5 school-worthy iPad alternatives for education

by Doug Drinkwater

April 4 2013

News Corp's Amplify tablet was built by Asus
News Corp's Amplify tablet was built by Asus

Think Apple’s iPad and iPad mini are the only go-to tablets for educators? Well, think again, because here are several good iPad alternatives offering great specs, pricing and school-friendly features.

Amplify Tablet

The recent decision to split News Corp saw the introduction of a new division tasked with providing digital learning materials to the education market.

That division, named Amplify, has since sprung into life with the 10-inch Android tablet designed specifically for K-12 education.

The tablet is manufactured by Asus, offers a quad-core Tegra 3 system-on-chip and the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system, while battery life is quoted at an impressive 8.5 hours.

While that in itself isn’t revolutionary, the Amplify tablet impresses with its array of education-friendly features.

Eye-tracking technology helps the tablet push out an “eyes on teacher” message asking students to look-up from their devices and pay attention to the teacher, while teachers themselves can also use the Amplify tablet for planning lessons, sending out assignments and managing students’ tablets during lessons.

For instance, teachers can see if a student is looking at email instead of following the lesson, can block certain apps from the tablet and shut down digital access completely.

The entry-level Amplify tablet starts at $299, with training and customer care (largely provided by former teachers) included as part of that price. Schools will however have to pay $99-a-year for a two-year subscription to the digital learning materials.

Schools with bigger budgets could opt for the $349 Amplify Plus, which comes with a 4G data plan.

Dell Latitude 10 essentials configuration

Dell aimed at both the education and enterprise markets when it launched the Latitude 10 essentials configuration Windows 8 tablet in January.

A number of early adopters have since been impressed with the tablet, which can be managed easily through Windows Service Center, allows for secure log-in with Dell Data ProtectionAccess (an integrated security management suite using a fingerprint and smart card reader) and which encrypts data with Microsoft BitLocker Drive Encryption.

One study, admittedly commissioned by Dell and carried out by Principled Technologies, showed that the 10.1-inch Latitude 10 was 17 times faster and 94% less expensive for deploying compared to the iPad, and 99% faster for software updates. The tests concluded that the tablet was 85% cheaper per device to maintain over a three-year period.

Another report from analyst Patrick Moorhead claimed that Dell's tablet is more secure than the iPad.

The Latitude 10 essentials model is now available, and costs $579 for the 64GB model. A 32GB edition is set to launch later in the year for $499.

LearnPad Quarto

British company Avantis Systems has been banging the drum for tablets in education for some time now, and has launched a number of models under the ‘LearnPad’ name.

These start from £149 (approximately $226) and go up to the £299 ($454) for the premium LearnPad Folio, but it is the £199 ($302) LearnPad Quarto that is likely to attract most school IT buyers.  

Offering a 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 IPS display, the Quarto allows for excellent viewing angles, and also boasts a dual-core 1.6GHz CPU, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, dual-facing cameras and connections for micro USB, SD and HDMI. The model is WiFi-only, but the battery life is respectable at eight hours.

Where the LearnPad range really scores however is in its ability be packaged up with other useful education features.

For instance, schools can order 20 or 30 Quartos for their classroom with cases, pre-installed educational activities and a charging trolley, while mains chargers, USB cables, USB device converters and ‘Getting Started’ guides are also thrown into the mix.

Optional extras include silicone USB keyboard, headphones for children, styluses, as well as “premium” curriculum apps and eBooks.

Kuno Tablet

One of the early players in the education tablet space was Kuno, an Indianapolis -based company known for its education-focused Kuno tablet.

Now running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and offering a 1.2GHz processor and 16GB of memory, the 9.7-inch Kuno tablet taps the CurriculumLoft’ mobile learning solution for device, app and content management, and is Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA) compliant for keeping kids safe on the web.

The tablet features dual-facing cameras, USB and HDMI connections and a 1024 x 768 resolution display, while battery life is quoted at 7 hours for video and up to 10 hours for browsing the internet.

A number of schools have deployed the device -- Martin Elementary in Illinois, for one, has rolled out 1,200 tablets while San Felipe Del Rio District in Texas has 1,600 Kunos.

Amazon Kindle Fire

Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets aren’t just for entertainment – they can also be used for education.

There are of course more than a few options to choose from, from the 7-inch Kindle Fire at $159 to the 8.9-inch HD LTE version which sells for $399.

However, judging by numerous case studies and the tight budgets often applied to education, it may be that the low-end $159 model is best suited to the classroom environment.

In terms of specs, the Kindle Fire offers a 7-inch 1024 x 600 resolution display with Gorilla Glass, for resistance to scratches and falls, and connection ports for USB, an audio jack and stereo speakers.

Where the Kindle Fire really comes into its own however is with the services offered through Amazon.

For starters, each Kindle Fire is linked to the user’s Amazon account and this in itself carries 5GB of free storage on Amazon’s Cloud Drive. Files can be synchronized to the Cloud Drive over WiFi.

Furthermore, students can rent electronic textbooks from Amazon and scope out Amazon’s Appstore for all kinds of apps, including those focused on education.

There are also advantages for the IT managers, providing they sign up to use Amazon's Whispercast.

Using the cloud-based service, IT administrators can roll-out apps, documents and books to various Kindle Fire devices, including tablets brought in to school on a bring-your-own (BYO) basis.

Passwords can be enforced to protect content, while admins can also stop users from doing a factory reset, visiting Facebook or Twitter, or buying content from Amazon. Kindle users can also be organized into groups.

The role of tablets in education will be discussed at TabTimes TABLET STRATEGY on April 30 in New York City. An executive from Framingham State University will be among the speakers.

Doug Drinkwater is the International Editor of TabTimes and is based in London, England.

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  • Love Learning
    1 year 5 months ago

    I don't think that the iPad is the best tablet solution for education and Amplify looks expensive because of the subscription. The LearnPad has the advantage over the iPad of being able to run Flash-based resources from a range of well known publishers.

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