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The Big Project Printer

Untitled ProjectEpson’s WorkForce Pro 8590 printer not only works with the expected 8.5- by 11-inch sheets, but can handle up to 13- by 19-inch paper and fill them less expensively than the typical laser printer can. The device not only has a scanner, fax and network connections, but the WF Pro 8590 has optional secondary paper trays. Its 75,000-page duty cycle means that it can cover a school office, department or floor, replacing dozens of smaller printers. Based on the company’s PrecisionCore technology, it uses Epson’s DuraBright inks and can pump out 24-pages per minute.

 

Freebee Friday: Google Central

Google devicesWith phones, Chromebooks and tablets all over the classroom, keeping each device straight is no easy task. Google has a settings dashboard that consolidates key pieces of information from all the devices that are associated with your account to what data plan you have and how much spare space is left. The dashboard is free and remarkably easy to use.

 

Touch on a Budget

TravelMate_B115 Left Angle Open Windows 8Using your fingers doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Acer’s TravelMate B115 notebook has an 11.6-inch screen that shows 1,366 by 768 display resolution and responds to 10 independent touch inputs and has an anti-glare coating. Weighing about 3-pounds, the B115 is about an inch thick and comes with a 1.8GHz Celeron N2940 processor, 500GB hard drive and 4GB of RAM for $379.

 

 

 

 

The Ups and Downs of Desk Work

Varidesk compositeAlways wanted to teach from a standing desk but need the option to sit and work? Varidesk has the answer with a 30- by 23-inch work surface that can be set up at different heights to suit your mood or the work at hand. The cantilevered mechanism is spring loaded so that it can easily go from being 5-inches off of the desk to being elevated by as much as 15.5-inches. Varidesk’s Single model, which is good for one monitor or notebook, costs $275, while the $300 Pro version can accommodate two big items. 

A Pair of Classroom Aces

Side angleThere’s no doubt that Chromebooks are quickly becoming the computers of choice at schools, not only because they are rugged and the online curriculum for them is rapidly gaining ground, but because they cost much less than comparable Windows or Mac systems. Two of the most recent Chromebook bargain notebooks show this evolution with a pair of systems that seem custom-made for schools.

Although the $250 Samsung Chromebook 2 is one of the smallest and lightest portable systems you can get, its 11.6-inch screen pales in comparison to the 13.3-inch HD display on the larger, heavier and, at $330, more expensive Toshiba CB35. Still, each has its place in the digital school.

From a distance, the Samsung CB 2 and Toshiba CB35 look very much alike with silver tone plastic cases that have rounded corners and textured surfaces. Look a little closer and you’ll see that the CB2 has a faux leather screen lid with fake stitching, circa 1965. By contrast, the CB 35 has a more contemporary look. 

While the smaller CB 2 weighs in at 2.6-pounds, the CB35 is 5-ounces heavier at 2.9-lbs, but has a larger screen. Happily for those who work in older schools, they both use two-prong AC adapters to charge the systems up. They have travel weights of 3- and 3.2-pounds, respectively.

TopSize matters and both are about 0.8-inches thick, but the CB 2 with its smaller screen takes up 11.4- by 8.1-inches of desktop space. It’s a bit smaller than the CB35’s 12.6- by 8.4-inches. Both have rubber feet, but the CB 2’s front cut-out from the base makes it a little easier to open the system’s lid.

The CB 2 has also been designed with how notebooks are used and abused at school in mind. It has reinforced corners, a heavy duty screen frame and electrostatically protected USB ports, features that are not matched on most inexpensive notebooks or the CB 35.

CB 2 boxTheir displays set them apart from each other. The CB 2 is outfitted with an 11.6-inch that can show a mundane 1,366 by 768 resolution. On the other hand, the larger 13.3-inch screen on the CB35 can display the full HD resolution of 1,920 by 1,080. It’s also brighter, richer and displays more accurate colors.


On the downside, neither of them have a touch screen as an option, putting them a step or two behind Acer’s C720 Chromebook. They both have comfortable keyboards with 19 millimeter keys, but the CB35’s larger deck allows Toshiba to fit in a larger touchpad. On the downside, neither have the luxury of a backlit keyboard.

Inside, they both have Intel Celeron N2840 processors that run at between 2.2- and 2.6GHz. Both come with 16GB of solid state storage space, but the similarities end there because Toshiba includes 4GB of RAM and 100GB of space on GoogleDrive for two years, versus the 2GB that Samsung provides for the Chromebook 2.

Neither have a fingerprint scanner, but both come with a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) that can make secure log-ins easier. They have the same array of ports with USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 connectors, HDMI, audio and a flash card reader. Neither has Ethernet built-in, but both can use a USB adapter and come with 802.11ac WiFi as well as Bluetooth 4.0.

Audio separates the two Chromebooks, as well, with the CB 2 including run of the mill sound processing equipment and a pair of 2-watt speakers. By contrast, the CB35 has had its audio tuned by engineers at Skull Candy for greater dynamic range and clarity. There are matching headphones available.

CB 35 boxWith the same processor, it’s not surprising that they scored nearly identically during benchmark testing. They both could handle the University of Colorado’s PHET science and math simulations and the CB35 has a slight advantage over the CB 2 with a 509-millisecond score to complete the Sun Spider test; the CB 2 ran the same tests in 515 milliseconds. The CB 2 led by a hair with a 1,676 result on FutureMark’s PeaceKeeper tests versus the CB35’s 1,673.


They both did well in terms of battery life but the advantage goes to Samsung’s CB 2 with its ability to playback online videos continuously for 7 hours and 25 minutes on a charge. By contrast, the CB35 could go for a respectable 5 hours and 42 minutes or plenty for a full school day of work.

Each of these Chromebooks came with the same operating system that automatically updated itself halfway through my evaluation. They can be wiped clean for a new user in a matter of seconds and flew through Web browsing, using Google’s Chrome software. Their ability to start up and shut down quickly makes them perfect for school use where every teaching minute counts. Samsung outfits its CB 2 systems with a few extra apps, like Little Bridge, which can help bilingual students master the English language.

In the final analysis, these two Chromebooks are the same but different and either would do well in the typical classroom, but I think they each can fulfill a specific role based on they physicality and equipment. Due to its size, price and screen, Samsung’s $250 Chromebook 2 would do better as a student machine while the larger and better equipped $330 Toshiba CB 35 would suit teachers better.

 Either way, they’re both classroom winners.

 

 

Thin is In

Man using HP EliteBook 1020 in the officeHP’s EliteBook Folio 1020 is among the thinnest and lightest systems around and seems custom designed for district executives who need to travel between schools. The base Folio 1020 system uses conventional materials and weighs an impressive 2.7-pounds, but the real gem is the 2.2-pound 1020 SE model, which has a carbon fiber and magnesium-lithium case; it’s 0.6-inches thick. Both systems are powered by the latest Core M processors, solid state storage and have 12.5-inch ultra HD screens, although the SE model doesn’t have a touch-screen option.

Two-Generation Education

Main menuGetting parents involved with a local school is half the battle towards achievement and SunGard’s eSchoolPLUS Family App can bring them into the loop. An adjunct to the company’s K-12 Student Information System, eSchoolPlus Family is free but schools and districts will need SunGard’s Connector software to get the data into the right place. eSchoolPLUS works on iOS or Android phones and tablets, allowing allows parents to view their child’s attendance, grades, schedule and classwork. In fact, everything from the school’s calendar to after-school activities can be made available by clicking on one of several large icons on the main screen. The software costs $2,859 for a district with 2,500 students or $7,708 for 10,000 students.

 

Freebee Friday: Shopping for Photoshop?

Paint netIt may be early for Christmas presents, but if you’re looking for a less expensive replacement for Photoshop, how does free sound? Versions 4.03 of Paint.net is a powerful Windows image editor that can work with layers, has a good variety of plug-ins available and – best of all – unlimited undo history. On the downside, you’ll need to load Microsoft’s .Net Framework for Paint.net to work. There are helpful tutorials and how-to videos available online that can be the basis for several classroom lessons. The software is absolutely free, but feel free to donate to the effort.

The Wired School

01_G8SW_main_3000Schools and district offices may be closed today for Thanksgiving, but when they reopen, the issue of how to distribute data throughout campuses remains an open question. In fact, school networking means more than WiFi and Amped Wireless’s G8SW makes wired connections easier and cheaper. The $40 8-port unmanaged switch can deliver gigabit per second speeds while reducing power demands. There’s also 16-port version for $100 and a $120 8-port switch that has four POE-enabled ports for delivering electricity to LAN devices.

 

Chromecast Plus

Nexus Player aIf you like using Google’s Chromecast to transmit a lesson from a notebook, phone or tablet to the classroom’s projector, you’ll love the company’s $100 Nexus Player. It may cost more than twice as much but can act as a Chromecast receiver, tap into a small but expanding variety of programming channels and includes a handy remote control.

Made by Asus, the Nexus Player is a flat black disc that looks like a big hockey puck. It has a 4.8-inch diameter and is 0.8-inches tall, making it small and light enough to use Velcro tape to attach it to the back of a monitor or stash behind a projector. There’s an LED underneath and the player has HDMI and micro-USB ports as well as a power input for its included AC adapter. In fact, all you’re likely to need to get started is an HDMI cable.

Inside is the equivalent of a mid- to high-range computer or tablet with a 1.8GHz quad-core Atom processor, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of solid-state storage. It uses Google’s Android 5 software, connects to a WiFi network and can work with Bluetooth devices. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have an SD or USB port for playing images or videos.

One of the easiest classroom items to set up, all you do is plug the Player in and connect it to a projector or large-screen display’s HDMI input. At that point, the Player connects to the local WiFi network and performs a software update. On the downside, it only connected intermittently using DHCP auto-IP addressing, so I immediately switched to using a static IP address and it worked fine.

Nexus player bWith no buttons or controls on the Player, you’ll need to use the Player’s minimalist remote control. It has a circular switch as well as buttons to go back, pause-play and return to the Home screen, but lacks a volume control and the keys aren’t backlit for teaching to the light of a projector.

The remote does have a button with the microphone icon that allows the remote to listen to your spoken search terms. It works fairly well, but be careful what you say because the system can misinterpret your commands as things that are simply silly or grossly offensive.

Still, it misses a huge opportunity by not being able to link the wireless microphone to the projector or monitor’s speakers. In essence, with a little extra work, it could have been the basis for a room-wide PA system.

Overall, it takes the Player a few seconds to find and prepare the item you want to show. The video quality is surprisingly good, but there’s the occasional pixilation, stutter and freeze-up, but these might be due to the source material or online slow-downs. In fact, it looked great on a wide-XGA Casio projector and a 32-inch HD TV.

Once everything is set up, the player presents a variety of programming options as icons across the screen. This includes movies, TV shows and games. In fact, there’s a surprisingly nice gaming controller that costs just $40 and includes directional, back and function buttons as well as a pair of control sticks.

Nexus Player with RemoteYou can also use the player to connect with YouTube, Netflix, Hulu Plus and Songza, which pales in comparison to the offerings from similar systems like Roku, Apple TV or Netgear’s NeoTV. There are a lot of classroom-ready documentaries available on everything from the Manhattan Project to a look at worldwide poverty, but the Player lacks the ability to tap into Google Play’s ebooks.

Overall, if what you want is a Chromecast receiver and a way to play YouTube videos, like those from Khan Academy to English Lessons with Alex, the Player is a winner. If you want more, you’ll be disappointed because its programming choices are limited. Ironically, one major hole in its abilities is the Player’s lack of Web browsing, which is an odd deficiency in light of Google’s Chrome software and emphasis on the Internet.

That said, Google has ambitious plans for the Player that include content from a wide variety of sources, including TED and PBS Kids. I hope that this is just the beginning with a great variety of programming on the way. It’s available on the Google Play Store for $100, but includes a $20 gift card for use on the site, making it one of the cheapest ways to replace an expensive computer connected to a projector.

A

Nexus Player Controller Hero

Google Nexus Player

$100

+ Small and easy to set up

+ HD resolution

+ Chromecast receiver

+ Programming channels

+ Remote and game controller

+ Can speak commands

 

- Light on programming

- No volume control on remote

- Can’t connect to Web sites

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