Thursday, April 30, 2015

Asus Transformer Pad (TF103CE) GPFE Tablet Review


I have been using the new Asus TF103CE Google Play for Education (GPFE) tablet for a week now. This is one of the new tablets that was announced for the GPFE program about a month ago and is the refresh to the Asus TF103C tablet.  How does it compare to the other GPFE tablets?


Specs:

-  Intel Atom Z3745 Quad-Core, 1.33 GHz, up to 1.86 GHz, 64bit
-  10.1" IPS display with a 1280x800 resolution
-  2GB RAM
-  16GB of Storage
-  1x Micro USB, 1x Micro HDMI, 1x Micro SD supporting up to 64GB of storage.
-  0.3 MP Front Camera, 2 MP Rear Camera
-  Stereo speakers
-  Wireless 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
-  19Whr Battery for 9.5 hours of use
-  Includes Keyboard dock with 1x USB 2.0
-  Height: .39" (.78" with dock) x Width: 10.14" x Depth: 7.02"
-  Weight: 1.21lbs (2.42 lbs with dock)
-  Runs Android 5.0 (Lollipop)


Overall Build Quality:

The design and specs of the Asus TF103CE is pretty much a mirror image of it's predecessor, except it now has an extra gig of RAM and runs Android 5.0.  The backs of both the tablet and keyboard dock are encased in a smooth black matte plastic that gives a good look to the tablet.  There is a plastic gunmetal gray trim with a brushed metal texture that goes around the sides of the tablet.  That same textured plastic also covers the top of the keyboard dock.  Even though the entire casing is plastic, it still feels pretty solid.




On the back of the tablet are speakers on the left and right sides of it.  Where it would have been nice to have front facing speakers, they are still loud and give off a good sound for a tablet in this price range.


Processor/Speed:

The Asus TF103CE uses the same quad-core Intel Atom Z3745 Bay Trail processor as it's predecessor, but now has 2GB of RAM in it instead of 1GB.  This processor works really well in the tablet with the extra RAM.  It may not give the best performance for higher end gaming, but that is not what this tablet is intended for.  You should have no performance issues using it in the classroom.  In my usage of the tablet, I did not notice any slowness with it for email, web browsing, watching videos and using other various apps.  In running the Antutu benchmark on the tablet, it scored a 37474, which is not bad for a tablet in this price range.  In comparison to some other tablets, the Nexus 7 (2013) scored a 28294 and the Nexus 9 scored a 55409 when I ran the benchmark on them.




Screen:

The Asus TF103CE still uses a 10.1" IPS panel with a 1280x800 resolution.  Where a higher resolution screen is always preferred, the screen is not horrible to look at and is definitely acceptable for school use.  Due to the resolution, smaller text can look slightly fuzzy when holding the tablet closer to you. If the tablet is kept a few feet back, like when using it with the keyboard dock, it is not as noticeable.  Since it is an IPS screen, it has very good viewing angles and can get very bright when adjusting it to full brightness.  In most cases, you will probably only need to have the brightness at around 25% or less when using it indoors. 


Keyboard/Trackpad:

With the Asus TF103CE, the keyboard dock is included and there is no option to purchase just the tablet like you could with the TF103C.  
Having the keyboard dock included with this tablet does makes it easily compatible for state testing and is useful for a number of productivity apps.

The keyboard dock is reminiscent to a netbook and has a USB 2.0 port on the left side of it.  It is the same design Asus has used for pretty much every Transformer Pad over the last three years.  For being a tablet keyboard though, it is one of the better ones I have used.  There are a number of unique keys on the keyboard that are catered to the Android experience.  For example, there are keys to quickly take screenshots or navigate through the Android OS without having to touch any on-screen buttons.




These keys are nice to have, but I would have rather seen a keyboard layout similar to the Nexus 9 keyboard cover instead.  If Asus would have done that on the keyboard dock, the more important keys could have possibly been closer to a full size keyboard experience.  




There is also a trackpad on the keyboard dock to help navigate without the need of touching the screen.  Some people may like this, but I found myself still preferring to use the screen instead.  Moving a finger on the trackpad was not bad, but double finger swipes were not always the most responsive when scrolling through websites.  In addition, pressing down on the trackpad to click on items was very loud.  I think Asus could have done without the trackpad and used that space to expand the size of the keyboard layout.


Power Adapter:

The power adapter for the Asus TF103C is a small block with the typical 3ft USB to Micro USB cable.  I would have liked it to come with a longer cable, but at least they are inexpensive to purchase if needed.






Battery Life:

The Asus TF103CE has a 19WHr battery that is supposed to give it 9.5 hours of use.  In my Nyan Cat test to gauge the battery under a heavier use situation, I found the Asus TF103CE to get 5 hours and 44 minutes on a full charge with the screen at full brightness.  In that test, 80% of the battery use during that time was from the screen and 8% from the YouTube app.  You will likely be able to keep the brightness of this tablet at around 25% or less, which will greatly improve the battery life.  From my usage of the tablet, I think you should get around 8.25 to 8.5 hours with standard classroom use and the screen being dimmed.

Camera:

The Asus TF103CE has a 0.3MP front camera and a 2MP rear camera that does not have a flash with it.  The cameras are nothing spectacular, but that is pretty typical with tablets in this price range.  As long as there is decent lighting, they will work well enough for students and staff to use with Hangouts and take basic photos or videos with for assignments.  The rear camera also works well with apps such as Aurasma, Plickers and QR Droid.  Below is a picture taken from the rear camera.




Android Interface:

The Asus TF103CE comes with Android 5.0 right out of the box.  The great news is that it is actually stock Android with no trace of the Asus ZenUI that is on the consumer based version of the tablet.  That should hopefully allow for faster Android updates to arrive on it down the road.






Conclusion:

Even though the Asus TF103CE is only a minor update to it's predecessor, it is still a solid addition to the GPFE line of tablets.  If you are needing a 10" GPFE tablet for student or staff use, then this is definitely one to consider for purchasing.  The price point is very reasonable for a 10" Android tablet that includes a keyboard dock and is compatible with state testing.  However, it does put it above the cost of most Chromebooks that schools will also be looking at this summer.  If the bigger screen size and keyboard are not necessary for your deployment, then you may want to consider the Nexus 7 or the new Asus MeMO Pad 7 instead.  Those GPFE tablets are about $130-$180 cheaper then the Asus TF103CE.


The Asus TF103CE starts at $329 with discounted pricing available on bulk purchases.  Like with Chromebooks, there is also a one-time $30 management fee for GPFE tablets.










Google News Roundup for Thursday, April 30, 2015

Here is the Google News Roundup for Thursday, April 30, 2015:

Google releases Android 5.1.1 factory images for 2012 and 2013 Wi-Fi Nexus 7s, Nexus 10
- Android Central

Google To Test Mobile-Optimized Web Pages In Indonesia
- TechCrunch

Google+’s Pinterest-like Collections rolling out to Android
- Android Community

New Google Now card tells you when there’s a price drop
- Android Community

New Google voice commands enable better interaction with your apps
- Android Central

Scheduling tasks intelligently for optimized performance
- Chromium Blog

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mirroring Android and Chrome Devices with Reflector 2

If you are not familiar with Reflector, it is a software solution created by Squirrels that originally allowed you to wirelessly mirror iOS devices to a PC or Mac instead of needing an Apple TV.  With the release of Reflector 2 last week, it now also supports Google Cast.  So any compatible Android device, or Chrome device with the Google Cast extension installed, can now wirelessly mirror to Reflector 2 like they could with a Chromecast.


Features


Reflector 2 provides a few unique features that are not available with a Chromecast.  Some of those features include:

- The ability to mirror multiple devices to Reflector 2 at the same time.  It can be a mix of Android, Chrome or iOS devices.  This could be nice feature for students to mirror their screen while the teacher continues to mirror their own.


- You can record what you are mirroring with voice over from your PC or Mac's microphone.  You can also record multiple devices at the same time and in the same recording.  It is not available yet, but soon you will be able to add your webcam to the recordings and stream directly to YouTube.

- Reflector 2 has the ability to show a device frame around what you are mirroring.  For Android devices, it is only limited to a basic black and white Galaxy tablet or Nexus phone frame.  You can also choose to have this frame displayed while recording if you wish.


- With "Prompt to Approve" enabled in the general settings of Reflector 2, you can control when other people can mirror their device to the software.  You will not have to worry about students automatically mirroring their devices to Reflector 2 while you are.



Technical Specs and Installation

The technical specs for Reflector 2 can be found here.  These specs are pretty vague, so I highly recommend taking full advantage of the 7-day free trial first.  Take that time to make sure it will work adequately on all of the PC or Mac devices you want it installed on before purchasing licenses for your school district.  Instructions on how to install and use Reflector 2 can be found here

My Experiences with Reflector 2

Before I began testing out Reflector 2 with various devices, I mirrored them to a Chromecast or Apple TV that was on the same network first.  All of the devices mirrored to the Chromecast or Apple TV worked great on this network with no delays or other mirroring issues.

I decided to quickly try an iOS device before diving into the Android and Chrome devices.  Using an iPad Mini 2 with Reflector 2 was pretty flawless.  I did not notice any delays or issues with mirroring.  I am not surprised since Squirrels has had AirPlay mirroring nailed down from past versions of Reflector.

I tested the following Android and Chrome devices with Reflector 2:
  • Asus Transformer Pad 10 GPFE Tablet (TF103CE)
  • Moto X (2014)
  • Galaxy Note 8.0
  • New Dell Chromebook 11
  • Nexus 7 (2013)
  • Nexus 9
  • Nexus 10

When mirroring the New Dell Chromebook 11 to Reflector 2, it went very well.  I did not notice a delay with it as I went to different web sites and navigated through them.  Even when going to web sites that had audio and video, there was no delay in the mirroring of that content.  The picture quality stayed steady during the whole time I mirrored the Chromebook.



I had a different experience when using the Android devices though.  That is actually why I tried a variety of different ones.  Every Android device I tested had a slight delay of about 1 to 2 seconds from what I was actually doing on the device itself.  It did not matter if I was just navigating through the Android device or using apps such as Chrome, Explain Everything and Papyrus.  When watching a video, it had the same delays, but anyone watching the mirrored display would not notice it.  I also had the same results regardless of using the Mac or PC version of Reflector 2.  That delay may not be a big issue for some people, but it could be distracting to a teacher in the classroom that is teaching a lesson from their Android device.  Everything else seemed to work well with mirroring the Android devices.

Conclusion

I am really excited about Reflector 2.  Knowing the track record of Reflector, I am sure Squirrels will get the delays I encountered with the Android devices worked out in a future update as they have in the past with the iOS devices.  If you want to mirror what you are doing on an Android or iOS device during a live web session, like a Google Hangout, then Reflector 2 is definitely worth the purchase right now.  It can also be handy if you do a lot of presentations and trainings at conferences or other venues.  Until we see some updates in regards to Android device mirroring, you may still want to stick with a Chromecast for daily classroom use.

Reflector is available for the PC and Mac starting at $15 per version.  Discount pricing is available on bulk purchases or if you are upgrading from a previous version of Reflector.  Information on discounted pricing can be found here.


   

Google News Roundup for Thursday, April 23, 2015

Here is the Google News Roundup for Thursday, April 23, 2015:

A cheat sheet to Project Fi, Google's mobile phone service
- Engadget

Acer's new $199 Chromebook is a Celeron-powered 15-incher
- Android Central

Acer's new Iconia 8 brings Intel's Atom to the U.S. this summer for $149
- Android Central

Beta channel for Chrome OS bumped to version 43
- 9to5Google

Cheaper bandwidth or bust: How Google saved YouTube
- Ars Technica

Google announces Q1 2015 earnings: $17.3 billion revenue, $3.6 billion net income
- 9to5Google

Google Keep: Take notes on the go
- Official Android Blog

Google offers virtual tour of prison where Nelson Mandela was held
- Mashable

Google says it has seen a ‘decline in Nexus’ during recent months
- 9to5Google

LG Watch Urbane is coming to Google Play in 13 countries before May
- Phandroid

Send directions to your Android phone right from a Google desktop search
- Android Central



Thursday, April 16, 2015

Lenovo N21 Chromebook Review


I have a Lenovo N21 Chromebook (4GB model) that I have been trying out for a couple weeks. This is another one of the new Chromebooks that I think will be very popular for school purchases over the summer.  How does it stand up to the new Dell Chromebook 11 that I reviewed a few weeks ago?


Specs:

-  Intel N2840 (Bay Trail) processor
-  An 11.6" anti-glare TN Panel with a 1366x768 resolution
-  2GB or 4GB of RAM
-  16GB SSD
-  1x HDMI, 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, 2-in-1 card reader (SD/MMC)
-  Rotatable 720p HD Camera with Integrated Microphone
-  Dual-channel High-Definition integrated audio
-  Wireless 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0
-  Height: .88" x Width: 11.8" x Depth: 8.5" and weighs 2.8lbs
-  3-cell Battery (36 Wh) for 8 to 9.5 hours of use


Overall Build Quality:

I feel the Lenovo N21 is not as professional looking as the new Dell Chromebook 11, or other Lenovo Chromebooks, but I still like the design of it.  It is a very solid device that is based off of the Intel reference design.  This design is rugged, but not to the MIL-STD (U.S. Military Standard) of the new Dell Chromebook 11 or Lenovo 11e.  It is encased in a slightly textured black matte plastic instead of the white used on the CTL NL6 Education Chromebook, which uses the same reference design.  That change will allow the Lenovo N21 to not get as dirty looking over time.  The Lenovo N21 has a stronger frame around the screen, sides and corners to handle drops from about 2.3 feet.  The plastic casing that covers the frame could still possibly become chipped or cracked in the event of a drop. There are dual speakers on the sides of the Lenovo N21 that are pretty good for the price point.  The hinges are reinforced and go back 160 degrees.  It is not the full 180 degrees that the new Dell Chromebook 11 provides, but it still helps prevent students from possibly damaging them.


Processor/Speed:

The Lenovo N21 uses an Intel N2840 like the new Dell Chromebook 11.  It is part of the Bay Trail line of processors, which are not as fast as Intel's Haswell or new Broadwell options.  As I mentioned in my last review, the Intel N2840 still works well in a Chromebook for what students usually use one for in the classroom.  The Bay Trail processor also allows for a longer battery life and fanless design, which is great in a school setting.  For those who like to see Octane scores, the Lenovo N21 Chromebook with 4GB of RAM scored an 8236 when I ran it.


Screen:

The screen is a typical 11.6" matte TN panel with a 1366x768 resolution that you find in most Chromebooks in this price range.  The quality is acceptable for student use, but they do not have great viewing angles.  In an education setting, it is nice to have these screens in student devices though as they are usually cheaper to replace if broken.


Keyboard/Trackpad:

The Lenovo N21 has a water resistant keyboard and sealed trackpad to help against spills.  The keyboard is also peel resistant to help prevent students from removing keys.  They could still be peeled off, but a student will likely have to intentionally wedge something under a key to do it. Typing on the keyboard felt good and I had no issues using it.  When using the trackpad, I liked the size of it and found it to be a little smoother then the one on the new Dell Chromebook 11.




Power Adapter:

The power adapter for the Lenovo N21 is your typical brick design. The connector that plugs into the Chromebook is unfortunately not like other Lenovo models I have seen.  Similar to a number of Chromebook models, it uses a thinner connector that could bend or break easier under student use.




Battery Life:

The Lenovo N21 has a 3-cell Battery (36 WHr), which is smaller then the new Dell Chromebook 11.  That is a little disappointing since it takes some of the benefits of the Bay Trail processor away from the end user.  There is also conflicting reports as to how much battery life the Lenovo N21 is supposed to provide.  According to it's web page, the Lenovo N21 is supposed to give 9.5 hours.  A sticker on the device itself only says 8 hours.




In my Nyan Cat test to gauge the battery under a heavier use situation, I found the Lenovo N21 to get exactly 8 hours on a full charge with the screen at a 75% brightness.  That was 50 minutes less then the new Dell Chromebook 11. From this test, and my own usage experience, I think you should get around 8.5 hours with standard classroom use and the screen being dimmed.

Lenovo also points out that the battery is easily removable by school IT departments.  I decided to open it up and see.  The battery is indeed removable, but I did not find it much different then other Chromebook models I have opened.


  

Rotatable Camera:

This is a feature that has only been on Chromebook models using Intel's reference design.  I love that students can rotate the camera to capture images, video or easily scan QR codes with the ScanQR app.



However, I am concerned of possible damages that could occur to it.  The camera was slightly stiff to rotate initially and loosened up as I was testing it.  There is no guide on the camera to remind students on which way they are supposed to turn it.  If a student would quickly rotate it too far, or in the wrong direction, it could possibly break.  Given how it is designed, I also wonder how well it will hold up in the long term after repeated usage.

I would really like to see an OEM put a rear camera on the lid of a Chromebook instead of a rotatable one.  If we can have rear cameras in bargain level tablets, why not have one in an educational Chromebook where they can be very beneficial in the classroom?  Especially as we start to see more Android apps being ported over to Chrome OS.


Retractable Handle

The Lenovo N21 has a retractable handle on it.  This is a really nice feature when students are taking the device out of a cart and taking it back to their desk.  However, I would probably not use this feature as a substitute to carry cases in a 1:1 environment where students take devices home.




Conclusion:

I am glad to see that Lenovo has finally made an educational Chromebook that is more affordable for schools.  Overall, I think the Lenovo N21 is another strong choice for schools that are looking to purchase Chromebooks.  It has a couple unique features that the new Dell Chromebook 11 does not have and comes in around $30 less.  At the same time, it is missing some key features that I really like on the new Dell Chromebook 11 such as the 180 degree hinges, stronger power connector, rubber trim and longer battery.

So is the Lenovo N21 or the new Dell Chromebook 11 a better choice for schools?  I do not feel there is a clear answer on that.  They are both very good devices that have their trade-offs.  The decision really comes down to which device specific features are more important to you in your environment and the budget you have to work with.  

The Lenovo N21 Chromebook starts at $219 for the 2GB model and $239 for the 4GB model.  Discounted pricing is available on bulk purchases. 













Google News Roundup for Thursday, April 16, 2015

Here is the Google News Roundup for Thursday, April 16, 2015:

Adobe promises to launch more apps for Android devices starting this summer
- Android Central

Chrome 43 Beta: Web MIDI and upgrading legacy sites to HTTPS
- Chromium Blog

Chrome for iOS adds 1Password & LastPass extension support, new widget with voice search, more
-9to5Mac

Google Drive Android app is about to make sharing files easier
- 9to5Google

Google introduces 'Works with Google Cardboard' certification
- Android Central

Google's Android search now pulls content from apps you haven't installed
- Engadget

Google’s ‘Field Trip’ app updated with Android Wear support
- 9to5Google




Thursday, April 9, 2015

Android Tablets as an Interactive Whiteboard Alternative

A traditional interactive whiteboard can be very expensive and you have to stay at the front of the classroom to use it.  In a 1:1 environment, being at the front of the classroom is not always the ideal location since it is harder to see if students are staying on task with their devices.  What if there was a cheaper alternative to achieve the benefits of an interactive whiteboard and allow you to be more mobile in the classroom?  As long as you have adequate wireless network access, having an Android tablet will allow you to do what you would likely use an interactive whiteboard for and open the door to many other possibilities in the classroom.  Here are two ways to utilize an Android tablet for this purpose.


Mirroring your Android tablet with a Chromecast

With a Chromecast, you can mirror your Android tablet in the classroom.  A full list of compatible Android tablets and instructions on how to mirror them can be found here.  Instructions on setting up the Chromecast can be found here.  There are also a few things to be aware of when setting up the Chromecast in a school environment:
  • The Chromecast requires a HDMI input.  If your projector does not have one, you can use a HDMI-to-VGA adapter such as this.
  • The Chromecast only supports 2.4 GHz wireless networks.  So make sure it is not on a wireless network that is 5 GHz only.
  • Client isolation will need to be disabled on the wireless network so that your Chromecast and Android tablet can communicate with each other.
  • There is no password or PIN ability to lock down the Chromecast to prevent other people from mirroring to it while you are.  Depending on how you want the Chromecast to be used, you may want to put it and the Android tablet on a separate wireless network from what students are on.
  • If you are still having issues with the Chromecast, make sure your school filter is not possibly blocking some Google servers that you are not aware of.
Once you have your Chromecast working in your classroom, the possibilities are endless in the amount of content you are able to mirror from your Android tablet to it.  Below are some apps that I recommended trying in this environment.  These apps will work great at any grade level.

Google

Chrome, ClassroomDrive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Play Books and YouTube

Annotating / Interactive Whiteboard

Explain Everything, PapyrusRubeSkitch, and Xodo PDF Reader and Annotator

Assessment

NearpodPlickers, and Socrative Teacher


Controlling your classroom PC or Mac with your Android tablet

By using an app called Splashtop, you can remotely control your PC or Mac from your Android tablet.  This will allow you to still use your PC or Mac, and all existing software on it, while being mobile in your classroom.  If you do not have interactive whiteboard software already available, you can also download Open-Sankore, which is free.

Alternatively, you can use the Chrome Remote Desktop app to do this instead of Splashtop.  As of right now, it doesn't have some features that Splashtop has like being able to tap on the tablet and have the cursor jump to that location.

So that is a look at how you can use Android tablets as an interactive whiteboard alternative.  It is a great solution to look into if you are thinking about buying or replacing interactive whiteboards in the classroom.











Google News Roundup for April 9, 2015

Here is the Google News Roundup for Thursday, April 9, 2015:

Google App update adds Nicknames, Thrusted Voice
- Android Community

Google’s free photo editing app Snapseed 2.0 gets lens blur, layers, new UI, more
- 9to5Google

Google’s Online Art Museum Adds 3D Scans
- TechCrunch

Report claims Google nearing Android Wear for iOS release, shows off FaceTime notification on LG Watch
- 9to5Google

Teaching students anytime, anywhere: Google Play for Education and classroom-ready Android tablets come to Canada
- Google for Education Blog

The first-ever Chrome Live: Coming to a screen near you on April 22nd
- Official Google for Work Blog