iPad Mini, Surface Pro 8, Surface Go 3 and Surface Studio Laptop – Are they good buys?

Recently Apple and Microsoft held events and unveiled some new products. Looking through my educator glasses I thought I’d write about them and try to evaluate if they are good for schools. When I say that, I mean, are they good to buy a whole bunch and give them to teachers, staff and/or students. So let’s dive in.

iPad Mini

No. There you go. The iPad Mini looks great. It probably has good battery life, the screen looks bright and the build quality is solid. In the past the iPad Mini was the “cheap” iPad, so schools bought them and teachers/students liked them. The landscape has now changed. Now schools can buy an iPad Mini for $449 (education discount) but the “cheap” iPad is $309 (education discount).

Concerning schools, the Mini is more powerful, it can use the Apple Pencil 2 and I am sure there are other advantages to the Mini over the cheap iPad, but is it $140/unit worth it? If you ask that to a school then answer is no. They both run the same OS, the same apps, you can use a stylus on the “cheap” iPad but of you’re buying a class set of 30 here is the difference.

  • iPad Mini – $449/unit for 30 units = $13,470 USD
  • “cheap” iPad – $309/unit for 30 units = $9,270 USD

If you continue to scale it up the difference only gets greater.

I wouldn’t buy these for staff because in my experience, they turn into email and Netflix machines more than actual productivity devices.

Microsoft

They unveiled three products. We will start with the cheapest (Surface Go 3) and work up to the most expensive (Microsoft Studio Laptop). There is a lot to like about these new products and some worth discussing but should schools plop down their money to buy their students/teachers any of these devices outright?

No.

Let’s start with the Surface Go 3.

It seems like a step up from the Surface Go 2. This is a Surface device targeted for students and people on the Go (like what I did there?) It looks very similar to the Surface Pro but it is smaller and less powerful. It starts at $399 which might sound very appealing to people, but then add a keyboard for at least $100 and now you are looking at a $500 machine. You can get a mighty fine Chromebook for that money and if you are looking for a Windows laptop at $500 range there are other choices with larger screens.

Let’s jump to the other end of the spectrum – the new Surface Laptop Studio (that is the mouthful).

This is “replacing” the Surfacebook (even though you can still purchase the Surfacebook 3 from its website). The screen doesn’t detach like the Surfacebook, instead it folds down to a presentation mode and then a tablet mode for drawing/note taking. Being that this is a first generation device and that the price starts at $1600 (that doesn’t include the $130 stylus). The price alone makes it a non-starter for your staff/students.

Finally, the one device I think schools might consider. The Surface Pro 8.

The bezels are smaller, it has Thunderbolt and the battery life sounds good. Like all Surface products this is just a little too pricey. The base model with the keyboard and new stylus will run you nearly $1400.

This sounds like a great device, but unless you are desperate for your students/staff to have a great touchscreen and stylus experience I may pass.

So there you have. Four new exciting devices out there for schools to purchase and without laying hands on any of them, I ‘m recommending you all take a pass 🙂

Chromebook – Sign into two accounts at the same time

I was working on a review when this came across my desk. Here is the short story. A teacher noticed that a student had another person’s email open while on their Chromebook. At first, the thinking was that they had signed into that Chromebook as that person (which is not a great idea). Upon further investigation, it turns out that the student in question was properly signed into their own Chromebook but somehow was able to open up someone else’s Gmail next to their own.

Before I go and detail how this happened, this is simply wrong. I cannot think of having a student log into another student’s email account as a good thing. Whether they’re friends and share passwords (another bad idea) or not that should be squashed.

I am going to detail how this works and what you or your Google Admin needs to do to fix it.

Continue reading “Chromebook – Sign into two accounts at the same time”

Laptop recommendations? Check with your school

Back in June I wrote this same article. You can read it here. Basically it was in response to an article written by Monica Chen of The Verge. The article “recommends” the best laptop for students at all levels by students.

Well, they just republished the article again and I thought I’d just remind parents and students out there to use these articles as a jumping off point. A place to start your research not as a definitive source.

Remember that all of these sites are powered off of ad revenue. All of them, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these recommendations were actually paid for. For example, no way I would recommend an iPad Air for a high school student where I live. I know that all the surrounding high schools are either Google Workspace schools or Office 365 schools. There are much better options at that price point for those students than an iPad. An advertisement that looks like an actual article is a native ad and it may be what is happening here.

Again, check with your school. They will have recommendations and can help you narrow down your search much better than a tech journalist or a blogger like myself 🙂

Google Drive – Make a template

It is back to school time! I thought I would start this school year with a pretty simple tutorial on how to create a template that you can reuse over and over again. If you have ever used Google Classroom then there is a type of version of this already there. When you make an assignment and attach a Google Doc, Sheet or Slideshow then you have the option to make a copy for each student. That way the original stays untouched and each student will have their own copy to play with!

Well in Google Drive you can make a template that you can use over and over again without the original getting sullied. Be aware though that the template will be accessible by the whole organization. If you cannot do this from your school account, you should reach out to your IT team and reference these instructions so they can turn this on for you.

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Streaming events #2 – Update

We have the goods!

We have done some quick testing and this looks pretty promising. Right now my family and I are moving into a new house so I’m a little strapped for time between that, work and posting to IT Babble. So instead of a long detailed post (that is coming) I’ll give some quick thoughts and recommendations.

ATEM Mini Pro

This thing is awesome! When you hook it up to a monitor you get to see all the cameras (up to 4) and switching between them is super easy and literally just a press of a button. Setting up our live stream test (we tested Facebook Live and YouTube) was crazy easy. We did have to plug the ATEM Mini Pro into our network via an ethernet cable. Once we did that we used the software on the computer to configure the live stream.

If this is set up and you are using the same service over and over, then you do not need a computer connected to the ATEM Mini. You simply hit the On Air button and then from your computer turn on the the live stream and that is it!

One concern that we found was that an HDMI input stopped working for a little while. We tested it one day and the HDMI 2 input just didn’t work. We plugged the camera into the other inputs and it all worked fine. It was just HDMI 2. The next day it worked fine with no issues. Not sure what happened. It wasn’t the camera or the cable it just stopped

Continue reading “Streaming events #2 – Update”

Streaming events – An ongoing experiment

Photo by CoWomen on Pexels.com

This is going to be an ongoing series. Here I am talking about what we currently do and are planning. In future posts I will talk about the testing of the equipment, the use of the equipment and finally changes that we’ve made.

Streaming school events (concerts, athletics, presentations) has always been a bit of mystery for me. In theory it is pretty simple. You need cameras that feed into a computer and that computer then encodes and feeds the video to a streaming service. In practice it is pretty complicated and there are lots of questions:

  • What cameras do I use?
  • Do I have to wire the cameras?
  • How do I manage multiple camera feeds?
  • Can I brand or add graphics?
  • How do I capture audio from the event?
  • How do I encode the video feed so it streams properly?
  • Does it have to be 4K?
  • What service do I use?
  • What programs do I use?

What we do now

Right now, we have it super simple. We use a Mevo Plus camera. They have a newer version but here is what ours looks like.

Here is how you use it. You turn it on (it has a battery) and it connects to your smartphone via its Mevo app. Once they connect you control the camera with your smartphone. You can zoom in, out, and even pan all digitally. It can stream from your phone to YouTube, Ustream, Facebook and others live or you can record it to its micro SD card and then edit the footage later. The camera is a wide angle lens so it does a good job of covering a large area and the output can be up to 4K.

The quality is very good and while the camera we purchased was $400, outside of a tripod we did not need much more. We did buy some accessories, but we have figured to run audio from a soundboard or mixer into the Mevo for greatly improved sound. Overall, we have been very happy with our Mevo and will continue to use it.

There are some issues though. The Mevo is a single camera. There is no way to integrate it with other cameras. It is its own singular solution for streaming. You have one camera and that is it. It is simple and straightforward and that is the beauty of our Mevo, but as we look at covering athletic events, having more than one camera is desirable to cover more of the action. This has led to some good conversations and more importantly a plan.

The Plan

We are looking to stream with multiple cameras but as you add complexity to any solution, it usually requires more equipment, training and of course – money. We are looking for this equipment to be managed by middle school students (with appropriate teacher/administrator supervision – of course) so the solution has to be pretty easy. Easy to set up, use and tear down. All of this is important.

The first part is the BlackMagic Design ATEM Mini Pro ($499). This is going to be the brains of the operation.

This thing looks expensive but it offers a lot of flexibility and power when it comes to streaming. You can have 4 HDMI inputs, professional switching between the inputs as well. You can have two microphone line ins and if you hook it up to a monitor you can view all four inputs at once. Great for producing. Also, you can attach a hard drive to it to record if you don’t want to stream. There is also powerful software you can download and use to get even more power out of this thing. Best of all, it is pretty easy to use. I’ve watched a few demo videos about it and I think that middle school students could be up and running with this deck with some minimal practice and training. This video by Zebra Zone is particularly good. He shows the set up and goes through all of its features one at a time. Just great!

Now on to cameras. We don’t want super expensive prosumer cameras. We are looking to save a little money and through my research we are going with the Canon Vixia HF r800. Yeah that name just rolls right off the toungue there doesn’t it? Here it is from BH Photo.

Since it is going to be covering athletic events, it could get damaged so having a less expensive camera that does OK with motion is what is important. All of our events are going to be well lit (for the most part), so low light is not a factor. Another plus to this camera is that it comes with optical image stability. If we put it in the hands of someone or are doing a panning shot on a tripod it should look pretty smooth. The big thing it offers though is HDMI mini out. This means we can plug it into the ATEM Mini Pro! We are planning on purchasing two of these cameras.

Now here is the expensive part. We don’t want to be running HDMI cables all over the place, especially if student athletes are going to be walking or running in those areas. We want to do this wirelessly if possible and so an HDMI wireless transmitter/receiver set is in order. This starts expensive and can get really expensive. We decided on the Hollyland Mars 300.

This is for one camera! Right now we are going to stick with just one, even though we are starting with two cameras. We need to try it out even though it has great reviews. This boasts 300 feet wireless connectivity which is way more than we need, but to know that it can go that far is pretty impressive.

Broadcasting live!

Another piece I would like to add into this setup is the ability for people (ideally students) to announce the games. Rather than just have coaches and athletes talking to each other, it may be a nice touch, but how do you do this?

The ATEM Mini Pro does have two mic inputs and so we were thinking of just adding them that way. Perhaps purchasing some “cheap” broadcasting headsets. The problem with that is that many of them are only XLR and we need a 3.5mm input instead of XLR or 1/4″ inputs.

Another issue is the price. The cheaper headsets are starting at $50 and they quickly go up from there.

What’s next?

The equipment has been ordered. Once we set things up and try it out we try to find a workflow that works for us.

Google Chrome – Tab groups

How did I not know about this?! If you’re like me, then you rarely have more than 10 tabs open at a time. However, not everyone is as . . . considerate to their computer as I am. I have seen colleagues of mine have anywhere from 30-50 tabs open and not feel shame!

I know each browser has there own way of managing lots of tabs and there are more than a few extensions out there that can help people as well. Since my school uses Google, it only makes sense for me to use Google Chrome, plus I like all the extensions they have to offer, but this feature is built right into the browser itself. No need to install anything else or create an account with a third party. Just open tabs up and group them!

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Google Workspaces and transferring ownership

Well, well, well I learned something new today.

An area I’ve always wanted to do better was to help our students leaving our school transition their data from our school account to a personal account (most likely a personal account since they probably won’t have their new school account yet. As you can tell from the title we use Google Services (recently rebranded to Google Workspaces). Our students use Google Drive to not only create documents but also as a place to store their files.

For safety reasons we limit all sharing of documents and emails to be restricted to our domain, but at the end of this year we decided to try and do a better job of helping out students transition their data from their school account to a personal account.

I thought it would be as simple as having students go into the sharing settings of individual settings, share it to their personal account and then go back into the sharing settings and change the ownership to that account.

Continue reading “Google Workspaces and transferring ownership”

A/V in our classrooms

This post will give you a rundown of what we currently use for our A/V solution and what we are going to be switching to. I will be using specific names of products (and current prices if I can find them), but that is in no way IT Babble promoting those items. IT Babble receives no ad revenue or any financial compensation for mentioning them. This is just what my school is doing and what works for us. This set up may be complete overkill for some schools or completely not appropriate for others.

If you have questions, leave them in the comments. We moderate all comments so it will post when Tony or myself approve it and then I will respond. Continue reading “A/V in our classrooms”