Archive for the Category ◊ Hardware ◊

My Week with the Nexus 7
Sunday, July 29th, 2012 | Author:

I have had the Google Nexus 7 tablet for about 10 days now and I thought I should probably share what I think about it. Firstly, I am not really a gadget person. Actually I  am, but I am not the person that buys the gadget on the first day of release and then must have the latest update the following year. I have a set selection of gadgets and they do a job. I don’t like spending money on stuff unless I need to. In fact, I only bought an Xbox last October. That’s how late I was to the party. So I don’t personally own a tablet as I haven’t seen a need for one. At home I have a PC (as does Charlie) and that is for work mainly. We also have a netbook but that spends 99% of the time connected to the TV rather than being using in any constructive fashion. Charlie bought it for use when she was at her previous school and the children didn’t have laptops in class, so she bought a netbook for them to use. I have always thought that I am happy with my distinction that my PC is for work and that is done upstairs in the study, the last thing I want is a tablet to work on while sitting on the sofa. Sofa time is spent relaxing (or playing on my phone). All in all, I don’t fancy getting a tablet.

So why am I writing about the Nexus? Well I’m borrowing it from school. We have a range of netbooks at school and these are great (from off to desktop in 4-5minutes) we use them for research of course, but also office stuff, google apps, blogging, scratch, photo editing and so on. They do everything we need them to. But a post from Pete Richardson (@primarypete_) got me thinking about tablets. I hadn’t thought much about them before for a few reasons:

Cost – We were in the third year of our three year leasing scheme so I knew we didn’t have much money to spend. There would be some if we wanted or needed to, but equipment wasn’t really on the horizon.

Apps – It’s all about the apps. Apps are great, but they require a different approach. Different can be good, of course it can, but in the space of two years we have tried to launch netbooks, blogging, Google Apps, Purple Mash, Brainpop, new ICT planning and many other things. Some have worked a little bit here and there but the thought of giving staff new devices with loads of new tools on them just frightened me. I’m all for innovation, but in our school we weren’t there yet.

I think the last bit is key. I was looking at this from the point of view of me, the staff, the children and the school. Not everyone does this. While at the Hampshire ICT conference, I had conversations with 5 different schools that were looking at iPads/iPod touches and all asked for my view on them. Should they buy them? I asked them all one simple question – “What do you want to do with them?” and the answers varied from “I’m not sure” to “the head saw them and thought they looked good”. This is worrying isn’t it? There are many great things happening with tablets but it scares me that many people will buy these devices and not know what to do with them. I went to a school a year ago, it had 30 iPod touches and many, many other devices around the school too. I suggested looking at the apps available for the iPods and the teacher looked shocked as she thought iPods were just for music…..

Anyway. Back to our school and our thoughts. I wrote back in May about our first tablet, the Playbook. We bought one to play with and it gradually made it’s way around the school from class to class. Some loved it and used it to blog photos (such as Reception www.stjohnsblogs.co.uk/reception) and some used it as a tool to go on the internet with. What the Playbook offered was a way of ding what we were already doing (taking photos and blogging them) but in a much quicker fashion. I was happy to go ahead and order more of these until the Nexus was announced. I spoke to the head, bought one and it arrived just before we broke up for school. My plan is still to try a few different devices, put them in the hands of children and staff and see what they think. Then hopefully, find some money to buy some. I still haven’t been able to afford an iPad or find a company willing to let me try one for a month, so that’s not been considered.

So…as the blog post suggests…what do I think?

I am definitely an Android user. My last two phones have been Android and I am happy with it. I haven’t used an Apple device for more than about 5 minutes. I once tried to use iTunes and I hated it and I haven’t gone back. When it comes to choosing a phone, Android was always a bit cheaper than an iPhone so that has helped sway me too. I know I should be more open, but I like what Android does so the Nexus feels normal and comfortable straight away.

It is very much a device for showcasing the content that you have bought. When it loads up you are presented with a splashscreen showing the videos and books you have bought through the Play store. The default browser is Chrome and this works nice enough, browsing in fact is very quick indeed. I liked the fact that when I went home, it already knew what my wireless was called (because of the profile on my phone) so it connected it straight away.

As for price, it is £159 (or £120 without VAT for schools) so that is very much in the iPod touch ball-park but with a bigger screen. Hhmmm….

One major flaw though is the lack of Flash. Now I know that many people hate Flash and see it as the devil that is holding back web development, but many sites in school require Flash. My vision is to use the tablets to watch videos, use Purple Mash, explore Busy Things and so on. All of this is being held back by a lack of Flash and the fact that not everything is in HTML5 yet. In fact, after 3-4 hours of exploring workarounds and different browsers, it is only yesterday after 9 days with the Nexus that I have finally got Flash working through a Beta of Firefox. It’s a big hassle. It doesn’t play properly, but it will do.

Another downside to the Nexus is the rubbish camera. There is only a front-facing camera so taking snaps is a complete no-go. The camera is used for Skype etc and that is about it.

Overall the Nexus is a nice enough device but it just feels like a big phone. Typing on it is not quite as quick as my HTC One X but maybe it just takes some getting used to. I do like it, but I don’t think it offers me much more over the devices I already have at home.

I’ve also brought a Playbook home with me for the Summer too. One of them will go with me on holiday but which one?

The Playbook has more storage 32GB vs Nexus with 8GB, but the apps and games on the Nexus are easier to find and as I said, I have an Android phone so they are all synced already. I think for this holiday the Nexus will win, after all, I will take a camera on holiday so I won’t be using the tablet’s camera. I’ll mainly be watching videos on the plane and using it in case I;m bored if it rains and we’re stuck inside.

But what about for school? The Playbook wins by a landslide. It gives children the chance to have a device in their hands for £150 that can browse the internet (with full Flash), take pictures and blog them, use Google Apps, access YouTube and geocache as well. In fact, at the moment, everything we need from a device is available within the Playbook. I will still give the children the chance to play with both devices when we go back but so far they have loved the Playbook and yes, I know that if I gave them an iPod or iPad, they would love this too, but as I said. Cost has to come into these decisions as well.

What devices do you have in your school? Who was involved in the decision?

 

Update: During pre-holiday testing, I tried uploading some .avi files to both devices to watch on the plane. The Nexus didn’t play them at all, said that codecs were incorrect and some Googling says that I might need to convert them first or find other players but the Playbook plays them straight away. Maybe they will both need to go on holiday? Playbook for the films on the plane and Nexus for playing games when I’m sunbathing?

2nd Update (4 weeks later): Both devices went with me on holiday and I didn’t touch the Playbook once. Why? I used the Nexus for two main reasons. One was for the Kindle app, allowing me to read multiple books while relaxing on the beach.  The other was that there were superior games available on the Nexus so that when I had finished reading, I could play those too. Now I have used the Playbook on the train a few times since and this has been to watch films that the Nexus didn’t play. I have to say that I like both devices but for school, the Playbook still wins hands-down. The fact it has Flash, a camera and a blogging app all for (Curry’s special rate of) £129inc vat. It’s a bargain and I can’t wait to take them into school and let the children loose with them.

Having a Play(book)
Tuesday, May 01st, 2012 | Author:

We went to the Kidsmeet event last week and I know I haven’t blogged about that yet, but I was asked many questions throughout the afternoon. Some were about Google Apps, so many in fact that I held an impromptu discussion with 10-15 people about it, but another conversation that came up 3 or 4 times was the use of ipads in the classroom. Now, as many people know, I prefer Android. For no real reason except that I tried iTunes once and it annoyed me, I haven’t gone back.

So these schools were asking me about my opinions on different devices, this could have been because I brought some netbooks to Kidsmeet and they intrigued the teachers. Why hadn’t we gone with iPads? Would we be buying some? In short, no. So why?

I think that many schools are doing amazing things with iPads but for me, I haven’t heard of many schools approaching it in the way that I would, and have. So maybe I’m wrong, maybe I just haven’t seen the blog posts about the choices made, maybe there haven’t been blog posts about why they have used them and not other devices. Lots of schools seem to get iPads because everyone else is doing it. I’ve tried discussing WHY people have gone iPads instead of other devices but no-one seems to be able to answer and very few have tried alternative devices at all.

For me, when we started thinking about devices in school, we thought not about what was out there and what was available, but what we wanted to achieve as a school. There are many decisions made in school that baffle me, the decisions by many to sign-up to a VLE for example, but for me it has always started with…why? Why are we doing this? Why will it make a difference to our teaching and/or learning? And that is exactly where we started with the device conversation.

We have two trollies of netbooks and an ICT suite of 21. The suite is 4/5 years old and aging, it will last another 1-3 years but it is rarely used as you can’t fit a whole class in there, it is upstairs so children can’t used unsupervised and people rarely use it as some computers aren’t working. I fix them, but give it a few weeks and they restart randomly again. Not worth buying new bits for them really. So we talked about replacing them. But with what? Even if we had 21 nice, shiny devices up there, would anyone use it if they could only fit 21 children in there? The space is far too small for 32 children. Maybe we let them die and get more netbooks? These have gone down very well so far, but would more be useful? Another trolley is expensive, probably £12k or so. The discussion moved to portable devices such as tablets. This gave me two choices – iPads or Android tablets. Then the wonderful Pete Richardson (@primarypete_) discussed the Playbook on his blog here: http://primarypete.net/tablet-time.

I tried, in vain, to get a range of devices to play with in school. My thinking was that if a company was willing to sell me devices, they would let me have some to play with. Totally wrong there. I did arrange a time and date for one company to bring some tablets in but they didn’t even show up. This lead to a class of disappointed children!! Maybe one day we will look at Apple or Android devices but until I can get some to play with and test, it just won’t happen. I could go and find a school that are using them to have a look, but I really want my children and my staff to play with them too.

So in the end we have bought a Playbook. Now when I tweeted that we had one of these, many people mocked me saying that the apps were rubbish, email support was awful and the device was a joke having sold about 17 compared to Ipad’s 65bajillion. But my thinking is that you need to buy a device that will work for your school. Also, as it didn’t sell very well, it is now very cheap compared to the price when it came out! So why Playbook?

With an iPad, yes the apps are amazing and there are some truly great tools that can be used (epic citadel for example) but these involve the teachers re-planning certain areas thinking about how to use these apps within their curriculum. Not this is probably the best way to do it, but for my school, right now, this is not going to happen. We need something that will fit in with what we are already doing. For us, the Playbook offers a few simple tools that enhance what we are already doing. Let me explain…

Firstly, it is cheap. £170 (inc vat) compared with the iPads mean that we can get more devices than if we went the iPad route. These are about the same price as iPods but are bigger and easier to use.

Secondly, yes the apps are limited, but you know what? We don’t want that many of them. I’ve installed one so far, WordPress. This has been setup with our blog login details and now whenever the children take a picture on the Playbook (or a video) then we upload it via the app. If they have a range of photos then they simple login to Animoto and use that instead. Similarly for video, they chuck it onto YouTube and then embed into the blog. In one day, the class using it (http://www.stjohnsblogs.co.uk/class8) have blogged more than in the last few weeks. My vision is that children can blog while the teacher is sharing a plenary session. They could do this on a netbook too, but often the whole trolley of netbooks is being used, maybe we could buy a c ouple of spare per class? There’s no space in class for fixed PCs.

Also, yes, Animoto works. As does Purple Mash, Busy Things, and most of the other sites we use in school because it has Flash support. Love it or hate it, at the moment, Flash is used a lot within school. So having a device that works with Flash is a massive bonus.

It’s still early days, the Playbook has only been in class for a day-and-a-half, but so far 4 children are ‘trained’ to blog pictures and the teacher is planning what her next blog posts are going to be already. I’m now looking into how we could move forward and buy a few more. Maybe we could have two per class? Who knows.

I just wanted to share my thinking so far, we may change our minds, it may not work, but I’m interested to see how it will develop over the coming weeks and months…

Category: blogposts, Hardware, Playbook  | Tags: ,  | 6 Comments