Five More Things To Consider About The Surface RT In The Classroom

Adding to my initial assessment of the Surface RT tablet, here are some additional thoughts on the RT after having a chance to use the device more extensively.
1.  If you need a Touch Cover keyboard it is an additional $100 to your purchase ($119 if purchased separately). You can opt to enter text using the onscreen keyboard but keep in mind that the built-in kickstand will not allow for easy onscreen typing which leaves you to type with the tablet lying flat on a surface (or lap) or with the user holding the device and thumb typing. There are cheaper case options for the RT (Best 15 Cases for the Windows Surface RT Tablet –  Computer Shopper) and one may provide a more comfortable and stable stance for touch typing.
2.  The built in kickstand and Touch Cover design severely limits the RT’s ability to be placed anywhere but on a flat surface. Unlike the laptop, the Surface design does not easily allow for placement on uneven surfaces like someone’s lap or in situations where you would like to adjust the angle of the screen.
3.  Although you may have a desktop, you do not have a full copy of Windows. Any piece of software that you wish to add to your Surface RT needs to come from the Windows Store. As a result, the desktop mode is really a mystery to me as I have found very little reason to access my apps and content through that interface. If anything, the presence of the desktop only serves to confuse the consumer into momentarily thinking they have a full version of Windows.
Looks like good old Windows but just try to install some programs and you will see it is not Windows.
Looks like good old Windows but just try to install some programs and you will see it is not Windows.
4.  Windows SkyDrive is an important supporting piece to the Surface RT and Windows just made it better. Paul Thurrott (Supersite for Windows) recently posted that Microsoft has improved the implementation of SkyDrive on the Surface Pro and Surface RT. My concern with SkyDrive being only accessible through the SkyDrive app has now been addressed. SkyDrive is now integrated into both the “Metro” and desktop modes of Windows RT. This now adds to greater value in having students log into the Surface RT using their own Windows Live account.
5.  Consider the future of the Surface RT. Although Microsoft confirms that it is moving forward with this platform, recent news on Microsoft’s failure to meet its sales expectations of the Surface RT resulted in a loss of nearly $900 million. Obviously, this explains the drastic price reductions for the Surface RT and one has to question what Microsoft will do with future versions of the tablet to keep this product line alive. If new versions of the Surface RT are released will they try to maintain a lower price point? If so, what will the cost be to the specs and hardware? Perhaps a reduction in the size of the tablet is in store?

Windows Surface Pro in the Classroom – part PC, part Tablet

Pictured here with a keyboard cover that is an additional purchase.
Pictured here with a keyboard cover that is an additional purchase.

A previous post explored the Windows Surface RT as a classroom tablet. More recently, the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet / computer is now making its way into stores. Tablet and PC choices for the classroom continue to grow with Microsoft now entering into the fray. However if you think the Surface Pro is merely a spec bump from its Surface RT sibling, take a look at some of the important factors inherent with this tablet PC.

 

1. It is a PC. The Surface Pro runs a full version of Windows 8 and for teachers and students who want to access and install all the programs that they would normally use on their Windows 8 desktop PC or laptop, the Surface Pro will be able accommodate this need. This is great for schools and school districts who have already invested in Windows software titles. Furthermore, with a touchscreen you now take full advantage of the new Windows 8 metro-style desktop which is designed for a touch interface. The USB 3.0 port will offer the expandability that we have come to expect from our computers, allowing for the easy connection of peripherals, storage, hubs, etc.

However offering a PC experience on a tablet requires some compromises to the tablet experience.

2. Battery life is limited. Tablet owners are used to achieving 8 to 10 hours of battery life on their respective mobile devices. However with the Surface Pro offering the functionality and performance of a full Windows PC, the battery life inevitably takes a hit. There are reports of 3-4 hours of Surface Pro use from a fully charged battery. This becomes a significant factor for schools and classrooms who anticipate using these devices over the course of a school day.

Micro SDXC slot provides the option to quickly expand storage on the Surface Pro.
Micro SDXC slot provides the option to quickly expand storage on the Surface Pro.

3. Windows 8 takes up drive space. Early reviews reported that the 64GB and 128GB capacities of the Surface Pro actually offered 23GB and 85GB of usable storage respectively. Not surprising if we think about these devices as PCs housing a full operating system rather than your typical tablet or mobile device. Once more, it is something for schools to carefully consider when assessing the potential purpose and use of this technology. Having said that, the presence of a mini SDXC card slot and USB 3.0 port provide solid options to expand the storage on your Surface Pro.

So what does this all mean? Basically, if teachers and administrators are considering the Surface Pro, we need to weigh in the benefits and compromises that this hardware offers with a full Windows 8 operating system. Is the device appropriate for the age and ability of your students? What types of tasks do you hope to have students complete with this hardware?Are there additional peripherals (keyboard, external drive), accessories (cases, covers) and support (wireless access, training) that you will require for this device?

In the end, choice is a great thing and the Surface Pro provides another compelling choice for schools and classrooms. If you are curious about other Windows 8 hardware offerings have a look at these options:

1. Surface RT – similar form factor to the Pro but runs on a mobile Windows operating system that does not offer a full Windows 8 experience.
2. Acer Iconia W5 – a series of Windows 8 tablets complete with keyboard dock
3. Asus VivoBook – a series of touch screen Windows 8 laptops from Asus