; the system can be set to automatically move and delete or copy the data after the device is inserted. The drive case also has a pair USB ports in the back.

In addition to activity lights below the drives, the system has a 2.4- by 0.6-inch monochrome status screen that shows what’s going on inside. It displays the device’s name, temperature of the drives, capacity, IP address, fan speed and firmware version. You can cycle through the options with up- and down-buttons to the right.

To get the DL4100 started, you need to let it take 2 minutes to warm up after plugging it in. Once you’ve set a password and checked for software updates, aim a connected browser to its IP address or just “wdmyclouddl4100” and the system’s management window appears. It shows the available capacity in large characters as well as major categories of data in a pie chart format. At a glance, you can see the firmware version, if the drives are healthy and what’s connected. It has an informative fever chart of network activity as well as indicators for memory and processor usage.

Wd dl4100 managementDig a little deeper and you can change its name, set the system to static or automatic IP addressing and establish IP version 6 addresses. I used it to set the system to be a file transfer protocol server for serving up large files. At any point you can run a system-wide diagnostic, disk check and save the DL4100’s configuration so that every drive in a district has the same settings.

The software also lets you look at each drive’s temperature and its SMART operational data, like spin up time and error rates. It can even send email or text-message alerts in the event of a drive failure or overheating issue.

Along the top there are tabs for assigning shares, adding (or deleting users), managing back-ups, software and changing the system’s settings. Everything is well laid out with large icons, but there’s no place to look inside the drives to see a file list.

It can not only encrypt all the data on its drives with 256 AES security coding, but can be set up with the right balance of performance and data redundancy. In addition to setting the DL4100 up with simple disk spanning using the JBOD technique or by striping the data using RAID 0, a school that doesn’t want to lose a bit of data can go a step further. You can choose among RAID 1 (where each drive is mirrored), RAID 5 (striping with data to rebuild a lost drive) or RAID 10 (stripping, mirroring and the ability to rebuild lost data).

WD DL4100 android screenThe beauty of the DL4100 is that if you build your in-house data infrastructure around RAID 5 or 10 and a drive goes bad, the system will rebuild the lost data while the storage system is still operating. If that’s the case, just pull on the bad drive’s lever, remove it and slide a new one in. Replacement drives cost $280 and it’s impossible to put them in incorrectly. After setting the software to rebuild the lost data, sit back and relax because it can take hours to rebuild a drive’s contents.

To be on the safe side, you can install the DL4100 with an off-the-shelf UPS back-up power source. But, if the system does lose power, it can take an annoying 8 to 10 minutes for its contents to become available.

In addition to being able to house Time Machine back-ups and operate as an iTunes server, the DL4100 works with a DropBox online storage account. In addition to a Web File viewer, there’re a slew of cloud apps, including ones for working with WordPress Web sites and streaming media. Western Digital adds WD Photos iPad and Android apps for viewing images, but the most useful programs are the My Cloud tablet and phone apps that allow you to look at the files and download just about anything the DL4100 holds.

Using RAID 5, the DL4100 takes 5 seconds to wake up from standby mode, when all the data becomes available. The 24GB DL4100 model yielded 17.9GB of usable storage space when set up in RAID 5, but that drops to 11.8GB by using the extra protection that RAID 10 adds. It was able to read data at 111.3MBps and write at 97.9MBps, according to Crystal DiskMark’s Sequential data tests. That’s more than twice as fast as WD’s MyBook Live using the same network. In real world use, the DL4100 was WdfMyCloud_DL4100 (4)surprisingly good at distributing data quickly and worked with a wide variety of systems, old and new. I set it up to play HD videos on 10 separate clients and all played back smoothly with good audio synchronization.

All told, the DL4100 consumed 35.1 watts while operating and 12.5 watts in sleep mode. Assuming it’s used pretty heavily during an 8-hour school day and then asleep the rest of the time, it has estimated operating expenses of $17.50 per year. This is based on electricity costs 12 cents per kilowatt-hour and a 200-day school year. It’s a lot less than the typical blade storage server that districts are using.

Western Digital has freed schools from having to store their data in off-campus repositories by making the DL4100 secure-enough, fast-enough and – above all – cheap-enough to put one or more in every building.



Western Digital’s My Cloud Business Series DL4100

$1,530 with 24TB capacity

+ 4-drive storage enclosure

+ Works with RAID 0, 1, 5, 10

+ Inexpensive

+ Three-year warranty

+ 256-bit encryption

+ USB port in front for memory key


- No option for high-speed drives

New Tablet Surfaces

FamilyIf the current Surface Pro 3 seems intriguing, but its $800-plus  price tag makes it a non-starter at your school, there’s a new Surface 3 in town that starts at $500. For that, you get a 1.4-pound magnesium slate with a 10.8-inch HD screen that can handle multiple touch inputs and a $50 optional stylus. It uses Windows 8.1 (and comes with a free upgrade to Win 10 later this year) as well as either 2GB of RAM and 64GB of storage space for $500 or 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space for $600. Powered by a quad-core Intel Atom Z8700, the system’s speed ranges from 1.6- to 2.4GHz and should have enough battery life for a full-day of even the most challenging classes. It’s got the same kickstand as the more expensive Surface Pro 3 and has a $130 snap-on keyboard cover.

Two Good Things Get Better

Tablets leadWhen I first looked at Toshiba’s Portege Z10t and Asus’s Transformer T100 a little more than a year ago, I was impressed by the ability of these convertibles to go from a standalone tablet to a traditional notebook in matter of seconds. Well, these quick-change artists have improved their acts by getting slimmer and lighter while adding larger screens and – above all – running longer on battery power. What else could you ask for in a Windows tablet?

The Transformer T300 Chi and Portege Z20t pick up where their predecessors leave off. They are dead-ringers for each other with 12.5-inch touch screens, the latest Core M processors and super-slim tablet profiles of 0.3-inches. On the other hand, side-by-side the differences jump out at you. They have weights of 1.6- and 1.5-pounds for the T300 and Z20t, respectively. That’s about 5-ounces lighter than the previous generation Z10t, despite having a larger screen.

Of the two, the Z20t slate is smaller with a 12.1- by 7.8-inch footprint, 0.3-inches narrower and shorter than the T300 tablet. While the Portege has a magnesium case, the Chi is encased in an aluminum skin, but both are easy to carry and can easily slide into an out of a bag or backpack.

Asus-transformer-book-t90-chi-100538616-origThey each come with a snap-on keyboard that turns the tablet into a notebook. Here, the T300 leads with a slightly thinner profile (0.8- versus 1.0-inch) and lighter weight (3.1- versus 3.3-pounds). Both come with small AC adapters, but the Portege’s is a traditional one with a power cord while the Asus adapter goes right into a wall outlet.

The Z20t mechanically mates the tablet to the keyboard, which contains an extra battery, while the T300 attaches with powerful neodymium magnets and lacks a battery for anything other than running the keyboard’s Bluetooth link with the tablet. As a result, the T300 can take an annoying second or two to wake up when you try to use the touchpad. The T300’s magnets can help by sticking to a metallic tabletop.

Despite having 12.5-inch displays that can respond to 10 independent touch inputs and using Intel’s HD Graphics 5300 video processor, the displays couldn’t be more different. The Z20t tops out at 1,920 by 1,080 resolution, which should be plenty for school work, but the T300 takes a big step forward with 2,560 by 1,440 resolution, allowing it to show greater detail.

As notebooks, they both can be opened to only 130-degrees and can’t be used flat on a table. The T300’s display is rock solid while the Z20t’s screen wobbles noticeably when it is tapped, poked or swiped. I really like that the Z20t comes with a pressure sensitive stylus, but both worked well with a generic stylus.

A big bonus for teachers who need to be flexible is that both of them can work with the screen pointing away from the keyboard for small group presentations. The screens can also be folded down onto their keyboard, making a thick tablet.

Z20t eAfter two weeks of working with both of them daily, I’m convinced that either can be used as a slate for roaming around the classroom looking over students’ shoulders, but in a second you can snap on its keyboard for typing lesson plans or progress reports to parents. Both have comfortable 19mm keys, but the Z20t’s is backlit, which can help when teaching by the dim light of a projector.  

Inside, they both have Intel’s latest low-power Core M 5Y71 processor that runs at between 1.2- and 2.9-GHz and 8GB of RAM. Because the processor uses less than 5-watts of power at full blast, neither has a cooling fan. Unfortunately, the back of the T300 gets hot when it is doing heavy work.

Of the two, the Z20t is better equipped with 256GB of solid state storage versus 128GB for the T300. On the other hand, the T300’s storage capacity is augmented with a year’s worth of unlimited online storage.

Both slates have an adequate assortment of tablet ports, but the Z20t leads with a pair of USB 3.0, audio, a mini-HDMI and a micro-SD card reader. Snap on the keyboard and the Z20t adds a full-size HDMI, VGA, two USB 3.0 slots and something that’s becoming a rarity among notebooks: a wired LAN connection. In other words, the Z20t is one of the best connected notebooks around.

In addition to audio and micro-HDMI connection, the T300 tablet has an innovative, micro-USB 3.0 micro-B plug that is much thinner than a standard USB port. You can directly plug in a micro-USB cable and the system comes with an adapter that lets you use a standard USB 2.0 plug or memory key as well as a cable for charging the keyboard base. But, the T300 lacks a really useful and inexpensive adapter that would have converted it into a full size USB 3.0 port.  

Asus info box finalYou may be able to bypass the cable connection altogether for teaching because they each come with Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi networking, although the Z20t uses the newer 802.11ac protocol while the T300 uses 802.11n. I was able to connect each using the WiDi wireless receiver in the Epson PowerLite 1985WU projector.

As far as tablet battery life goes, the T300 is the big winner with its 4,150 milli-amp hour cells running for 6 hours and 5 minutes of continuously playing online videos. That’s slightly longer than the Z20t’s 3,150mah battery ran for, but the Z20t has a second battery stashed in the keyboard that brought the notebook to an exceptional 12 hours and 15 minutes of battery life.  

Either way, it’s good enough for a full day of school work and the Z20t can run for several days of typical work on a charge. Happily, the combined system drains the keyboard’s cells first and then the tablet’s.

Despite their similar hardware, the T300 sprinted ahead of the Z20t with a 1,863.0 on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 8.0, making it the performance champ and roughly on a par with a high-end and more expensive Core i7-based system. The Z20t scored a 1,599.2 on the PerformanceTest 8.0 benchmark, 15-percent lower than the Z20t, but the difference is marginal in light of the fact that either of these systems is roughly three-times as powerful as an Atom-based slate, like Lenovo’s Yoga 2.

The top of the line Z20t B2112 version I looked at cost $1,700 and came with Windows 7 Pro; it includes DVDs to upgrade it to Windows 8.1. There are models that start at $1,400, which brings it closer to the Win 8.1-based T300’s $1,000 price tag.

Info box z20t final
By contrast, the T300 that I looked at sells for $900, but can go lower, Asus has a model with a slower 5Y10 Core M processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space for $700, half that of a comparable Z20t. This makes it easier to fit into a school’s tight budget and quite a bargain.

With a three-year warranty, the Portege Z20t is in a class by itself and a return to a day when three- years of coverage was the norm. By contrast, the Transformer T300 Chi comes with a one-year warranty, but has the advantage of it covering accidental damage.

Both of the systems are small wonders that are thin and light, exquisitely powerful and can do just as well in the classroom or a school’s office. They each have their strengths and weaknesses for school use, but if you crave more than 12 hours of battery life, the Z20t is for you. Personally, I prefer the size, weight, performance and especially price tag of Asus’s Transformer T300 Chi.

Science in your Palm

Sparc element bPasco has squeezed the physical sciences into the palm of a student’s hand with its Spark Element tablet. The Android-based handheld is rugged enough to survive the harshest science classroom and clumsiest students. It can link with 70 different digital Pasco sensors, from an angle sensor to voltage probes, as well as load curriculum materials and instructions for performing labs. It has a color screen, an HD camera and kids can connect to a school’s network (with WiFi) or a phone (with Bluetooth ). It comes with sophisticated data acquisition and analysis software.

Charge Them All At Once

CS16USB-OTHER01-MForget about taking up every outlet in the room to charge iPads and other tablets one at a time because Tripp-Lite’s 16-Port USB Tablet Charging Station can do them 16 units at a time with a single plug; Tripp-Lite also makes units for 32- and 48-systems. Each charging system can draw up to 2.4-amps of 5-volt USB juice so every slate is ready for school. The sturdy black steel can be screwed into a wall, floor or shelf and has adjustable dividers or can be mounted in optional casters for taking it from class to class. The vault-like steel door can be locked at the end of the day or between calsses. It comes with a 10-foot power cord has a powerful cooling fan and costs $675 with a two-year warranty.

Yoga 2 Hangs It Up

Yoga tab 2 cLenovo’s innovative Yoga Tablet 2 can do one big thing that other slates can’t: in addition to its expected four modes of viewing and interacting, you can easily hang the tablet on a wall. This might not seem like a big breakthrough and before seeing it in use, I didn’t think that it was all that important. However, after using and hanging it, I’m convinced that this little change can have a big impact on teaching.

Yoga 2’s step forward is surprisingly simple and is based on its fold-out leg. The leg can hold the tablet up at angles from nearly vertical to 30-degrees, but can be a bit of a chore getting it out. With it, the Yoga 2 can be used flat on a desk, as a presentation machine, as a stand-alone tablet or with its included keyboard as a small notebook.

The key is that its sheet-metal leg has a small oval cut-out that can be used to hang it from a nail, hook or screw like a picture on any wall. It took me less than a minute to securely hang it on a plaster wall. This not only allows teachers to set up small group classes in odd places that lack traditional school furniture but allows schools set up the tablet on a wall without expensive mounting hardware.

It results in the ability to turn any vertical surface into an interactive teaching zone, whether it’s a repurposed corner or library catalog station. The best part is that when you’re done, the tablet can be lifted from its hook and off you go.

Yoga tab 2 aThe rest of the Yoga 2 is no slouch either. It weighs 1.4-pounds and measures 0.3- by 10- by 7.2-inches. On the whole it’s a little bigger and heavier than an iPad Air 2, but the Yoga 2 has a slightly larger 10.1-inch screen (verus 9.7-inches). Its most prominent feature is the large cylindrical bulge for its battery that widens the case to 0.8-inches at the bottom.

This makes it more stable when used on a tabletop by putting most of the weight low. It also means that the battery can actually help by forming a handle when you’re holding the tablet vertically – righty or lefty, it doesn’t matter.

The display can show 1,920 by 1,200 resolution, responds to 10 touch inputs and is flush with the case, which eases writing on the screen. Unlike many of its competitors, the Yoga 2 doesn’t include a stylus, but worked well with a generic stylus.

Below the screen is a pair of speakers at the bottom corners that unlike many tablets, like the iPad, point directly at the viewer. The sound is remarkably rich and crisp thanks to Lenovo’s use of the Wolfson’s WM8753 24-bit Master Hi-Fi audio chip, which is made by Cirrus Logic; it uses Dolby audio.

Inside is Intel’s Atom Z3745 quad-core processor that runs at 1.3GHz, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of solid-state storage space. In addition to a pair of cameras and the expected WiFi and Bluetooth wireless, the system has the bare minimum of ports, including a micro-USB, micro-HDMI and an audio jack. Under the fold-out stand is a cleverly-hidden micro-SD card slot.

Yoga tab 2 eAt $370, the Yoga 2 might appear to be kind of expensive compared to 10-inch Windows slates like Toshiba’s $250 Encore 2. But, the Yoga 2 comes with its add-on keyboard, something other charge as much as $100 for, which levels the buying field. Rather than physical contacts, the keyboard connects with the tablet via a Bluetooth link, so it needs its own battery. Its small battery uses a micro-USB port for charging and should be good for weeks – if not months – on end.

While the keyboard doesn’t have a USB port or a mechanical latch, it delivers 17.4 millimeter keys, a textured touchpad and useful shortcut buttons for multimedia and volume, including a handy mute key. It’s held is place magnetically and works well with the pull-out leg, but is better for working on a desk than a lap.

Happily the two fold up to a small package that weighs just over 2 pounds and can be stashed in a backpack or small book bag. On the downside, it’s all too easy to hit the on-off button when trying to adjust the volume because the three buttons are too close together.

If you don’t want the keyboard, you can get virtually the same system with Android software and half as much storage space for $250. Be warned, though, you’d be missing out on one of the best mobile keyboards around.

Based on its Atom-based hardware, the Yoga 2 performed admirably, but is no screamer. It scored a 543.5 on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 8.0, about one-third the potential of a Core i5 system. Having an extra gigabyte or two of RAM would probably have helped here, but it’s not an option with the Yoga 2. Over two weeks of daily use, it acquitted itself well and didn’t let me down, although some of the keys were a little sticky.

Yoga tab 2 fThe pay-off for the Yoga 2 using a low-power processor is that its 9,600-milli-amp-hour battery can run for 9 hours and 15 minutes on a charge for playing videos continuously over a WiFi connection. That’s nearly three-and-a-half hours longer than the Encore 2 is capable of and should be plenty for even the busiest school day.

The system I looked at is available only in black, has a one-year warranty and includes Windows 8.1 with Bing software as well as a year’s subscription to Office 365. It’s got Lenovo’s SHAREit app preloaded for wirelessly distributing documents and classroom materials. For the polyglot classroom, the software also works with Android tablets and iPads.

All told, the Yoga 2 seems like it has been designed for the classroom from the start with adequate power, long battery life, an included keyboard and one of the best stands available. But, the best part is that at $379, it is not only several hundreds of dollars less than an iPad (without a keyboard), but a small fraction of what the Toshiba Portege Z10t goes for. This makes the Yoga 2 a superior tablet that schools can afford.


Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2

Yoga tab 2 b

$370 with keyboard base

+ Price

+ Innovative hanging stand

+ Includes keyboard

+ Battery life

+ Small and light

+ Office 365 included


- Adequate performance


Flipped Learner

Spectre x360The latest convertible, HP’s Sceptre x360 13t can not only be a traditional notebook with a mechanical keyboard, but its 360-degree hinge allows the screen to be flipped over, transforming it into a screen-centric tablet. It can also be used in tent and presentation modes. In other words, the Windows 8.1 system is one of the most versatile portables around with a 13.3-inch HD or ultra-HD touchscreen, Core i5 or i7 processor and up to 512GB of solid state storage. Still, it can run on battery power for more than 10 hours of use, according to HP. The 3.3-pound system is only 0.6-inch thick, yet has surprising luxuries, like three USB ports and both a mini DisplayPort and full size HDMI video connectors. The system has a  lighted keyboard, a machined aluminum case with rounded corners and a nicely equipped Core i5 model goes for $900.

Ninja iPad Protection


If iPads have been breaking faster than you can say “iTunes Store,” then maybe you need a stronger case to protect them from clumsy teachers and students.  Kensington’s BlackBelt 1st Degree Rugged Case for iPad Air 2 and Mini systems Built around cushioned rubber, the Black Belt cases can stand up to the drops that happen at schools every day. At $30 for the Air 2 and $25 for the mini models, the case is inexpensive insurance against breakage.



Two of a Kind

VENUE 10 (13)To provide a richer educational experience while lowering deployment and support costs, Dell’s latest tablet is actually two slates: the Venue 10 runs Android 5.0 while the Venue 10 Pro uses Windows 8.1. Other than software they are exactly the same slate with a 10.1-inch screen, Atom quad-core processor and a snap-on mechanical keyboard. They are identical twins with micro-HDMI, micro-USB and audio jacks as well as the ability to wirelessly send audio and video to a projector via WiDi and Miracast. There’s an optional pressure-sensitive Wacom pen and the back of the tablet has a near field communications (NFC) chip for tap-to-connect data transfers. Look for the Venue 10 Pro to be available in March for $330 with the keyboard adding $50. The Venue 10 will be out later this year. 



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