Battle of the Handhelds: Redux!

November 19, 2011

I think the one post I’ve made which has caused the most feedback and continues to draw in audiences is my post about two devices we were considering for school use back in April, namely the iPod Touch and the Archos 43.

So much has happened since I wrote that blog entry.  First off, we didn’t go with either iPod Touch or Archos.  Like I summed up at the time, the iPod had too many restrictions and the single-touch Archos made it too frustrating to use.

Pick a device already!Samsung Galaxy Tab 7" Wi-Fi

At that point, our ICT Coordinator stumbled across the Samsung Galaxy Tab.  I say stumbled upon, because Apple pretty much had the high street sewn up.  All credit to them (and it’s changing now admittedly), but if you want to buy a tablet on the high street, everyone wants to sell you an iPad.  And why not, they’re great devices (personally I find them a little large and a bit heavy) but there’s no denying Apple created another product the world didn’t know it needed.

Samsung (who incidently make the iPad for Apple) have their own range of tablets, a 7″ wifi, a 7″ 3G and similar in the 10″ range.  They’ve also started on their gen 2 tablets which are even more sleak, though not widely available yet.

We evaluated and then chose the Wi-Fi only, 7″, P1010 model.  It runs Android Froyo, has 16Gb internal memory, front and rear cameras.  It comes preloaded with ThinkFree Office (which allows creating and edit MS documents) along with a host of other apps (some good, some not worth it).

Size does matter

The main difference between the 7″ tablet and the smaller handheld we were looking at before is the size (obviously).  When you’re using the tablet, it feels like it is for work.  You can achieve a lot of the same stuff on the smaller devices, but they lack a feeling of productivity.  With the Samsung, you feel like you’re using a work tool.

We did look again at the iPad and iPod Touch, but the cost of the iPad is too prohibitive to seriously consider (those schools that have gone down the iPad route must have sacrificed something else from their budget).  Ultimately we found iOS too restrictive/problematic in terms of file uploads, Flash (yes I know Adobe have pulled development) and for building our own apps as well as paying for other apps.

Niggles

There are a couple of niggles.  The battery gives you a day if you’re using it.  Given the size of the device, I was surprised, but I suppose powering the much larger screen is the big difference.  The native keyboard makes some truly irritating errors, but Steven Lin has kindly ported the Gingerbread keyboard.  Neither of these are big issues, at least not compared to:

WTF!

The tablet cannot charge from a computer’s USB while turned on!   Wait…what?  That’s like… the point of USB.  We’ve got round this issue by buying these special cables.  It took a couple of hours searching the internet to even find out what the problem was.  It turns out to be a voltage issue.  These cables contain a switch and resistor which gets round that.

Still, these are all niggles and while many would point out that you shouldn’t have to deal with niggles, life always proves otherwise.

Order ready

We ordered the tablets about a month ago (with parental contributions) and they are due to arrive within the next two weeks.  All the preparations have been done (fingers crossed).  We have a comprehensive mobile version of our VLE, a really cool instruction booklet to be given out with the devices and we’ve put together a number of school-specific apps:

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I do hope that we’ll make some of these available on the Android Market.  They are all built in Adobe AIR, which has made the creation of Apps so much simpler.  I think we will eventually move away from AIR, but for right now, it just works.

In conclusion

Have we chosen the right device?  I think so.  The size is right.  The functionality is right.   The price is right ~£300 (including insurance).  I’ll admit my heart sank a little when Amazon announced the $199 Kindle Fire – but it’s not out in the UK yet.  And not in the quantities we need.  And can we even run our own apps on it? Maybe next year, if this year is successful.

The battle may have been won, but something tells me the war has just begun.


iPad

July 18, 2010

It’s Sunday morning and I’m sitting here with an iPad.  It’s not mine, Cramlington decided we should get one as let’s face it, the buzz surrounding them could mean they become the next big thing in education.Apple's iPadGetting a chance to play with it this weekend has been “interesting”.   I’m not sure where it fits into my ICT use.   If I want to check out my favourite websites, my mobile phone (an HTC Desire – Android smartphone)  can view those sites easily.   The size and weight of the iPad makes it uncomfortable to hold and operate.  And if I want to do more complex tasks, my laptop takes care of those. 

Ultimately for me, the biggest issue with the iPad is the limitations of the browser.   The lack of a Flash player aside, I found plenty of other websites it just didn’t handle particularly well.  I had planned to write this post on the iPad this morning; in much the same way as I used my phone to post on one occasion.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to using iPad’s Safari.   The software was so limited it could not interact with the non-standard text box.*

At this point, I suddenly realised what the iPad is.   It’s an App-using tool, not a mini-laptop.  Rather than using the preinstalled programs if I want to accomplish something, “there’s an App for that”.    In fairness, that’s not much different from the PC experience.

Like netbooks before it, it’s very easy to expect a higher capability than the device can deliver.  Is it my fault or Apple’s that I made this assumption?  Given the price tag (£365 + VAT for the cheapest option) I think it’s a little of both.  

My conclusion then?  That will have to wait until I’ve installed some Apps.  Given that other school staff desperate to get their hands on it, my conclusion might be some time.   So for now, I’ll leave you with this thought:   What good is a browser that cannot view Flash?  Especially that 90% of educational resources are made using Flash.


* If I had wanted I could have installed the WordPress App and written the blog that way.  I haven’t, because it’s a shared resource and in order to install Apps, you have to register with Apple.  I’ll do that Monday with the school’s credit card.


Nintendo Wii

June 30, 2010

Have you thought about getting a Wii for your classroom?

Nintendo Wii

I know one the face of it it may seem daft, but think about it;   Nintendo Wii’s come with a web browser, are easy to connect to the internet and can play flash files.

For £140, they are about a third of the price of a desktop or laptop computer, have a wireless controller and there are dozens of websites out there offering flash games designed to be played on a Wii.

Also, the Wii-motes are cheap wireless, gyro-mice.  A gyromouse is a great way to move away fro mthe whiteboard and teach from any where in the classroom, they can be used in mid-air or on a table like a normal mouse, but they cost £80 each!  The Wii-mote can be connected to your PC via bluetooth and operate in exactly the same way.  They  only cost £35 and your kids already know how to use them.

One final thought, one of our Modern Foreign Languages teachers buy Spanish games when she’s on holiday.  They are the same games as can be bought in this country, but in Spanish.  During lessons her students get the chance to play these games, but have to translate as they go along.  That’s a clever bit of immersion.