Sphero 2.0 Review

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been playing with a very clever robotic ball which is controlled and programmed via the iPad. More info about Sphero can be found here.

Sphero Box Contents

 

First Impressions
When I first unpacked the Sphero I was very surprised at how solid it felt and its size. To give it some perspective it’s about the size of a tennis ball. This gave me confidence in Sphero in that it would be able to bang into things without getting damaged. I was also pleased to find two ramps and a clever wireless charging unit in the box.

 

Sphero Charger and Ball

Charging
The Sphero is supplied with a clever wireless charging base which has a universal plug on the end with all the adapters for different countries. To charge you just place the Sphero heavy end down into the charging base. The Sphero then started flashing and so did the base. The base continued to flash until it showed a solid light approx 3 hours later when the Sphero had been fully charged.

Apps
While the Sphero was charging I took the opportunity to check out the apps available. I was pleasantly surprised at how many free apps where available. In total I counted over 25 apps on both iTunes and Google Play Store. All of the apps need the main Sphero app to work so I downloaded that into my iPad first along with some of the others but not all. From what I can see the apps give some form of interaction for everyone with the Sphero and I imagine this will only be added to over time.

Connectivity
Now I had a charged Sphero and the main Sphero app installed I was ready to get started. The Sphero connects to devices via Bluetooth and found this to be a very simple process. The Sphero flashes through a sequence of three colours when in pairing mode and thing this is a very clever way to pair the devices.

Sphero App Drive Screenshot

First Play
The first time I loaded the app it walked me through using the different controls and I found it very simple to get the Sphero moving. I was able to control the Sphero very easily and got it moving around the room with easy. I then investigated the other options in the app including being able to change the colour and speed of the Sphero. Going further I found that as I used the app further I gained points and was able to trade these for some built in tricks like getting the Sphero to dance, sneeze, jump and many other things.

Childs Play
To give the Sphero the ultimate test I decided to let my children (aged 4 and 7) have a play with it. They both found it very easy to move around and loved being able to make it change colour. My 4 year old was soon driving it around the house under tables and through doors. My 7 year old was more interested in getting it to jump over the ramps and make it dance. They both really enjoyed it and every day since I’ve a “Daddy can we play with the ball on your iPad”

Sphero Macrolab App

Education
As well as using the Sphero at home I took it to one of my code clubs and used it with the MacroLab app. This app allows you to program the Sphero by using a preset list of options. These options can also be altered using sliders to make the Sphero move, change colour etc. The MacroLab app can also be used when not connected to the Sphero. I found this to be very useful as the groups could create their programs and code for the Sphero on separate iPads. We then connected up the Sphero and tested as and when required. The only thing to remember here was to ensure Bluetooth was turned off on all devices apart from the one giving the Sphero code. I gave the club a challenge to code the Sphero to navigate around a small course and use the ramps to jump into a box. I kept it simple as it was the first time everyone had used a Spbero. The children loved it and were fully engaged in creating the code. They started adding in extra challenges like changing the colour and found the MacroLab app very easy to use. Most groups completed the challenge in the hour long club. They all now want one for Christmas.

Conclusion
To conclude I feel the Sphero is a fantastic accessory for the iPad or tablet and will bring many hours of joy to all age ranges whether at home or in an educational setting.
What do you think of the Sphero? Do you want one?

Acer Iconia W700 Review

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This week I’ve had an Acer W700 on trial. My main aim of this was to see if this device could be the crossover laptop tablet device we are looking for to replace teachers laptops.
The first thing I did was to connect up the Bluetooth keyboard which came as part of the keyboard cover. Unfortunately I had a few problems with this as the keyboard had been supplied with a drained battery. However on the plus side it gave me the opportunity to see what it was like to charge the keyboard and how long its battery lasted. I connected the keyboard via USB with the supplied cable to the tablet so it could charge. About an hour later the keyboard was flashing to say it was fully charged. Unfortunately I still couldn’t get the keyboard working with the tablet so I went into the Bluetooth devices and removed the keyboard so I could pair them again. This was a very simple process and about 30 seconds later I had a working keyboard. Next I connected up my Microsoft Account so I could get all my settings and give the device a proper test. I also installed Office 2013 so I can check out the document creation element of the device.
Now I have the device setup to how I like it I wanted to give the keyboard a good test. I had a document to create so thought this would be the ideal test for the keyboard. The first thing I found with the keyboard is it felt a bit small and close to the screen. This is a general problem though with keyboard covers as the keyboard has to fit the screen size. However the keys felt responsive and after using it for a while I found myself actually starting to like it. I feel this is one of the better keyboard covers I’ve used. It also allowed me to use the device anywhere as the cover provided a firm base for the tablet. The keyboard also had a nice groove to allow the tablet to sit at a nice viewing angle without it feeling like it would topple over at any second. I’m also pleased to report I never had to charge the keyboard again even though I used it all day everyday for a week without turning the keyboard off. It seems to have some sort of sleep mode which conserves the battery as when I touched the keyboard for the first time after not using it for a while it took a second or two to respond like it was waking up. So once again the keyboard cover adds a nice extra feature to the tablet and makes it more of a crossover device allowing you to type normally and yet still be mobile.

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On to the tablet itself I found it to be very good and I couldn’t believe how quick it started from a cold boot. Within 6 seconds I had the login screen and after typing in my password I had the metro interface loaded within 2 seconds. I found it to be very responsive and loaded any app or piece of software within seconds of it being pressed. This speed is due to the Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and the Solid State Hard Drive. I actually found this to work quicker than my i7 windows 8 laptop and this is all due to the different hard drive types. Talking about the hard drive although its advertised with a 64GB drive you actually only have approx 20 to 25 GB of usable space. This is due Windows 8 and the preloaded software taking up a lot of the space and 10GB being lost to a recovery partition. I didn’t find the space to be an issue though as I also linked in my cloud storage which helps with any device these days. However if you want to store music and movies for offline usage then I’d recommend looking at the 128GB version to prevent frustration in the future.

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With viewing movies in mind it’s worth mentioning about the screen. The tablet comes with a 11.6″ screen running at a Full HD resolution of 1920×1080. I tested the screen in many different lighting conditions both outside and inside and found the screen to be bright and perfectly viewable. I watched different levels of HD footage on YouTube and found the sharpness and clarity to be perfect. I also used this to test the sound quality of the tablet. This really surprised me as at full volume the sound was still clear and of a high quality. The screen is also multi touch up to 10 points not that anyone will want to touch the screen with 10 things at the same time! Anyway I found the touch to be responsive and accurate with only having the odd problem when touching tiny (and I mean tiny) little icons on a website. I used the multi touch features of windows in Internet explorer to zoom in and out with out any lag and was very impressed. The only problem is now I keep trying to touch my laptop screen.
One of the last things I tried out is the camera. The tablet features a rear and front HD camera allowing you to use the tablet for taking photos, video and video conferencing. I took a few photos with the tablet in varying lightning conditions both indoors and outdoors. Most photos where clear and sharp however in lower light conditions I found them to be slightly blurry. Unfortunately the tablet doesn’t feature a flash either to help in these conditions. Another down side is the keyboard cover doesn’t have a hole for the camera thus rendering the rear camera useless when in the case.
A few other things worth mentioning are the battery and connectivity features. The battery when fully charged lasted all day without problems which was approx 8 hours of usage. This will always change though depending on what you are using the tablet for as watching lots of videos etc will reduce this time. With regards to connectivity the tablet comes with the standard wireless and Bluetooth built in. I didn’t actually try the Bluetooth but used the wireless all the time without any issues and even got a signal in some parts of the school where other devices can’t. The tablet also features a mini Hdmi port and full USB port along with a standard headphone jack. These are all nicely placed on the sides for easy access.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to test other accessories like the cradle and standalone keyboard as the tablet wasn’t sent with these to try.
So overall I feel this is a fantastic windows 8 tablet with the added bonus of a specially made keyboard cover and cradle system. The speed of the device and flexibility of usage makes this an ideal device for a teacher. It would allow them to go to meetings with just the tablet or the keyboard case but then when teaching they can use the dock system with all cables for projector/touchscreen TV remaining connected. This would give them that mobile flexibility with all the features of a normal laptop.

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HP Elitepad 900 Review

After looking around on the internet I thought this might be an ideal device for our teachers. So I decided to get one in on trial and this week I’ve been playing around with it.

 

The Elitepad comes with a standard Intel Atom Processor running at 1.8Ghz and 2GB of RAM this is powerful enough to run Windows 8 Pro and many standard applications including watching videos etc. However it isn’t a processor for doing high end gaming or high powered video editing. The version I had on trial only had 32GB of Hard Drive space which is no where near enough. In fact I don’t know why they even bother making it as 64GB Hard Drive should be the minimum. The Elitepad comes with several bundled programs including a backup/recovery program which takes 3.5Gb of the Hard Drive space. So by the time you’ve installed Office 2013 I found I only had 1.5 to 2GB of space free which I soon filled up installing apps and other basic software our teachers would require. It’s also worth noting as I went below 1GB of space the Elitepad became very slow and even unresponsive at times.

One thing HP have done well with the Elitepad is the screen. It features a nice 10.1″ screen with a resolution of 1280 x 800. This is not all though it is made with Corning Gorilla Glass 2 which is extremely tough and durable making the screen virtually impossible to break. They have also added a nice anti-reflective and anti-smudge coating which really makes a difference. Compared to other tablet devices I was able to view this from a wider angle and in brighter light smudge free! This made watching videos a dream but do I really need all these features for every day use.

I found the sound quality from the speakers to be fine and I was able to hear it without any problems in a noisy classroom. There is a nice volume rocker switch on the side/back which makes altering the volume very easy. The Elitepad also has an easy to access standard headphone socket for connecting to external devices.

The Elitepad also features a nice duel microphone array which picks up your voice and any other sound you are recording very nicely. This makes video conferencing very usable as I found people could hear me very clearly.

A nice extra feature is the 1080p front camera giving clearer images when video conferencing or recording yourself. This is complimented with a 8MP rear facing camera for instant on the go photography. The inbuilt LED flash also allows you to use these cameras under low light conditions.

Unfortunately although the Elitepad has some nice features I feel it is let down by a very poor battery life. Under normal usage I found the battery just managed to last one day and due to it being always on if I didn’t us it I found the battery had still ran out after only a day and a half. This isn’t very useful as you’ll have to ensure its regularly charged if your not using it. The battery can however be improved by buying one of the many accessories for the Elitepad. Due to the Elitepad having just one docking/charging port on the bottom it makes using accessories very easy. However the accessories aren’t cheap and will bump up the price of the tablet.

So conclude although the HP Elitepad has some nice features it isn’t for us due to the high price, especially when you add on the accessories to compensate for the poor battery life and to enable more external connections etc. This is a shame as the Gorilla Glass would be really useful in schools due to the drops and knocks these sort of devices get.

 

 

Using Apple TV with a Windows Tablet and AirParrot

This week I tasked myself with displaying a Windows 8 tablet on a projector wirelessly. The only problem I had was no money or time to buy anything new and very old projectors. Then I thought to myself I wonder if I could use the Apple TV in the Heads Office to wirelessly connect using Airplay.

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So a quick google search leads me to a piece of software called AirParrot. The first thing to note this software does cost money but you can download a free trial. The free trial gives you 20 mins of airplay time before closing. You then have to open the program again to get a further 20 mins.

After a quick download and install I was ready to give it a try. The program sits in your task bar and when you need to connect you just right click the little AirParrot icon and select the Apple TV you wish to connect to. A few seconds later and bang your windows screen is on your projector via Apple TV. It even lets you connect to an Apple TV which is pass code protected.

To be honest I was very surprised when I started trying different metro apps and programs. I was able to draw on the screen in Fresh Paint and it replicated on the projector without lag. I also tried watching videos and again no lag.

AirParrot also has tools to allow you to alter frame rate etc to improve performance if you do have trouble.

So if you don’t have a modern projector or TV with wireless then this bit of software with an Apple TV may help you out.

Acer W510 Review

Over the last week I’ve been lucky enough to have the Acer W510 windows 8 tablet on trial from RM Education. This tablet is available to schools through the Shape The Future Programme making it a really good value.

So, to start off with, I used the tablet connected to the included keyboard and track pad. I feel this is a real bonus to the tablet, as not only can you easily type away and create documents just like you do on a normal laptop or pc,  but it also acts as a case and protects the screen when folded. A nice extra feature to the keyboard is it can be folded right back to act a stand and I made use of these several times when testing out the video capabilities of the tablet. I do have a few small grumbles every so often I found that a letter may have been missed in my typing or an extra letter added. I guess this is due to the keyboard being slightly smaller than a standard keyboard and me hitting the wrong keys. I also had a similar problem with the track pad due to its size I found I was putting my fingers on the wrong part of the pad and trying to click in the wrong place. I guess I’d get used to this over time and moving from a 17″ laptop to 10.6″ tablet is a big change in keyboard sizing. Having said this having a keyboard attachment is a massive advantage and really changes the use of the device making it much more versatile.

The keyboard actually adds more than just the ability to type. It also has another battery for the tablet meaning when you are connected to the keyboard dock the battery life is extended to 18hours. Over the week I’ve had this device I’ve actually only had to charge it twice. I’ve been using it for all my daily activities from emailing to creating docs, browsing the internet, watching videos and creating a couple of blog entries. Compared to my laptops 2 hour battery this is a major improvement. One thing that is worth noting is the only way to charge the tablet is through the keyboard so don’t forget it if you are going to be away for a while.

Finally the keyboard dock also includes a full size USB port which is fantastic for plugging in external devices and, as it runs Windows 8, all your Windows 7 devices just work!

Now for the actual tablet. I disconnected it using the nice little switch and could carry on using the device as a normal tablet. Its worth noting the way the tablet docks is very quick and easy. Once docked the tablet is firmly held in place and you wouldn’t know they could be disconnected. I also didn’t see any lag when connecting or disconnecting the keyboard.

So the first thing I noticed abut the tablet is it weight or lack off! I didn’t find it too heavy and could hold it in one hand for a long time without arm ache. To be honest even with the keyboard attached the weight of the device is still very low especially when compared to a laptop.

Now I started to play with touch features and get used to the Metro interface. I found the device to be responsive to my touch and very accurate even when I was browsing the Internet and clicking little links I didn’t find myself clicking the wrong one. The tablet can actually accept five fingers touching the device at one time due to its multi touch features. Although I only really used one finger or two fingers as I didn’t find the need for anymore.

The screen is very nice and clear. I really liked the fact that its widescreen as this makes viewing videos a nice experience and it also allows you to dock different windows on the sides and still be able to view them. I also found that using the tablet in portrait mode was nice when reading books or using the on screen keyboard as it meant I could see more of my document. It’s worth noting the tablet has a rotate lock button as well which I found really useful when reading in portrait mode. During my weeks trial I used the tablet in many different environments. The only time I had difficulty in reading the screen was outside on a rare very sunny day. Inside I didn’t get any glare and was able to view the screen from many different angles.

The tablet also features many ports to allow you to connect the device to different accessories or other devices including a mini HDMI, mini USB and a micro SD card slot. The Micro SD could be used to expand the hard drive size of the tablet which ( especially if you had the 32GB version) you would need to do as windows 8 takes up about 20GB of the space leaving you only 10GB for apps and storage.

The sound quality from the tablet is fine and the volume rocker on the side of the tablet makes volume adjustment easy. The tablet also features a headphone socket for external speakers or headphones.

Internally the Acer W510 has a dual core atom processor with 2GB RAM. This is plenty to run Windows 8 and complete day to day tasks, however if you planned on doing some hi-end gaming or high quality video editing then you’ll need a bit more power and ACER have the W700 which runs on a Core i3 processor.

Although I’ve not used all the connectivity features the tablet has NFC and Bluetooth along with standard Wi-Fi allowing you to connect to virtually anything. I did find the Wi-Fi range to be very good and I was able to connect without problems from the bottom of my garden which I haven’t been able to do with any other device yet.

So I think its fair to say I really like this tablet and will be sad to give it back. Its actually made me put down and forget about my iPad. I also left my laptop at work all week saving my back. Having the ability to create, browse and do anything on a tablet is a real winner to me. From an education point of view I think we’ll be looking at these for kids in the near future especially as we are looking at changing our ICT Suite. These devices would make the perfect mobile suite. Although the teachers really like the tablet we may look at the higher spec’d W700 for them. I’ve had so many ‘I want one of those’ comments from teachers and staff that I didn’t have with the iPad.