Forget 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.
Lenovo’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.
The 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.
At $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.
The 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.
$370 with keyboard base
+ Innovative hanging stand
+ Includes keyboard
+ Battery life
+ Small and light
+ Office 365 included
- Adequate performance
The 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.
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.
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.
Getting a ThinkPad for students and teachers is no longer an impossible dream because the 11e model is the right size at the right price. Based on an 11.6-inch screen and Celeron processor, the 11e weighs in at 3.3-pounds and comes with 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive for about $550. The system includes the company’s WRITEit and REACHit apps for doing everything from taking notes to submitting homework assignments.
Every once in a while a system comes along that has all the right parts for schoolwork, and Acer’s Switch 11 is one such machine. It starts with an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of solid state storage space and has an 11.6-inch HD screen. The display is not only touch-sensitive with 10 independent inputs, but the Switch 11's tablet portion can be separated from the keyboard base or attached backwards for a presentation machine. All told, it’s perfect for a backpack or small bag and weighs just 3.4-pounds and sells for $800.
School slates are available in Android or iPad’s iOS, but HP has a new idea: Build Android and Windows versions of the same system. The HP Pro Slate 10 EE (Android 4.4) and Pro Tablet 10 EE (Windows 8.1) are like two 10.1-inch peas in a pod, powered by Atom processors and include just about everything needed for class. They each weigh roughly 1.9-pounds and come with WiFi, have Trusted Platform Modules and there’s a passive stylus that has a nice place to store it when it's not in use. They're not identical, however, because the Android version has Near Field Communications (NFC), while the Windows tablet has twice as much storage space at 32GB. The best part is they each have optional snap-on mechanical keyboards available, which can instantly turn them into notebooks or desktop computers. The Windows Tablet EE will be sold to schools for $300 while the Android Slate EE will go for $280.
To say that Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet has had a rough start in life is an understatement in the extreme, with the first two generations rating a loud yawn. The third generation Surface Pro 3 system is, however, a winner that is marred only by its price tag. It has all the power of a desktop or notebook, but is small, slim and light enough to carry from classroom to classroom.
Rather than an 8-, 10-inch or 11-inch screen, the Surface Pro 3 has a 12-inch display, making it one of the largest tablets around. It offers nearly 50 percent more usable screen space than an iPad Air 2’s 9.7-inch display. This can yield dividends when trying to squeeze in several items onto the screen or using the display split into two or three zones with separate apps running on each.
It is sensitive to 10-individual touches and has a 3:2 aspect ratio so it looks shorter and wider compared to other slates. This actually makes it easier to hold in the hand than longer narrower tablets.
With 2,160-by-1,440 resolution, the screen is on a par with the displays used on the current iPad Air 2 and the Nexus 9, but is sharper than the HD screen on the Toshiba Portege Z20t, which tops out at 1,920 by 1,080 resolution. It means that images are not only bright and rich, but you can see details that are obscured on other slates or notebooks. The resolution can be overkill, particularly when connected to an XGA projector, but at some point projectors will catch up.
The downside of all this screen space is that the SP3 is a bit big at 0.4 by 11.5 by 7.9-inches, making the Nexus 9 or iPad Air 2 look tiny. It is a little narrower compared to the Z20t system, which uses a slightly larger 12.5-inch screen.
At 1.8-pounds, the SP3 is an ounce heavier than the Z20t. It has a two-prong AC adapter, but unlike smaller iOS- or Android-based tablets, it can’t be charged with a USB power plug.
Rather than the iPad’s and Nexus 9’s choice of three color schemes, the SP3 is only available in a single black and silver design. It does have a big bonus: the SP3 comes with one of the best tablet pens around, something absent on most tablets. Made by N-Trig, the active Surface Pen can help when it’s time to draw or write on the screen with the ability to sense 256 levels of pressure. It not only has an eraser button, but tap the pen’s top button and the screen automatically opens One Note to jot something down. Tap it twice and the system takes a screen shot.
Unlike any other stylus I’ve seen, it can be magnetically attached to the tablet’s right side. Unfortunately, it uses a AAAA battery, which can be hard to find in a pinch.
Around its edge, the SP3 has the bare minimum of connections but it outdoes both the iPad and Nexus 9. It has a full-size USB 3.0 port, an audio jack, a micro-SD card slot and a mini-Displayport connector for video; you will need an adapter to connect with an HDMI or VGA port. Microsoft sells them for $40 each but I used a generic DP-to-HDMI device without a snag.
It can connect to a large screen wirelessly by using the systems’ WiDi set up. It connected to a Belkin Screen Cast receiver on the first try. Microsoft’s $60 Wireless Display Adapter takes this a step further. Plug it into a display or projector and the SP3 can connect using a Miracast-based link. It requires a separate app to mirror what’s on the SP3 and a USB connection for power, though.
The system can get online with its built-in 802.11ac WiFi radio, but the SP3 lacks a wired Ethernet connection. The system can use a USB converter. The $200 dock is a gem that turns the SP3 into a real desktop PC. In addition to access to 5 USB ports, a wired LAN connection and Displayport video, it has an audio jack for a headset or speakers.
Just put the tablet into place and slide the dock’s side arms in to connect and charge the slate. The dock includes an AC adapter so it can stay on a desk all day and be the single connection point for the SP3 tablet. The surprise is that the left side is magnetic and can hold paperclips, memory keys and even the system’s stylus.
If you get the SP3’s $130 Type cover, it can be converted into the equivalent of a full notebook with a full mechanical keyboard and a touchpad. It comes in five colors and adds 0.2-inch to the tablet’s profile.
One place where the SP3 stands alone is its unique kickstand. The pull-out leg can be set to any angle between nearly vertical and 150-degrees, making it just as good for finger painting as showing a small group a lesson or Web site. The system has a pair of cameras that point at the user (2-megapixel) and out the back (5 megapixel).
Inside, the SP3 is one of the most powerful mobile systems around with the choice of a Core i3, i5 or i7 processor. The Surface Pro 3 systems start at $800 for a Core i3 slate with 64GB of SSD storage space that should be more than enough for most schools uses. The test unit I looked at is a $1,300 model that came with a Core i5, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of capacity, but with the educational discount, it sells for $1,169. The lineup tops out with a system that includes a 1.7GHz Core i7 processor and 512GB of storage space for $1,950.
It may lack the iPad’s slick fingerprint reader, but the SP3 has something few tablets have: a Trusted Platform Module (TPM). This can make logging in remotely fast and efficient, but the SP3 family doesn’t offer the ability to use one of Intel’s vPro super-secure processors or the latest Core M low-power ones.
It all adds up to a powerful system that is paradoxically one of the most portable around. The SP3 scored a 2,078.3 on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 8 series of benchmarks that work with every aspect of the tablet. That’s at least four-times higher than the typical Atom, Pentium or Celeron tablet available. Its GeekBench 3 score of 5,889 was 50-percent higher than either the iPad Air 2 or Google Nexus 9 tablets, making it the current champ when it comes to tablet performance.
The price of this performance potential is that the system’s back heats up to about 110 degrees Fahrenheit, which is on the warm side. It was able to continuously play back YouTube videos for 5 hours and 7 minutes, about an hour short of the iPad and Nexus 7, but about 20 minutes longer than that of the Portetge Z10t system. It should be just enough for a full day of stop and go computing, but might need a lunchtime quickie charge on heavy days.
As expected, software is the Surface Pro’s strong suit with Windows 8.1 Pro and access to the huge library of Windows educational and administrative titles that your school or district might already own or license. In other words, using the SP3 as a district-wide tablet can mean minimal software disruption for most schools.
In addition to extensive use of OneNote, I went over lessons in Kno’s e-textbooks, examined hand-written equations and graphs in the included trial version of FluidMath. Later I mapped sentence structure with on the SP3’s screen with Morris Cooke’s Explain Everything app and went over science and math simulations on the University of Colorado’s PHET site. All worked perfectly on the SP3’s screen or when projected for others.
Like so many other systems, the SP3 comes with a 1-year warranty, which turns out to be all-too short for tablets used in schools. Adding accident coverage and upping the length to three years costs a reasonable $150; there is a $50 deductible for a claim, though.
All told, the Surface Pro 3 has gone from an also-ran to be the premier tablet for schools with an emphasis on performance, software and a wide range of accessories. Plus, at roughly the cost of a lesser iPad Air 2, the entry level SP3 makes a lot of sense in the classroom.
$1,169 (with educational discount)
+ Dock and accessories
+ Trusted Platform Module
+ Active pen
+ Screen size and resolution
- Displayport video
As the inevitable tablets sneak into schools, the battle between iPads and Androids continues to heat up with new school slates from each side. The latest iPad 2 Air and Google Nexus 9 show how far tablets have come in the nearly five years since the first iPad appeared on the scene. The ultimate winners are schools and students with smaller, more powerful tablets that can be a cheaper alternative to a full PC or Mac.
While the $829 iPad Air 2 is more powerful and can hold up to 128GB of apps, data and lesson plans, the $400 Google Nexus 9 can be had for much less. To start, both slates are as thin as it gets these days and allow just enough room for a headphone jack. While the HTC-made Nexus 9 is 0.3-inches thick, the Foxconn-made iPad has a slightly thinner 0.25-inch profile.
The Nexus is the smaller of the two at 6.0- by 8.9-inches versus 6.6- by 9.4-inches for the iPad, which has a slightly larger 9.7-inch screen. In fact, it’s hard to tell it apart from the Nexus’s 8.9-inch display. Both can show 2,560 by 1,536 resolution and respond to 10 individual touch inputs, but the iPad’s screen has a laminated design that eliminates the air gap between its layers and an anti-glare coating. Despite its oleophobic coating, it still picks up just as many fingerprints and both should get a daily cleaning. The Nexus has super-tough third-generation Corning Gorilla Glass and its display does a better job on displaying color and the background white on ebook pages, while the iPad’s display has a slight blue cast to it.
Both are lightweights, with the Air 2 weighing just a hair under 1-pound and the Nexus 9 tipping the scales at 15-ounces. They also each have a tiny two-prong AC adapter and with the included USB cables can be charged by a computer.
As far as holding them goes, both of the slates are well balanced, but I prefer the grippy rubberized coating on the Nexus 9 to the iPad’s cold aluminum skin. Both are available in a variety of colors, from the iPad’s white, gray and gold to the white, gray and black for the Nexus 9. The Nexus 9 has a more solid and rugged feel to it while the iPad has the advantage of adding custom engraving on the back with something like a serial number or school name.
They are noticeably light in terms of ports, but both have 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth and an audio jack built in. Nexus 9 has a micro-USB for charging and computer connections and a Near Field Communications (NFC) zone on the back of the device for instantly moving snippets of data between systems or wirelessly printing. Unlike the Nexus 5 phone, though, it lacks the ability to use a Qi wireless inductive charging system.
By contrast, the iPad has a Lightning plug for power and connecting to a computer. It is light years ahead of the micro-USB plug on the Nexus 9 because it goes in either way, preventing a lot of plugging-in frustration.
Both slates have on-off switches as well as volume-up and -down buttons. The iPad is in the lead with a Home button that doubles as a fingerprint scanner, potentially streamlining starting the system and entering passwords.
Equipped with the latest 64-bit processors, the iPad Air 2’s runs on a 1.45GHz A8X chip, a bit slower than the Nexus’s Nvidia Tegra K1 that speeds along at 2.3GHz. Both have advanced graphics engines with 192-cores for quick video and have 2GB of RAM.
The iPad leads with models that come with 16-, 64- and 128-GB of storage space as well as 5GB of iCloud online storage, while the Nexus 9 that I looked at tops out at an adequate 32GB; there’s a slightly less expensive 16GB model as well. It is augmented with 15GB of online storage for two years that’s perfect for stashing photos, videos and the like. On the downside, neither the iPad nor the Nexus have a micro-SD card slot for expanding their storage potential.
Their operating systems –iOS 8 and Android 5 – are comparable. The variety of Android- and iOS based educational software is increasing everyday with lots of free stuff available for download. The bonus is that the iPad comes with Pages, Keynote and Numbers and there are free downloads of Microsoft’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The Nexus 9 has neither, but comes with Polaris Office and has built-in links to Google’s online Docs.
You don’t buy a tablet for peak performance, but these systems do a lot with a little, and over the course of a month of daily use, neither let me down. I led classes, read ebooks, did science simulations, ran video conferences and used them to nose around the Web for teaching materials. The iPad led the way with a GeekBench 3 score of 4,001, well ahead of the Nexus 9’s 3,227. Both handled the rigors of classroom work without a problem and while playing continuous YouTube videos over a WiFi link, the two were well matched with the Nexus barely outlasting the iPad with 6 hours and 10 minutes of battery life against the iPad’s 6 hours and 8 minutes. In other words, either will deliver more than enough power for a full school day.
With two so equally matched competitors, it all comes down to price. The iPad Air 2 that I looked at was the top of the line $829 model with 128GB of storage and can get data over an LTE mobile network. It’s clearly matched for the $479 Nexus 9, which comes with 32GB of storage space and no LTE mobile connection. There’s an LTE option that adds $80, but also a $400 16GB version. In other words, there’s a roughly $250 chasm that the iPad has to bridge.
That’s where the other four iPad models come in. You can get the previous generation Air system for roughly what a Nexus 9 costs or either the original Mini model or the newer Mini 2, which are smaller and lighter than the Nexus 9. In the final analysis, any of these mighty mites will excel at letting teachers teach and students learn, which you get depends on your school’s budget as much as how thin you want to go.