About this blog Subscribe to this blog

Handheld Windows

Encore aWith all the hype and claims about putting Android tablets or iPads in the hands of kids, one important point has been ignored: these systems use different software that the school has to separately purchase ort license. Not the case with Windows tablets, like Toshiba’s Encore.

As slates for school get smaller, they get easier to use and fit better into a school’s curriculum. Encore’s screen is 8 inches and the whole device fits easily into the hand. It’s just as good for teaching as for learning and has a built-in software bonus.

At just 0.4-inches thick, it is as easy to handle as an iPad or Android tablet. Its 5.4- by 8.4-inch footprint is slightly wider than Dell’s Venue 8 Pro and at 15.3-ounces, it is 2 ounces heavier. Still, the silver and black design has a flush screen that makes poking, swiping and tapping easy.

Unlike some small Windows tablets, the Encore has a Windows button upfront and delivers a gentle vibration when it starts up. The 8-inch screen can show 1,280 by 800 resolution and has Intel’s HD Graphics, but only responds to five independent touch inputs, rather than the expected ten. While it looks bright, rich, has gently rounded corners and is perfect for small hands, the 8-inch screen can sometimes take a couple (or three) pokes or swipes to get the machine to do what you want it to do.

Encore dIt worked well in normal use and was a step up from a full-size notebook or tablet for working with things like the University of Colorado’s PHET science and math simulations or watching a Khan Academy instructional video. On the downside, Toshiba doesn’t offer an optional pressure-sensitive stylus for more precise work, but the system worked fine with a generic stylus.

In addition to a dual microphone array, the Encore has speakers on the bottom when you hold it vertically. The system comes with Dolby Digital Plus audio as well as cameras front (2-megapixel) and back (8-megapixel).

I looked at the 32GB version that at $300 is on a par with Android slates. Toshiba also has a 64GB version that goes for $350. At any time, you can use its micro-SD card slot to add a 64GB card for extra storage space. There are micro-HDMI and audio ports. Like its peers, the Encore comes with 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 built-in.

Encore bInside is an up-to-date quad-core Atom Z3740 processor that runs at between 1.3- and 1.9GHz. On the other hand – like many other Atom-based tablets – the system is limited to using 2GB of RAM. While not crippling its operations, it does put a damper on its performance.

The system’s performance potential is modest and roughly matches that of the Venue 8 Pro with a Passmark PerformanceTest 8 score of 526. That’s on a par with a low-end Core i3 system and should be more than enough for 99-percent of what’s needed in a classroom.

Encore’s 2,000milliamp-hour battery is charged with a micro-USB adapter plug, which at 2-ounces is not only light and small, but the prongs fold-up. The battery was able to power the Encore for 7 hours and 17 minutes of continuous use, nearly an hour longer than the Dell Venue 8 Pro and likely twice as long as the typical notebook in your school. With some power conservation, this should translate into something like needing to charge the system every other or third day.

It comes with Windows 8.1 and Norton Internet Security with a month of updates. The bonus is that the mini-tablet comes with a full copy of Office 2013 Home & Student, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote; all you’ll need to do is type in the license number.

Encore cThe bigger bonus is that the Encore will work with just about every piece of Windows software that the district or school has invested in. This is a technological feat that no Android or iPad can touch.

Good things do come in small packages these days, but don’t let its $330 list price on Toshiba’s Web site fool you. Dig deeper and you’ll see that with a 1-year warranty, the Encore sells for closer to $300, exactly the same price as the slightly smaller and lighter Dell Venue 8 Pro, making two very compelling arguments against filling a classroom with iPads and Android tablets. 


Encore e

Toshiba Encore Tablet


+ Excellent battery life


+ Dual microphone array

+ Office included

+ Windows software


- Limited to 2GB of RAM

- Slightly heavy and bulky

- No stylus option

- 5-finger touch-screen


Class Slate

375_Galaxy-Tab-for-Education_Front_Horz_1-27_2The next big thing for tablets in the classroom is Samsung’s Galaxy Tab for Education, a mix of hardware and software that can assist education. The slate uses Android’s latest 4.4 KitKat version of the software and has been designed to work directly with Google’s Play for Education store. The system has a 10.1-inch WXGA screen along with a slew of school software for management and configuration of a single system or an entire school’s worth of pads. It will go on sale in April.



Science Tablet

Einstein-TabletInstead of a general purpose slate, Fourier’s einstein Tablet+ is an Android-based tablet that has a 7-inch touch-screen with a dual-core processor that concentrates on science education. It has lessons for teaching everything from human physiology to chemistry built in. It comes with 8 sensors, can connect to others externally and can run any Android-based app. It costs $350.


Fold and Learn

R7 aWhen shopping for a notebook, why settle for a traditional system or even a two-in-one convertible that is a tablet or a keyboard-centric system when you can get something that is at least four computers in one. Acer’s Aspire R7-572 unique physical design allows it to bend onto itself to provide the most flexible computer ever made.

Like a Transformer toy, the R7 can be changed from a traditional notebook to a tablet, desktop or presentation system for small group work. The key is Acer’s innovative cantilevered Ezel Hinge design. It’s actually two hinges in one that allows the display to be placed at just about any angle. With minimal effort you can raise and pull the screen forward for a desktop-like experiencve, flip it over so that the display faces away from the keyboard for small group work or fold the screen over the keyboard to create a carry-anywhere slate.

In fact, one of its best attributes is the R7’s distinctive ability to be used as a touchscreen set at any angle between 5-degrees and full vertical orientation. This makes it perfect for use with small hands in the classroom for finger painting, educational games or even writing.

While the hinge is sturdy, the screen can wobble, particularly when it is horizontal, such as in an art class. Plus, if it’s in desktop mode, it’s easy to make the whole thing unstable if you tap the screen too hard. Still, the R7 is a masterful mix of form, function and – above all – flexibility.

R7 bThe price you pay for this flexibility is that at 5.3-pounds, the R7 is a bit heavier than other notebooks with similar equipment and can be a lot to lay on your lap as a tablet. As a slate, it works better on a tabletop. With its small AC adapter, the system has a travel weight of 5.8-pounds, but requires a three-prong outlet.

Folded closed like a traditional notebook, the system measures 0.9- by 14.8 by 10.0-inches and is a little bigger than other 15.6-inch systems. With the R7’s screen folded down and the system in its wedge-shaped slate configuration, the system is between 1.0- and 1.8-inches thick. While the display sits at a comfortable 5-degree angle, the top of the tablet is a little wobbly.

Make no mistake, the R7 has its quirks. Because the system lacks a wrist rest area below the keyboard, its large touchpad is located above the keyboard. This takes some getting used to and it can be out of reach with some of the screen’s possible positions. On the other hand, the system’s 19.2 millimeter keyboard is backlit with two different brightness settings and can be turned off with a Function key combination.  

Inside is an up to date system with a mid-range fourth-generation Core i5 processor that runs at between 1.6- and 2.6GHz depending on what you’re using it for. The R7 is one of the best equipped systems sold today with 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive. There’s no room for a DVD drive, but the R7 can be set up to share files with a variety of computers using Acer Cloud’s technology.

The 15.6-inch screen is HD ready with 1,920 by 1,080 resolution and uses Intel’s 4400 Graphics with 128MB of dedicated video memory; it can use nearly 1.8GB of system memory. The images are rich and more than bright enough for school use. Above the display are a 1,280 by 720 Web cam and dual microphones. Its audio uses Dolby Digital Plus Home Theater and the R7 has four speakers that deliver surround sound that’s best in class.

R7 cIt is very responsive to touch and finger friendly with a near flush display and the ability to interpret up to 10 individual inputs. It works with an off-the-shelf stylus, but I much prefer using Acer’s $50 pressure-sensitive stylus. Made by N-Trig, it’s good for everything from sketching a map of the world to writing math equations. It uses a single AAAA battery.

While the R7 lacks a wired Ethernet connection, it has 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4 built in. It has Intel’s WiDi wireless display system and connected on the first try with a Netgear NeoTV receiver. There’s also Acer’s proprietary Converter Cable port that with a $35 adapter can yield a mini-USB, a wired LAN and a VGA connector.

It has all the ports you’ll need to use it as a teaching and learning machine. In addition to one USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 connectors, the R7 has a full-size HDMI port and an audio jack.

It is a good performer with a Passmark PerformanceTest score of 1,442.8 and won’t freeze up or bog down on processor intensive tasks. In other words, the R7 should be able to handle just about anything a student or teacher throws at it, from video editing to graphics-intensive science simulations. It’s not at the expense of battery life, though, with the system’s 3,650 milliamp hour battery able to run for 6 hours and 6 minutes of continuous playback of online videos; unfortunately, you can’t swap batteries.

R7 dThe system comes with Windows 8.1, ArtRage and several Touch Tool programs from Acer, like an app for grabbing screens that can streamline setting up lessons. It includes McAfee LiveSafe Internet Security with a month of updates.

If the R7-572’s $900 price tag is too much, Acer also sells a $700 571 model that has an older processor, a 500GB hard drive and lacks the stylus but should do just fine in a school setting. With the ability to adapt to different classroom conditions, Acer’s Aspire R7 is the most versatile teaching tool that’s been created.


R7 e

Acer Aspire R7-572


+ Incredibly flexible design

+ Audio

+ Excellent performance

+ Optional stylus

+ Battery life

+ Top configuration


- No wired LAN

- Slightly heavy and bulky  

Lenovo Goes to School

ThinkPad-11e-Yoga-Chrome-01Lenovo thinks that 11 just might be their lucky number. The company has a family of 11.6-inch notebooks and convertibles coming that should fit right into how schools work. While the ThinkPad 11e looks like a traditional small notebook that has been designed to stand up to student (and teacher) abuse, the Yoga 11e is a little thinner, lighter and can transform between a slate and a traditional keyboard-based system. Both can be had with Windows (for $449) or Chromebook software (for $349).

Slates for Less

UBI1If you’re tired for spending hundreds of dollars on classroom tablets, how does $38 sound? That’s the price of DataWind’s innovative 7-inch 7Ci UbiSlate that can show 800 by 480 images. It may be low priced, but the slate uses Google’s Android 4.0 software and is powered by a Cortex A8 processor that runs at 1GHz. Inside the UbiSlate is WiFi, a Web cam and 512MB of RAM; it can be set up with between 4- and 32GB of storage space. 

Acer Iconia A1-830 left angleWhile it can’t touch the price tag of the UbiSlate, Acer’s $150 Iconia A1-830 packs a high-end Android slate into a small package and price. The white system has a 7.9-inch screen that can show XGA resolution and has a traditional 4:3 aspect ratio that makes it easier to use as an ebook. Powered by a 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2560 processor and 1GB of RAM, the system comes with 16GB of storage space; its MicroSD card slot lets you add another 32GB of capacity to the A1. The best part is that the system uses Google’s latest 4.2.1 version of the Android OS and software. The slate has an optional Bluetooth keyboard and cover available.


Bigger can be Better

NotePRO_3If tiny 8- or 10-inch slates aren’t big enough for your classroom, think big with Samsung’s Galaxy NotePRO tablet. It has a 12.2-inch screen that can show ultra-high resolution 2,560 by 1,600 images. It’s powered by Samsung’s 1.9GHz quad-core processor and includes 3GB of RAM as well as either 32- or 64GB of storage space. It is the rare tablet that comes with a pressure-sensitive stylus, which can help it fit into a variety of school roles, from sketching maps or molecular diagrams to art instruction. Even with this big screen, the WiFi-based Galaxy NotePRO weighs in at about 1.6 pounds.

The Just Right Chromebook

Toshiba Chromebook #1Most Chromebooks have a 10- or 11-inch screen, which is likely to be too small for teachers, staff and older students to get the most out of. Enter Toshiba’s Chromebook, which sports Google’s latest software and a 13.3-inch screen that can show 1,366 by 768 resolution and uses Intel’s graphics engine. The system uses the latest Celeron processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage space and 100GB of space on Google’s online storage system. All told, it weighs 3.3-pounds and has a full-schoolday battery. It should be available next month for $280, making it easy to fill a school with them.


Close to the $300 Barrier

Gateway LT41P_handThe $300 barrier for a school notebook is getting closer and closer with Gateway’s LT41P system. Built around a 10.1-inch touch-display, the system is powered by an Intel Celeron processor, 2GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. The screen can show 1,366 by 768 resolution images and respond to 10 independent touch inputs. With HDMI, USB 2.0 and audio, the system only lacks the more up-to-date USB 3.0 ports, but it’s a small price to pay for a system that sells for $329.

Slim Down at School

Z40 aIf you’ve been lusting after Toshiba’s super-slim KiraBook, but can’t figure out how to hide its price tag in your school’s budget, there’s another way. Many of the advances that Kira boasts can be had in its slightly bigger and heavier cousin, the Tecra Z40. Starting at $750, the Z40 is an Ultrabook that’s priced for schools.

At 3.3-pounds, the Z40 will be one of the lightest notebooks at your school, which means that it will be easier to carry from class to class than that 6-pound benemoth you have. On the other hand, it is slightly heavier than Kira. Its gray plastic case is sturdy and should stand up to daily abuse at school. The system is 0.8-inches thick and takes up 13.2- by 9.2-inches of desk space. With the system’s small AC adapter, the Z40 has a travel weight of 3.8-pounds.

The Z40 has a big advantage: rather than the KiraBook’s 13.3-inch screen, the slightly larger Z40 carries a 14-inch display. It can show 1,366 by 768 resolution, which is much more pedestrian than Kira’s 2,560 by 1,440 display. It should be fine for most schoolwork and Toshiba has a 1,600 by 900 screen option that adds a mere $30 and is money well spent. The Z40’s screen uses Intel’s HD Graphics 4400 hardware, but the display isn’t touch-sensitive.

Around its edge, the system has great connections, including ports for three USB 3.0 devices, audio and the system can accommodate projectors old and new with HDMI and VGA ports. The machine can be snapped into Toshiba’s $140 port replicator that can make desk work a lot easier by charging the system and consolidating all of the machine’s cables.

The good news is that you can chuck the cable because the Z40 works with Intel’s WiDi wireless audio-video system for projecting a lesson without wires. The bad news is that the software doesn’t come installed. You’ll need to find and load the WiDi yourself and have a receiver connected to a monitor, TV or projector.

Z40 dUnlike many Ultrabooks, the Z40 has a wired LAN adapter, along with 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. The system has a comfortable 18.4mm keyboard with backlighting, a big bonus for those who teach in the dark or are night owls.

It has a large touchpad and a pointing stick with separate actuation buttons for each. Rather than above the keyboard, the Z40’s speakers are under the front edge of the system that aims the sound at the user. With DTS it sounds good with bright and clear sound that doesn’t sound tinny.

As opposed to most new machines, the Z40 has security well covered. In addition to a fingerprint scanner, the system has a Trusted Platform Module for secure remote access.

There are Tecra Z40 systems that start at $750 with a Core i3 processor, but I looked at the A1402 model, which is top shelf all the way and will likely be overkill at schools. It brings together a 2.1GHz dual-core Core i7 4600U processor and 8GB of RAM with a 500GB hard drive. That makes it one of the most powerful notebooks at just about any school.

It has an SD flash card reader, but like so many slim systems these days, it does without an optical drive. Toshiba sells a $60 DVD SuperMulti drive that connects with a short USB cable, but the black drive doesn’t match the design of the Z40.

Ironically, the Z40 outdoes Kira and most other notebooks when it comes to battery life. Its 4,100 milli-amp hour cells were able to power the system for an astounding 7 hours and 11 minutes of playing YouTube videos without a break. That’s more than an hour and a half longer than Kira and plenty for a day or two of schoolwork without a recharge. On the downside, the Z40’s battery pack can’t be changed when it’s out of juice.

Z40 bWhile the Z40 came with Windows 7 Pro, it includes a license and the discs to upgrade it to Win 8.1. The system has Norton Anti-theft and Internet Security software preloaded with 30-days of service and updates.

The system’s warranty offers a big bonus. Rather than a standard one-year of coverage, the Z40 has a three-year warranty, an add-on that can be worth as much as $300 on other notebooks, making the Z40 a high-performance bargain.

Even with the three-year warranty and its exceptional configuration, the Tecra Z40’s $1,429 price tag is out of reach for most schools. On the other hand, the base Core i3 Z40 model at $750 is the perfect balance between power and price.


Z40 c

Toshiba Tecra Z40


+ Performance

+ Size and weight


+ 3-year warranty

+ Exceptional battery life

+ 802.11ac WiFi


- No touch-screen

- Can’t change battery



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