New Year New Tech

The start of the year generally means the purchasing of new equipment. The three main pieces of hardware that most schools look at are laptops, iPads and, most recently, Chromebooks. This article goes through the advantages and disadvantages of all three.

Windows Laptops

Strengths:

  • Microsoft Office – Open source and online alternatives still can’t compete
  • Flash – Flash is not dead in primary education despite what tablet people will tell you. Try using Scratch on an iPad.
  • Keyboard – The physical keyboard is not dead yet.
  • IWB compatible – Generally very easy to plug and play into an IWB and projector without any issues
  • Cheap – It’s possible to get a fairly decent refurbished Windows laptop for less than €200
  • Printing – most printers are set up nicely for Windows machines

Weaknesses

  • Videoing – Two problems. There generally isn’t a decent camera on them and they are also too bulky.
  • Battery Life – Battery life on most laptops is improving but not as good as tablets
  • Slowdown – Windows is notorious for slowing down after a while. It always needs a good clean out. Again this is something that’s improving
  • Slow to load – When you turn on a Windows machine, it can take ages to even get started.

Chromebooks

Strengths:

  • Google Apps – Despite what I’ve said above, I think Google Apps are good enough for most pupils in primary schools
  • Flash – Flash generally works on Chromebooks
  • Android Apps – Many Chromebooks can now run Android Apps. This can be very useful.
  • Keyboard – The physical keyboard is not dead yet.
  • Battery Life – Battery life is excellent in general
  • Instant On – Opens up and ready to go in less than a few seconds
  • Always up to date – As Chromebooks run on the Internet, the latest version of Chrome OS is always on.
  • Never Slows Down – As everything is online, the speed is only dependant on how fast the Internet speeds are
  • Accounts – it doesn’t matter what machine you use, once you log in, you have access to everything you’ve ever made.

Weaknesses

  • IWB compatible – Not as easy as a “normal” laptop as most don’t have VGA ports
  • Videoing – No decent camera, too bulky to hold and very poor video editing software. You’d be reliant on what YouTube offers.
  • Decent Internet needed – As Chrome OS pretty much relies on having a good Internet connection, if you’re working in a school that has less than 10Mb Broadband, this isn’t going to work at all.
  • Expensive – They are expensive considering that they don’t do a lot of what a laptop does. They would need to be well under €200 each before being viable to replace laptops.
  • Accounts – for Chromebooks to work well, everyone will need their own username and passwords. This can be a pain especially in younger classes.
  • Printing – depending on your printer, this could be a real pain

iPads (which includes iPods and also there’s a note for Android tablets in there too)

Strengths:

  • Battery Life – Battery life is excellent in general
  • Instant On – Opens up and ready to go in less than a few seconds
  • Videoing – iMovie is probably the only decent piece of affordable software for video editing. (Android note: I’m afraid this does not apply to Android)
  • Apps – If you like apps, Apple has the largest app store in the world.
  • Light – they are very portable and can be carried around

Weaknesses

  • No decent Office program – sure there are online apps and Apple’s own suite, but they aren’t as good as Microsoft Office
  • IWB compatibility – They render your Interactive Whiteboard non-Interactive. If you have projectors rather than full IWB set up, this isn’t a big deal.
  • Flash – Unless you get very “hacky”, Flash does not work on iPads. (For me this was one of their biggest mistakes.)
  • Keyboard – The physical keyboard and the iPad doesn’t come with one. Even if it did, there’s very few apps you’d use with them.
  • Regularly Upgraded – there seems to be a new iPad every 6 months and older iPads become obsolete quite quickly. Older iPads can be lethargic.
  • Expensive – whatever gloss people put on them, they are expensive. Even a refurbished iPad3 is over €300. Expect to pay around €500 each per iPad
  • Incompatibility – Apple have their own ports and their own way of doing things. Plugging into a VGA projector requires an extra gadget, plugging in an SD card requires another add on, you’ll probably also need to buy an Apple Server so the iPads can be synced and you’ll probably need other devices to get around the other problems. All told, these are a royal pain in the backside.
  • Printing – depending on your printer, this could be a real pain

It’s interesting to note that none of the solutions above are perfect by any means and each one has a main advantage over its competitors. I generally believe a mix of devices is the right way to go.

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