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A Pair of Tough Chromebooks

Chromebook compositeThe sweet spot these days for school notebooks is Chromebook models with 11.6-inch displays that are not only easy to carry and toss into a backpack, but can be had for around $300. That’s music to the ears of district officials trying to outfit entire schools with hundreds or thousands of computers.

The latest pair of Chromebooks from Acer and Dell shows that good things still come in small packages. To start, these two Chromebooks excel at packaging, with each weighing less than 3-pounds. Yet, they still deliver enough performance for everything from homework to online assessments.

After that they go their separate ways with different focal- and price-points. While the touch-screen-equipped Dell Chromebook 11 sells for $330, the Acer C740 Chromebook 11 comes with a standard display and sells for $50 less.

Both can fit into any school’s IT landscape, run for a full school day of classes on a charge and – best of all – are tough enough to be abused with a variety of ruggedized elements. Which you choose depends as much on whether touch is important to teaching at your school as whether you have an extra $50 in your budget for each system.

Acer Chromebook 11 C740

Acer-Chromebook-11-C740-nontouch-gallery-02Value is the name of the game when it comes to Acer’s Chromebook 11 C740 with an excellent mix of the latest components and a ruggedized design that should outlast even the clumsiest teacher, student or administrator.

From a distance, the gray and black C740 looks just like the CB 11 Touch, but it is significantly smaller and lighter. It has dimensions of 0.8- by 11.2- by 7.9-inches and weighs 2.8 pounds. With its AC adapter, the C740 has an enviable travel weight of 3.2-pounds.

On the downside, the system has a cold, hard feel to it, particularly compared to the soft finish of the CB 11 Touch. It does have a textured bottom that can help keep it from being accidentally dropped while running between classes.

At wide-XGA, the C740’s resolution matches that of the CB 11 Touch, but lacks the innovative activity light of the CB 11 Touch and doesn’t have its touch-sensitive screen. Acer does sell a touch-enabled C720p model.

Acer-Chromebook-11-C740-nontouch-gallery-05While it lacks the CB 11 Touch’s Gorilla Glass, the C740 is one tough customer. Its corners have been reinforced to protect it from sudden impacts and can survive a 17.7-inch drop. Plus, the case has strengthening ribs that can tolerate 132-pounds of force and the system has stouter hinges. Unfortunately, the screen doesn’t fold fully flat on a table.

Rather than the Celeron N2840 that’s on the CB 11 Touch, the C740 has a newer 3205U processor. It runs at a slower 1.5GHz, but has twice the amount of processor cache compared to the N2840. The C740 includes 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage space and the bonus of 100GB of online space for two years with GoogleDrive. Acer also sells a $249 version that has 2GB of RAM.

If that’s not enough, you can add to its capacity with an SD card. It matches the C740 port for port with USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports as well as HDMI and audio connections. It was able to connect to a network with a USB-to-LAN converter or with its 802.11ac WiFi system. The C740 also has Bluetooth 4.0.

It was the speed king with the ability to start up in 6.5 seconds. The system’s Peacekeeper and SunSpider scores of 2,920 and 327.8 milliseconds provide roughly twice the performance potential of the CB 11 Touch. Still it ran for only five minutes less on a charge. In fact, the 8 hours and 35 minutes of playing back HD videos delivered over WiFi means that the system may not even need to be charged every day.

Acer-Chromebook-11-C740-nontouch-gallery-06The C740 comes with a 1-year warranty and if you get them 100 at a time, you get a couple of bonuses. To start, Acer’s Premier Care adds dedicated service and can let you jump to the head of the support line. The Educare warranty adds battery replacements, paid shipping and accidental damage coverage. If you buy it through CDW, you can extend its warranty to three years with accidental damage protection for $142. 

With $150 Chromebooks from Asus on the way from Asus, the C740 has its place in schools because it is a rugged, well-designed system that has all the right parts.



Acer Chromebook 11 C740


+ Performance

+ Small and light system

+ Up-to-date components

+ Tough design

+ Battery Life


- No activity light

- Wide XGA display


Dell Chromebook 11 Touch

Cb 11 touch cFrom the start the Chromebook 11 Touch has been designed with education in mind. From the ruggedized case to the touch-display, it is a small notebook that was made for schools. It, however, falls short (particularly in comparison to the Acer Chromebook C740 Chromebook) in two key areas: price and performance.

At 0.9- by 11.4- by 8.6-inches and 2.9-pounds, the jet black CB 11 Touch is easy to carry, pack and use. It has an inviting soft finish that’s grippy and the case has protective bumpers around its edge. On the downside, it’s larger and a couple ounces heavier than the C740. With the included AC adapter, the CB 11 Touch has a travel weight of 3.4-pounds.

While I’m disappointed with the CD 11 Touch’s 11.6-inch wide-XGA resolution, it has a secret that can help teaching. It can respond to ten individual inputs, regardless of whether it’s from a child’s finger or a stylus. While Google is readying a software update that will make touch more central to the operating system, at the moment it’s still a big help. You can not only tap to open and close apps, but you can draw or finger paint directly on the screen.

The screen has a good stiff hinge that makes for a stable place to tap and swipe the display. Plus, its display can fold flat onto tabletop, which is a big advantage when it comes to touch-screen work.

Cb 11 touch aA big step forward for school notebooks, the CB 11 Touch has a unique activity bar on the back of the screen lid. Using included software, a student can put up a green light (get teacher’s attention), a red one (ask a question) or a blue one (raise hand). This is such an intuitive addition to the Chromebook’s repertoire that I’m surprised nobody thought of it sooner.

Designed to survive the harsh environment of schools, the CB 11 Touch has a Gorilla Glass reinforced screen. It has also been tested to stand up to everything from having 16-ounces of water spilled on it to being repeatedly dropped from a desk onto a wooden floor.

Powered by a Celeron N2840 processor that runs at 2.1GHz, the CB 11 Touch is a step behind the newer Celeron 3205U on the C740. Both come with 4GB of RAM, but the CB 11 Touch's 16GB of storage space is second best. It has an SD slot for adding storage capacity.

They both have the same ports with an older USB 2.0, a newer USB 3.0, audio and HDMI for connecting to a display or projector. It lacks a wired LAN port but worked well with a USB-to-LAN converter and has 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. The CB 11 Touch adds an optional mobile data card for always-on Web access.

Cb 11 touch bThe CB 11 Touch takes the backseat to the C740 when it comes to performance. It can start-up in 9.1-seconds, nearly 30 percent slower. With 1,491 and 522.5 millisecond scores on the Peacekeeper and Sun Spider tests, the CB 11 Touch has roughly half the potential of the C740. 

Still, the CB 11 Touch was able to continuously play back videos over a WiFi connection for 8 hours and 40 minutes, more than enough for a full day of school with some time left over for listening to music, playing a game or grading tests. The C740 ran for a nearly-identical 8 hours and 35 minutes on a charge.

While its one-year warranty matches that of most school notebooks, the CB 11 Touch’s coverage can be extended to a more fitting three years and include accident protection for under $100. To my mind it is money well spent considering that they will be tossed, sat on and generally abused every day.

Touch has the power to turn a tiresome lesson into a tactile experience, and the Dell Chromebook 11 Touch can make school seem more like fun. 


Cb 11 touch d

Dell Chromebook 11 Touch




+ Rugged design

+ Student activity light

+ Display folds flat

+ Touch screen

+ Battery Life

+ Mobile data option


- Wide XGA screen

- Performance

- Price 

WiFi: Indoors and Out

DAP-3662-Side2-1664x936Ever wanted to add wireless access at the football stadium, the bus line up or any outdoor area where students, teachers and administrators congregate? D-Link’s DAP-3662 outdoor access point lets you put WiFi anywhere. The weather-proofed Access point can use the latest dual-band 802.11ac protocol for delivering upwards of 1.2Gbps of bandwidth and can be powered by its data cabling using the power over Ethernet protocol. The white access point is easy to hide, costs about $350 and has an unparalleled lifetime warranty.

Special Needs Tablet

TD-T7-right-sideWhile most school tablets have been designed for the most-capable common denominator in the classroom, Tobii Dynavox’s T7 has been made for those with physical disabilities and special needs. The 7-inch tablet weighs 1.3-pounds and is 1.4-inches thick, but has an HD screen, a handle and is Medicare- and Medicaid-certified for speech generation. Powered by a quad-core Rockchip RK3288 processor, the T7 comes with 2GB of RAM, uses Android 4.4.4 software and comes with the company’s Compass software. It sells for $4,549.

Freebee Friday: Quizzables

Fig_evo-academic_reporting-a high resApperson’s Evo assessment platform can now be used for free by educators. The Teacher Edition of the service lets them create online quizzes with everything from multiple choice and true/false questions to short answers and essays. The assessments can be administered online, on paper or a combination of the two and assigned to students as well as shared among other teachers and parents.   




The New Classroom

Google classroomThe latest version of Google’s Classroom software is out and it updates the classroom management program with 20 different major changes. Many are very exciting, including the ability to create, edit, distribute and even grade assignments from your phone so you can catch up on work at home or even on the bus ride to school. Plus, grades are now automatically saved, so nothing gets lost and an entire year's worth of assignments can be archived for class for next year’s batch of kids.

Map Apps

Map leadIf history can be read as a series of interlocking maps, then teaching social studies can be thought of as more of a visual activity. Whether it’s for showing the westward trek in the U.S., how people made it from Asia to North America or the movement of troops during just about any war, the right maps can make social studies come alive.

The good news is that there are dozens of high quality map apps that are either free or cost next to nothing. The bad news is that few work on both iPads and Android slates, making it an either-or choice.

The next time you want to discuss how Hawaii came to be a state or why the Suez Canal was so importnat to the British empire, put the text book aside and reach for a map app. It’s all there.

Us puzzle mapsSometimes all you need is a little trick or game to teach a class the names of the states or European countries. That’s where the $2 United States Puzzle Map comes in. It not only has a game where kids drag the state to its proper position and give it a name, but as you play the game, the hints start to disappear. There’s also a trivia game to help them remember the difference between North and South Dakota. The prolific Jenny Sun has created a whole family of related Puzzle Map iPad games with ones for Europe, Asia and Africa, among others. 

GeacronAs its name implies, GeaCron involves the intersection of time and geography. Actually, it’s an impressive app that can show human history for the past 5,000 years in terms of land and people. You can keep the maps simple or layer in detail, like topography and events and roll the timeline forward or back to see the action. Tap or click on a name label to get details about the place and move around to see where the action is. It’s an excellent way to show the class what’s going on at different places in the world at the same time, such as the effect of the Napoleonic campaigns and our War of 1812. Just pick your time, place and scale, and you’re off. It’s an Android only app that costs $3.54.

Maps HistoryPut together by Seungbin Cho, Maps of the World has a slew of them, perfect for teaching about anything from early polar explorations to the battle for the Aleutian Islands during World War II. The free History: Maps of the World app only works on iPhones and iPads and lets you choose from hundreds of key maps that illustrate the before, during or aftermath of a change or conflict, sometimes all three. There are also versions of the app for showing the history of Asia, Oceania, America and the Middle East and the site is ad-supported. All have links to Wikipedia for detailed information and are overflowing with maps that can be printed or emailed to students.

Google mapsWhy rely on others to make maps for you when you can make your own set of historical maps for whatever the lesson plan is for the day. The key is learning the ins and outs of Google Maps. By taking a couple of hours to explore what’s possible with this amazingly deep program, you can get the idea of how to create your own teaching maps. There are ten lessons that run from the basics to 3-D imagery. It can turn jsut about any teacher or student into a map pro.

Old maps onlineWhen it comes down to it, you don’t need a tablet at all to view a series of instructive maps of the world. Old Maps Online is an excellent repository of antique maps that not only works in any browser window but has one of the best ways of finding a cool map for your lesson. On top of a basic map of the world is a zoomable rectangle that shows its geographic scope and a timeline above for the time period you’re looking for. The maps are generally of exceptional resolution and quality, range from 1000AD to the present. They come from the world’s greatest collections, including the Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia and the Utrecht University Library. Every map is a gem and a potential class lesson.




The New Switcheroo

Acer_Switch_10_E_Blue_04_highIf you liked Acer’s Aspire Switch 10 convertible notebook, you’ll love the new Switch 10E. The second-generation Switch 10 is not only smaller and lighter, but is now available in five colors. It is powered by an Atom processor and comes with either 1- or 2GB of RAM and up to 64GB of solid state storage. Built around Acer’s Snap Hinge 2, the 1,280 by 800 touchscreen is stable regardless of its angle. While the base model will go for $280, there will be a special edition Switch 10 with a Gorilla Glass screen lid for $400.


Chrome-Plated Windows

4. Frame - SolidWorks running on Frame (in Chrome, on Mac)Chromebooks are priced right for schools but because they don’t run Mac or Windows software, they can leave teachers wanting more. Frame can help by delivering Windows apps over the Web for students to use anything from Adobe’s Photoshop to Word. Rather than running the software locally, all the Windows apps are stored online and the heavy work is done at Frame’s server farm. The screen data is sent to each system, ready for interaction with the user. The software will be available later this year.

Zen and the Art of Studying

Brody3Looking nothing like the squared-off wooded cubicles and library carrels we’re used to seeing at school, Steelcase has reinvented the study zone with an emphasis on swooping curves and comfort. The idea behind the Brody family of furniture is to cocoon the user in a calming space that reinforces physical and psychological comfort, regardless of what’s going on around. Brody has a built-in chair, but it doesn’t rotate or recline. Instead, it has lumbar support and is angled to keep the user in an alert posture. There’s also a soft ottoman foot rest.

Plus, Brody has a swing arm that holds a molded tray for holding a notebook or tablet as well as a Brody2laminate tabletop on the side that’s perfect for taking notes. There’s also a place to stow a backpack and Brody has an optional light in the corner. The Steelcase study zone has AC power, but no place to directly plug in a USB cord for charging a phone or tablet.

The Brody study zones are not only good on their own, but you can group several together for collaborative work and they fit together in a variety of space-efficient patterns. Available in a variety of colors and fabrics, the Brody starts at $2,700, including the chair.



Fold Up Notebook

Aspire_R_11_R3-131T_07_highWith a 360-degree hinge, Acer’s Aspire R11 provides a lot of computer for its $250 price tag. It can be a tablet, traditional notebook, tent or presentation machine and can switch among its various modes quickly and easily. Based on Intel’s Pentium platform, the system comes with up to 8GB of RAM, up to a terabyte of storage space and a Gorilla Glass 11.6-inch display. While it comes with Windows 8.1, it is the start of an onslaught that will offer a free upgrade to Win 10 when it becomes available 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.