HWRHS has wireless, but which device makes sense for my child?

Today I had a conversation with a parent about selection of a device their child could use at HWRHS to get connected and to take advantage of our wireless network.  Since we do not supply devices to our students, we are considered to be a bring your own technology (BYOT) environment.

I thought I would  comment on a few devices that I have been able to trial over the past 4-5 months.  The gadgets I have tried include: iPad 2, Kindle Fire HD, Nook Color, Nook Simple Touch, Nexus 7, and the Galaxy 10.1 Note.  Please note that my comments below are brief in an attempt to help you as you wade through the ever growing tech gadget information.  I AM NOT AN EXPERT.

In full disclosure, I prefer and use Android-based devices (Samsung S4 Smartphone, Samsung 10.1 Note Tablet) because I rely on the full suite of Google tools available for productivity and collaboration.  Also, I want to be clear that there is no requirement for any device at HWRHS.

The first thing I can immediately state is that these devices are very different. Before you make the big purchase, you must take the time think about everything that you may need to do with the device before making the purchase. For most people, price will be one of the primary deciding factors, but smooth and simple functionality should follow as a close second.  Most of the advanced eReaders are still primarily readers and basic portable media-centers. Here is a brief commentary about the some device possibilities:

Nook  – A Barnes & Noble product with a family of four devices, strong color and clarity.  The app selection is limited.  They use the android operating system. My experience with the NOOK HD is that the web browser is reasonable but there is a significant delayed response when typing on the virtual keyboard. Generally , this is an advanced eReader with some capacity for efficiency but limited for word processing, and spreadsheets. I wouldn’t suggest using one if you need to function fully in a school BYOT environment.  The NOOK Simple Touch is a great, simple eReader. I carry one most places I go because it can be easily tucked away, gives me access to hundreds of books to read and has a battery that lasts for weeks on a charge.

Kindle  – A three product line by Amazon.  The devices tend to be overly proprietary.  All models use the android operating system.  I would describe this tablet as a high quality, portable media-center for books and videos with a limited number of apps.  I tried to load different competitor apps and found it to be next to impossible.  It does have a beautiful color screen.  I watched parts of the movie Iron Man 2 and enjoyed the personal movie experience.  The browser was slow and limited.  A bigger concern is the number of ads that are built in.  As with the Nooks, I don’t believe the Kindles have the capacity to have all the functionality you need in a BYOT school environment.

iPad  – What can I say? The iPad is an Apple product that has caught on in schools all around us.  The devices  have more apps than you can ever need, full functionality and capacity to do all of the things necessary in a school BYOT environment.  It is a great tablet for school use.  One advantage is the front and back cameras.  Video and photo editing and the ability to integrate the content are made simple.  I can take notes, easily surf the web and add tons of useful apps.  If you are an iPhone user, you will have an easy time with app integration so no matter which device you have with you, you can make it all work together. The limitation for me was the inability to use my Google based apps well.  Since I am a big Google user, I rely on this functionality  I enjoyed using the iPad 2 and feel that it is an excellent device for a school BYOT environment.  In fact, it is a solid all around performer. The iPad with retina display is now out.  Price may be prohibitive for HS students at $399.00 to over $800.00, depending on the model.  The iPad Mini is also available starting at $329.00.

Nexus – As I stated above, I am a Google user.  I love the Google products and use them extensively.  The integration of the Chrome Browser is a huge bonus as all of your apps and devices easily stay in sync in the cloud, not matter where you are.  The Nexus is a Google product, designed to run the Google suite of apps well.  I had 85 percent of my full functionality and productivity when I used the first generation 7 inch Nexus.  The Google Play store boasts tons of useful apps.  The screen is clear and clean and I have had no problem running my day with the Nexus by my side.  The Android platform also makes it easy to integrate your Nexus with an Android based smartphone.  For me, this is important because sometimes I have one or the other device with me.   There is also a 10 inch Nexus as well.  When I bought my first generation NEXUS 7, rice was my draw at $199.00.  The latest Nexus 7 starts at 229.00 with some excellent enhancements including front a back facing cameras which was not available on the original model.

During my short journey with these devices, I have learned one important thing, technology changes so quickly that many of these devices were considered “old” in a matter of six months.  For example, the iPad 3, 4 and mini came out within  months of my putting an iPad 2 in my hands. Be sure about your purchase.

As I stated above, it is imperative to take the time to think about the ways you would use these devices before you make a purchase.  Spend a half day at the local mall to try them out.  Ask friends and think, really think about what you want to accomplish with the device.  If you like movies, videos, to read and to check email once in awhile, go for an advanced eReader.  If you want to be able to word process, create spreadsheets, presentations and use multiple apps, go for the iPad or Nexus.

There are many other options that I have not been able to try out on the market including the Microsoft Surface and the hybrid, cloud-based Chromebooks.  Each boasts positives and negatives, but you must take the time to think deeply about how you will use the device in order to be happy and fully functional in this ever changing age of information overload.  The most recent CES conference had a large number of new tablets coming to the market and the speed at which the devices are coming to the market only seems to be increasing.

I would be that a large number of our students at HWRHS already have Smartphones and use those devices well in the educational setting, so they may already have just what they need.  They can access email, music, video, photo, twitter and other web-based options with ease.  Although the screen size is small, they seem to handle it just fine!

All in all, my journey with gadgets and devices seems to continue on in perpetuity.  The speed of information and changes in technology continues on and on.  I hate to end this way but, looking long-term, a laptop can’t be beat as a good all around device if you can afford it. Price and software will  become an issue, but you will have full functionality at all times and many colleges require the purchase of one.  Several recent college visits with my own daughter opened my eyes to the fact that a laptop is king in college.

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