The latest pair of classroom notebooks from Lenovo are sure to get your attention, both because they have what you need to teach, but are moderately priced. To start, the Lenovo N23 is a Windows 10 convertible with an 11.6-inch screen that can go from a traditional keyboard-based notebook to a tablet or show its display in its tent or presentation modes. Like the N22 it replaces, it’s rugged enough for 1st through 12th graders with reinforced ports and a spill-resistant keyboard that can take years of pounding. Meanwhile, the N42 Chromebook is bigger with a 14-inch display, but can only be a notebook. They should be available in a few weeks for between $200 (N42) and $250 (N42).
The latest Chromebook from NComputing, the CX110, not only provides cost effective student computing at $200, but allows a school-day’s worth of different kids to share machines. By using the company’s vSpace client software, a single system can service several students throughout the school day. The system combines an 11.6-inch screen with 8.5-hours of battery life, according to NComputing. If you like, the system can be ordered with 6,000 video lessons from brainstorm.com in English, science and math as well as ACT and Advanced Placement test prep for $179.
It’s a fact of life at schools that iPads can require three hands sometimes to hold, tap and have papers handy. ISkelter’s Canvas Creator can help with a sturdy wooden base for an iPad that holds it, a stylus and provides a trough for holding a phone, a thin book or the pad.
Made of bamboo and machined to fit the 9.7- or 12.9-inch iPad Pro models, the Canvas Creator is about as natural as it gets. At 0.75- by 12.2- by 9.4- and 0.75- by 14- by 11.5-inches, respectively, the two models fit well on school desks. There are also models that provide some room on the side for a book or pile of papers, but these extend a few more inches.
It has been well sanded and has rounded corners, but the Canvas Creator base’s bamboo wood is unfinished and could stand to be oiled or protected with a polyurethane coating for longevity. On the other hand, if you spill something on it or it gets too dirty to clean, you can always just lightly sand the surface.
The pad fits perfectly into the Canvas Creator base with the screen nearly surface flush with the base. On the downside, the iPad’s side buttons and the rear-facing camera become inaccessible once it’s in place. It has a soft felt lining so that the iPad’s back doesn’t get scratched. If you like, the Canvas Creator base can easily be screwed into place on desks or a lab bench so that kids come into the class or lab and put their iPads into place.
To the right is a slot for Apple’s iPad Pencil stylus. It’s easy to drop in and remove, but the Canvas Creator base lacks a tether to keep it from getting dropped or lost. It’s not a surprise because the Pencil doesn’t have a place to attach a chain or string.
There’s also a handy trough for holding a phone, short book or a clipboard with papers – my favorite. If you want to work with the iPad upright or share something with a small group, you can put it into the slot. It sits at a comfortable 150-degree angle and is just as good with the slate sitting horizontally or vertically.
To the left is a cut out for slipping your thumb under the iPad to remove it from the wooden Canvas Creator. Unfortunately, the round indentation can’t accommodate the slate’s Lightning power cord without awkwardly lifting the left side of the iPad out of the base. In other words, the Canvas Creator’s key shortcoming is that you can’t charge and use the iPad for school work at the same time.
The Canvas Creator base comes in sizes for the 9.7- or 12.9-inch iPad Pro that cost $50 or $70. It’s a small price to pay for such a simple, yet powerful, base that can change the way you work and learn with an iPad.
+ Made of sturdy bamboo
+ Holds pad and stylus
+ Trough for phone, book or clipboard
+ Screen sits flush
+ Stand for iPad
- Power cord doesn’t fit
- Unfinished surface
I love the Surface Pro line of tablets, but hate their exorbitant price tags. That’s where the new Cube i9 Tablet comes in. Essentially a clone of Microsoft’s SP family, the Cube i9 seems like a mirror image with a few changes that bring its price down. For instance, rather than the SP4’s 12.3-inch screen that can show 2,736 x 1,824 resolution, the Cube i9 has a 12.2-inch display that is merely HD, but should be more than enough for schoolwork. It matches the Surface Pro’s M3 processor and comes with 4GB of RAM, 128GB of storage capacity and Intel’s HD graphics accelerator.
For the clumsy set, they are both built around magnesium-aluminum alloy cases that are roughly one-third of an inch thick and have handy stands for desk work. The Surface Pro 4, however, has the weight advantage at 1.7- versus 2-pounds. Both use Windows 10 and have optional snap-on keyboards, but while the Surface Pro 4 starts at $900, the Cube i9 has a base price of $580.
At 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.
In 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.
Both 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.
+ Thin and light
+ Keyboard case
+ Bright screen
+ Latest TPM chip
+ Screen size and resolution
- No SD card slot
The 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.
It’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.
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.
While 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 802.11ac 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.
Like 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.