Let’s begin this blog by putting to bed any preferences I have for Apple, Windows or Android devices. It’s simple really. I don’t have any. I own an iPad, a Windows laptop and I’ve recently taken on long term loan a Chromebook and I use them all. A lot of my work and leisure is device agnostic and as long as I can get at it, I care little for what device I use. However, I will stick my neck out and say that there are schools who have bought iPads a-plenty without giving it the thought they’d give to other expensive purchases.
So, why the desire to have a Chromebook to evaluate? Well, slick as my iPad is, there are some things that I felt could be performed more efficiently on a device that has a screen and keyboard. This isn’t a criticism of the iPad (or any tablet for that matter), it’s just how I feel. Maybe it’s a generational/habit thing, but I find some tasks just irritating using a touch screen keyboard and the half a 10″ screen that’s left to view my work.
Also, despite the move to HTML5, there are still lots of resources on the web that I use that use Flash, and until the day when it’s all sorted, I can’t use them on my ipad. A particular miss will be when Scratch 2.0 is realeased as this will be Flash-based. Obviously, Android tablets have this access, but I think it’d be overkill to add to my expanding collection of devices. They’re not sufficiently different to an iPad to warrant the expense.
I also wanted to have a Chromebook to pop in the hands of pupils when I’m in school to get a child’s perspective on the device and be able to provide schools I work alongside with an alternative to ‘the tablet’, which is this year’s must have gadget. As it happens, I’ve secured a set of 15 Chromebooks for 3 weeks and, after Easter, St James Primary, Hull, will be borrowing them. It will be interesting to see how they go down with the pupils.
So, why not 15 tablets? Well, there’s already a lot of tablets in use throughout the city, so getting feedback on how they’re being used ought not to be too difficult. Hull CLC has iPads for hire, so a school can try before they buy. As far as I know, they don’t have any Chromebooks available.
Secondly, St James, like a number of other schools, is making use of the J2E suite as their core software and in discussion with the ICT co-ordinator, we did wonder whether a tablet was the best device to access this on. So, a few calls and emails later, we are on course for a case study on their use, which will be blogged about here, and possibly elsewhere too.
So, what of my 1st week with the Chromebook? Well, I have a Samsung model and my initial impressions are very favourable. It boots up in less that 10 seconds from cold (not as quick as my Ipad, but then again, my life isn’t that packed I need to worry about 9 seconds here and there). The screen is perfectly fine and I can plug in a mouse if I get fed up of the built in trackpad. There’s the odd quirk here and there, such as right-clicking is a 2 finger tap on the track-pad, which took some figuring, but all part of the learning process.
Everything is accessed via the built in Chrome browser and there’s a seamless integration, as you’d expect, with Google Docs.
Unlike a laptop, you can’t install software on it and pretty much everything you do relies on a connection to the internet. (There is some offline capacity; Gmail and Google Docs for example,but for the most part, it needs a connection).
I can plug a pen drive and a memory card into it if needed, which is a feature I wish my iPad had.
The battery life is about 8 hours, so plenty for a full day.
I’m currently exploring a range of apps that schools might want to use in the curriculum and I’ll write about them later on. I suspect that the range won’t be as great at the moment as that found for iPads, but Google Play Store has an increasing range and as Android devices become more popular in schools, this will surely increase.
So, after week 1, what are my first impressions? As a personal device, I find doing ‘work’ on it easier than my iPad. I either use Google Docs, Evernote or J2E as these are available on all my devices, so access to my work is easy. McDonalds, Starbucks, Asda and Costa coffee provide me with Wi-Fi if I’m not a home or in a school.
Any disadvantages? Well, It lacks a forward facing camera, so taking pics on the move is going to be awkward, but then, laptops don’t have this facility either and whilst I do use my iPad and smartphone for the odd snap or two, I still prefer to use a camera for photography. However, I can see the attraction of having a device which captures pics and allows editing on the hoof, so an iPod with My Story or something similar would be very portable.
The Chromebook obviously isn’t touch screen, so any criticisms along these lines are a tad unfounded. If you want touch screen, don’t buy a Chromebook.
Going forward it will be interesting to obtain more apps that are either the same as one can get on other tablets, or do a similar job. If there’s not an app, then there’s probably a web site that allows me to….. edit videos and images, record sound, make comic books and the rest.
I would say that whatever the Chromebook is, it’s neither a tablet nor as laptop. I know that sounds obvious, but there will be the inevitable comparisons and the iPad v Laptop v Chromebook debate. I think they’re pointless. Each is designed to do a different and specific job. If a school is looking to cut costs, as some have started to, on purchasing software, storage, backup and maintenance, then opting for Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education is an attractive proposition, especially as you can purchase the Google Management console for your domain and control the Chromebook’s content. To do this, you’ll need to puchase, not from Amazon or PC World, but through a Google partner, such as cLearning, the firm who have kindly loaned me the Chromebook for evaluation.
So, my journey is but a week old and I’ll update as it continues. The St James Case Study will be duly published and they’ll be yet another mobile option for schools to consider spending their IT budget on. I think that the Chromebook/J2E combo looks like a winning one, but time will tell.
Oh, one final thing, no matter what devices you decide to purchase for your school, make sure you get your wireless infrastructure right. Spend money on this and get it right or anything you spend on mobile devices will have been wasted. Harsh but true.