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.
Looking 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 laminate 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.
With 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.
Everybody talks about global warming, but your students can now do something about it. In addition to the lessons about the earth and its climate and a nice game for iPads and Android tablets, Cool The Earth has Action Coupons. There are 90 activities which emphasize the choices we make every day and their effects on the environment. For instance, there’s a coupon that explains how much climate-changing carbon can be kept out of the atmosphere by planting one tree. The effects on the environment are toted up on the site’s board in terms of actions and tons of carbon saved. At the moment there are more than 190,000 students at 516 schools taking part.
Teaching how to properly cite a source and following through with a well-footnoted paper is a skill being lost to the digital era. Still, it’s important and Zotero has it covered with a cool app for Macs, PCs and Chromebooks. Rather than letting your students do the research on their own, Zotero is there with them to collect and organize every source as a paper evolves. All they need to do is click on the file cabinet icon that has been added to the browser window and all the citation's details are saved. It works in Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera Web browsers or on its own. The best part is that it can get rid of duplicate sources. Then, when it’s time to write and cite, the software can create the right citation. Groups can use Zotero for collaborative papers. Just register for a free account, which includes an adequate 300MB of storage space. If that’s not enough, you can get 2GB for $20, 6GB for $60 or unlimited storage for $120 a year.
Forget about having to settle for XGA classroom projectors because Acer has broken the price barrier for HD imaging. The H6517ST is a one-of-a-kind projector that can not only up a large and vibrant 1,920 by 1,080 image, but do it for $800. If you think Acer has cut corners with the H6517ST, you’d be wrong because the projector has wireless built-in, delivers 3,000 lumens of brightness and can deliver a four-foot image only 20-inches from the screen.
Califone’s portable loudspeaker just got better because it is not only 20-percent lighter, but can be connected to three microphones at once, has Bluetooth and near field communications built in. Perfect for everything from the daily school bus line up to making sure that everyone in class can hear the lesson, the PA419-02 has a 30 watt amp and built in speakers. It can connect via USB, SD card or a variety of connection jacks. The basic model costs $1,275, but if you want a pair of wireless microphones it costs $1,653.
When a traditional notebook isn’t flexible enough to take on the variety of classroom tasks at hand, try tearing it apart and putting it back together in different arrangements. This Transformer-like ability is exactly what Dell has done with its Venue 10 Pro 5055, which can assume at least five different computing personas, depending on the situation.
The center of attention is the Venue 10 Pro 5055 tablet and its matching snap-on keyboard, which together blur the line between laptops and tablets. It does best as a tablet, but can also be a notebook, in tent orientation or set up as a presentation machine (with the screen pointing at the user or away towards a small group). It’s possible to fold the keyboard over the back of the system to make a thick tablet, but using the slate system on its own is much more satisfying.
At 0.4- by 10.2- by 6.9-inches, the Venue 5055 tablet is sleek, easy to handle and thinner than the Asus Transformer T100. Although it weighs the same 1.4-pounds as the T100, the Venue 10 Pro feels lighter and its back doesn’t wobble on a tabletop
Unlike other two-piece PCs, such as Lenovo’s Yoga 2 Tablet, the Venue 10 Pro’s keyboard is mechanically connected to the screen. It, however, can be hard to make sure that the slate and keyboard are firmly locked in place. The slate and keyboard together weigh a reasonable 2.5 pounds. As a notebook, it is a reasonable 0.8-inches thick and 7.3-inches deep.
On the downside, the keyboard does without extra ports, an internal battery or the Yoga 2’s ability to be hung on a wall. When it’s set up for notebook use, its hinge not only wobbles when you tap the screen but the whole thing wants to tip over.
The $429 version I looked at came with the keyboard, but I got the optional $35 pressure-sensitive stylus as well. A nice addition to the tablet, it uses an AAAA battery, but there’s no place to stow it. The total cost was $464.
If this is too steep, Dell has less expensive alternatives. There’s also a wide-XGA model that costs $329, but it lacks the keyboard, making it a tough decision to make.
Inside the Venue 10 Pro is an up to date system built around a low-power quad-core Intel Atom Z3735F processor that can run between 1.3- and 1.8GHz. It comes with 2GB of RAM and room for 64GB of storage, of which about 50GB are available for lesson plans, homework assignments and general school business. If you need more room, the system includes 20GB of Dropbox online storage space for a year.
Around the edge, there’s the expected variety of ports, including a micro-USB plug for charging, a full-size USB 2.0 connector for data as well as a micro-HDMI connection and an audio jack for multimedia. While it does without a wired LAN connection, it worked fine with a USB adapter. The system includes 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.
Around its edge, the tablet has controls for adjusting the volume as well as turning the system on and off. Rather than a Windows key at the bottom of the screen, the Venue 10 Pro has it as a button on the side edge, which takes a little effort to get used to it.
The system has multimedia covered with cameras front and back as well as a dual microphone array pointing at the user. Its speakers are aimed out the side of the tablet and deliver surprisingly rich sound. It doesn’t get loud enough for a full classroom activity and you might want to think about adding Dell’s $50 Bluetooth speaker, which has its own 5-watt amplifier.
While this Atom-based system won’t set any performance records, it did acquit itself nicely with a Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0 score of 505.9, roughly what you’d expect and on a par with the T100’s 503.7. Clearly, adding some extra RAM would have enhanced its performance nicely, but this, unfortunately, isn’t an option. Still, it handled everything I threw at it and ran for 8 hours and 25 minutes of video playback over a WiFi network. This translates into a system that can handle schoolwork but, happily, may not need to be charged every night.
Although the system comes with a 1-year warranty, Dell will extend it to 3-years and include accidental damage for $119. A bonus is that in addition to Windows 8.1, the system comes with a year of Office 365.
It all comes down to price and the Venue 10 Pro 5055 package with keyboard and a stylus is not only priced less than a $500 Surface 3 on its own, but is one of the best values in classroom computers today. It is so flexible that having the right teaching tool at hand will be second nature.
$464 with stylus
+ Excellent price
+ Includes snap-on keyboard
+ Optional active stylus
+ HD screen
+ Year of Office 365
+ 5 computing personalities
- No battery or ports in keyboard
- Tips over too easily
The latest LED projector for schools is Acer’s K138T, which not only will never need to have its lamp changed, but puts out an impressive (at least for LEDs) 800 lumens of brightness. It delivers a 1,280 by 800 image and its digital light processing imaging engine uses a six-segment for realistic colors. It can create an 8-foot image from about 5-feet from the screen. Available later this year, it will sell for $1,000.
Can’t afford to get a security surveillance system for watching the school when you can’t? Night Owl’s F9-3212-4DM-2TB model comes with 16 cameras, 2TB of storage space and all the software you’ll need to set up an effective security net throughout a small school. Both the wall and ceiling mounted cams have 0.25-inch video sensors that create 1,280 by 960 resolution streams that have an effective 100-foot range in darkness. It comes with control box that has a built-in 2 terabyte drive for storing videos and it can be motion triggered. At any time, you can look in on any of the cameras or view clips from a smartphone or connected tablet. The best part is its $1.500 price tag, although you’ll have to install it.