Tablet Buyer’s Recommendation 2011

Tablets were slow to catch on in schools. No longer.

A good definition of Disruptive Technology can be summed up as:  “A new technology that changes the current way of approaching a particular problem or issue.”  Using this definition, tablets certainly fit the bill.  From our earliest days of life, we are hard-wired as humans to reach out and touch what we want.  Tablets allow us to touch what we want in cyber-space.  It’s really very natural and logical that they would go gang-busters once the right price and form came together.  Schools are usually late adopters when it comes to technology.  The reasons for this are broad but usually include the reluctance to use tax-payer monies to buy unproven resources.  When the iPad was introduced in 2010, it was still an outlier when it came to edtech.  Now it’s mainstream.  Students and teachers now crave tablets.  Here are the best reasons for tablets in schools:

1. Students/Teachers can view & share wide varieties of content from a tablet.

2. Tablets are virtually instant-on because they use flash memory as opposed to netbooks or notebooks that have to boot up a hard drive.

3. Battery life is excellent in most tablets, allowing them to be used a full school day before needed a re-charge.

4. There is no barrier between collaboration with a tablet.

5. The price is right as Bob Barker….errr Drew Carey would say.

Okay…so enough with the background, here’s my ranking of tablets for a buyer’s guide.  I keep this simple because I think for a tablet to succeed in a school it must have three important things.  It must access to lots of content, be priced right, and be backed by names schools/parents can trust.

#1 Apple iPad2 (16 gig-wifi only version, $499) – Better than 70% of all tablets sold right now are iPad’s.  The form function of Apple devices is always top-notch.  The ability to browse the web on the Safari browser is smooth and with a recent update allowing multiple tabs within Safari, makes it uber-productive.  There are over 500,000 apps (not a typo) in the App Store.  Many of those are made specifically with the iPad in mind including thousands made just for school.  Some that allow students to capture notes, use a graphic calculator, look up famous historical speeches, to yes, playing with great physics games like Angry Birds or Cut the Rope.  Apple is a trusted brand among educators because of their long relationship in schools.  I cut my teeth on Apple IIe, moved onto Macintosh and never looked back as both student and teacher.  The price is the highest among the three I rank.  I think Apple will need to cut it or release a 7″ version at some point too.  A common frustration with many Apple users is that it does not support Flash.  Currenly you need to use an app like Photon Browser if you want to surf a web page that uses Flash.  However, because students/teachers are able to do more with this device than any other tablet, it’s a number 1.  Ohh, and just as a teaser, rumor has it Siri, the popular voice assistant on the new iPhone 4s is making it’s way to iPad2 very soon.

#2 Amazon Kindle Fire (8 gig, wifi only, $199) – Apple has dispensed tablet competitors faster than a champion cage fighter.  HP, Blackberry (RIM), Motorola can make great devices but the prices are so high and content so weak, it was inevitable.  Not with Amazon though.  Similar to Apple, Amazon delivers lots of content.  From eTexts, books, movies, music, and apps they can hang with Apple.  Amazon was also very savvy in that they didn’t try to go head to head with Apple on features.  The Fire lacks the speed of iPad and memory, but makes up for it on price.  At $200, parents will be snatching these bad boys up like the cabbage patch dolls for the kids this holiday season.  Word is that Amazon is actually losing $10 on each device, but because they drive their profit margins on content, they can take on Apple directly when it comes to education dollars.  One feature to be valued is that Fire will support Flash websites.  While Adobe has announced they will no longer build flash mobile products, that doesn’t mean that Flash is going away overnight.  You do lose some functions with the price though.  Whereas iPad sports a very nice front/rear camera, there is no such ability for Fire.  Despite that, Amazon is a trusted name, delivers great content, and has a price point that makes it painless compared to buying iPads.

#3 Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet (16 gig, wifi only, $249) – Last year BN released the Nook Color.  At the time, it seemed a curious launch.  Was it a dedicated e-reader or was it a tablet?  Given the platform of Google Android it was running and it’s slow processing speed, it became clear that it was a very expensive (comparitive) e-reader.  It looks like all the wrongs have been righted with this device.  Though $50 more than the Fire, the Nook doubles the available memory, and sports a dual-core processor that will make surfing websites and multi-tasking for teachers/students smooth.  Similar to Amazon, BN makes it’d dough on content.  They have some of the deepest roots when it comes to online texts.  What they have lacked in the past  is the total infrastructure that Apple and Amazon have.  A new Nook Tablet will come loaded with the same capability to download movies, music, apps, and more that the others have.  Of the three listed, BN has the longest pedigree.  They’ve been in education and publishing since 1873 (founded in Wheaton, IL).  Like the Fire, Nook Tablet will support Flash.  Similar to Apple, BN has many stores that Nook Tablet customers can go to for support.  Because of the brand-awareness, ability to deliver content, and a competitive price BN makes my cut.

Certainly the tablet market is up for more disruption in the coming months and years.  Don’t think for a second that Microsoft is going to take all of this lying down.  At some point, they will have a great tablet running Windows 8 that can run with the big dogs, but for now Apple reigns supreme.  If you are looking for a tablet for school purposes, these would be my recommendations.  Apple is a clear market leader, while Amazon and BN have the system in place to compete now.

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