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Surface Pro Shoot-Out

Samsung kbAt the moment, the school Windows tablet to beat is Microsoft's Surface Pro 3, but Samsung has not only a thinner and lighter system with its Galaxy TabPro S, but one with a brighter screen and lower price tag. At $900 (including its snap-on keyboard-cover), the TabPro S delivers the most bang for the buck today.

Both the Surface Pro and TabPro S are made of a mix of plastic and metal with a similar look that emphasizes a minimal bezel and dull silver edging. Still, the TabPro S is smaller in every dimension at 0.25- by 11.4- by 7.8-inches and feels more like a tablet than the SP3.

More to the point, its 1.5-pound weight is nearly 5-ounces lighter than the Surface Pro 3. This not only makes it less tedious to hold for long times, but travels much easier from room to room during the day. With its included keyboard case and stand, the whole package is only half an inch thick, only slightly thicker than the Surface Pro 3 on its own.

The reason for this thinness is that rather than a standard LCD display that requires a bulky backlight, the TabPro S uses the latest Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode (AMOLED) technology. The 12-inch screen is about as bright and vibrant as it gets these days. It shows 2,166 by 1,440 resolution and responds to 10 individual touch inputs. This matches the Surface Pro 3’s display.

What it lacks is the Surface Pro 3’s pull-out stand, the TabPro S’s case can be set to three different angles and actually feels better on the lap than the SP3. The case protects both the front and back of the pad, not just the screen side and the tablet’s Pogo connector is magnetically drawn to the keyboard base for a secure connection. There’re cut-outs for the tablet’s front and rear cameras.

Samsung sideIn addition to a good sized touchpad, the TabPro S case has a hidden bonus: an NFC communication spot on the left side of the pad. This lets you connect a phone or Android tablet by using Samsung’s recently released Flow software. With it you can use your phone to check your finger prints and act like a secure hot spot.

On the downside, the keys have too shallow a depth for my tastes, so I needed to slow my typing or spend a lot of time correcting my work. I used it for mock lessons, on trains and planes and the system was always responsive and ready for work.

One thing you’ll have to do without, though, is the SP3’s excellent active stylus that lets you open an app by tapping its end. Samsung is working on a similar pen for the TabPro S. You can use a generic rubber dome stylus but it won’t be able to respond to different pressures.

While the SP3 has a full-size USB 3.0 port, an audio jack, a micro-SD card slot and a mini-Displayport connector for video, the TabPro S offers a sneak peek into the future. It has a single USB Type-C port for everything from power to connections; there’s also a traditional audio headphone jack.

The SP3’s excellent docking station is something that TabPro S users will miss. It not only charges the system, but has LAN, audio, four USB ports and a magnetic place to stick the Surface Pro’s stylus. By contrast, the TabPro S will need a USB C hub to connect with USB 3.0 devices as well as output video for a projector. The system worked perfectly with a Minix Neo C HDMI hub.

You may not need it because the TabPro S can connect to a WiDi enabled display or projector, like the LG PH550. Inside, the Tab Pro S has 802.11ac WiFi as well as Bluetooth 4.1 so you can leave the cables behind.

Instead of the Surface Pro 3’s fifth-generation Core processors, the Tab Pro S has a gen-six M3 processor that runs at between 900MHz and 2.2GHz, depending on what the tablet is being asked to do. This can extend battery life by running flat out only when it’s needed.

The TabPro S comes with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of solid state storage and costs $900—all in. By contrast, a comparable Surface Pro 3 is currently being discounted to $800, but if you add in the keyboard case, it rises to well over a thousand dollars.

Samsung openBoth do without the iPad’s slick fingerprint reader/Home button, but both the SP3 and TabPro S have Trusted Platform Module (TPM) electronics for easing secure remote connections. The Tab Pro S leads with a second generation TPM, while the Surface Pro 3 has a version 1.2 TPM chip.

The TabPro S comes up second best compared to the SP3, but just barely. Its 1,837.1 on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 8 was 11 percent off the SP3’s mark and you’ll be hard pressed to tell the difference. It kept its cool even when it was being asked to do some high-end tasks and ran for 6 hours and 36 minutes of work. That’s an hour and a half longer than the Surface Pro 3 can.

The TabPro S’s one-year warranty is all too short for a system that will probably have to last at least five years of daily school work. Every once in a while a tablet comes along that provides more for less. Samsung’s TabPro S is one of those slates and it belongs in the hands of teachers and students.


Samsung tab

Samsung Galaxy TabPro S


+ Thin and light

+ Keyboard case

+ Bright screen

+ Latest TPM chip

+ Screen size and resolution


- No SD card slot

Chrome Toughens Up

Acer Chromebook 14 for Work_CP5-471_01The number one Chromebook seller shows why it’s in the lead with its Chromebook 14 for Work model. Designed and built to survive anything a school can mete out, the CB14 has passed five of the military’s Mil-Std 810G tests for ruggedness, including drops of up to 4-feet. Based on an Intel 6th generation Core processor, the system weighs 3.2-pounds and includes a security-conscious Trusted Platform Module as well as 100GB of GoogelDrive online storage. Its 14-inch display uses Corning’s Vibrant Gorilla Glass for extra toughness and can be ordered in full HD as well as wide XGA resolution. Pricing starts at $349.

Built to Last

TravelMate-B117-photogallery-02It’s hard enough for purpose-built (and expensive) rugged notebooks to pass the government’s stringent Mil-Std 810G tests for endurance and longevity, but Acer’s TravelMate B117 just did. The system made it through the tests for everything from temperature, moisture and humidity to vibration and shock. It survived drops, its hinge was opened and closed 25,000 times and 132-pounds of pressure was put on the screen lid. Still, rather than a 10-pound behemoth that costs $3,000, the B117 is less than an inch thick, weighs under three pounds and costs $230.

Big and Bold ChromeBook

Acer Chromebook 14_CB3-431_left facing_Google wp looks like a winner for all sorts of schools with a 14-inch HD display. The CB3-431 system is built around a stunning yet durable aluminum case and weighs just 3.4 pounds and is 0.6-inches thick. Inside is a dual-core Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage for $300, but there will be systems with lower resolution screens as well as less memory and storage available.

Surface Shootout

Matebook aWhile the Surface Pro 4 has suffered through more than its fair share of software problems, Huawei is trying to outdo it on size, power and price. The MateBook outdoes the Surface Pro 4 by being not only lighter but smaller in every dimension. Both it and the Surface Pro 4 can be outfitted with mid- to high-performance processors, can hold 4 or 8GB of RAM and have the option for 128-, 256- or 512-GB of storage space. By contrast, with the top-shelf Core i7 processor, the Surface Pro 4 can go to 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage space, although at nearly $3,000 for most this will be overkill.

The MateBook’s 12-inch 2,160 by 1,440 resolution display is a little below the Surface Pro’s 2,736 by 1,824 resolution, but both respond quickly to touch inputs and they each are tablet designs that have a snap-on keyboard that doubles as a cover and stand. They each use Windows 10 and have all the expected connection portals, like Matebook b802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1, but the MateBook uses the newer and faster Type C USB port.

Price could be the big difference between these two slates. The Surface Pro 4 has a starting price of about $800 for a 900MHz Core M system with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage. By contrast, Huawei hopes to do better with a $700 model that includes a 900MHz Core M, 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD storage.

Little Big Pad

IPadPro10-ApplePencil_PR-PRINTLike the iPad Pro’s active pen, but not its large format and price tag? Apple has a new pad for you with its 9.7-inch iPad Pro. At the risk of having a very confusing lineup, the addition of the smaller Pro pad is a good thing. Like its big brother, the 9.7-inch version uses Apple’s A9X 64-bit processor and comes in Silver, Gold, Space Gray and Rose Gold finishes, yet is smaller and weighs less than a pound. Unfortunately, like the big pad, the smaller iPad Pro doesn’t include the Pro’s Pencil stylus. It costs $99 on top of the $599 base price for the 9.7-inch pad.


The No Nonsense Chromebook

C202_Dark Blue_Sunset_ (2)As Chrome-based systems become the computers of choice in classrooms, they have morphed into a variety of different species, from touch-centric slates and large all-in-one desktops to rugged Chromebooks. The newest of this genre is Asus’s C202 Chromebook, which at $200 is one of the most versatile, economical and rugged systems anywhere.

Don’t let its stylish two-tone appearance fool you, the C202 had been designed to stand up to the worst abuse that happens at schools, from drops from a desktop to getting spilled on and Asus is striving for the equivalent of the military’s Mil-Std 810G specifications for ruggedness. After all, the classroom can be as hard on computers as a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

The system’s textured surface makes it hard to slip out of your hand and the system has a one-eighth inch soft rubber bumper around its periphery. Happily, the keyboard can take up to 2.3 ounces of liquid being spilled on it. The system is undergoing further tests for temperature, humidity, shock, vibration and altitude, but these are just icing on the cake.

Should something go bad, the C202 is the rare notebook that has been designed to be repaired. Rather than a chore that requires special tools and a lot of luck, the C202 can be opened in about 5 minutes with a standard Philips screwdriver. Once there, you can easily do things like change a bad keyboard or WiFi module.

C202_Dark Blue_Sunset_ (9)All this adds up with a notebook that is surprisingly small and light. It’s fractions of an inch smaller and three ounces lighter than Toshiba’s ChromeBook 2 but much thicker and half a pound heavier than Asus’s superb Flip C100. Its thickness ranges from 0.9-inches in the front to 1.1-inches in the back and it takes up 11.4- by 7.8-inches of desk space.

Inside the $220 C202 that I looked at is a Celeron dual-core processor that runs at 1.6GHz along with 4GB of RAM. Asus also has a $200 model that matches it spec for spec except that it has 2GB of RAM and will likely be the machine of choice at schools.

Both models include 16GB of local storage space, but the C202 has something that iPads and some Android slates lack: an SD card slot. With the right card, you can add up to 128GB of extra storage space.

The system’s screen is a standard 11.6-inch display that can show 1,366 by 768, which is disappointing compared to the latest HD and beyond panels, but should do well in the classroom. Despite its emphasis on rugged simplicity, the C202’s screen can fold flat on a tabletop. This would be a big bonus except that unlike the slightly more expensive Flip C100, there’re no touch-screen options with the C202.

C202_Dark Blue_Sunset_ (7)Around the edge of the system is a good assortment of ports and connections. In addition to a pair of USB 3.0 ports, the system has an HDMI connector for running a projector and a headphone jack for getting audio out of the system.

With a FutureMark PeaceKeeper score of 1,248, the C202’s performance potential may not be able to compare with the Flip’s 1,428, but it did well on all the tasks we put in front of it, from feeding images to a projector to playing with science simulations. It scored a 9,206 on the Web-oriented Octane 2 benchmark, which is off the pace set by Toshiba’s Chromebook 2.

On battery power, the C202 could go for 9 hours and 20 minutes, meaning that it probably won’t need to be charged every day. All told, the C202 provides a lot of Chromebook for the money. I only wish that it had a touch-screen option. Then, it would be the perfect school notebook.


C202_Dark Blue_Sunset_ (3)

Asus C202 Chromebook



+ Rugged design

+ Price

+ Display folds flat

+ Spill-proof keyboard

+ Easy access design


- No touch-screen option


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.

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