Chromebooks, which run on the Chrome Operating System from Google, have been increasing in popularity in schools across America since their introduction in 2013. Chromebook shipments to schools surpassed iPad shipments to schools for the first time in the first three months of 2015.
Chromebooks are lightweight, relatively inexpensive, feature a complete keyboard and are fairly powerful depending on processor and RAM options. Also, unlike iPads, many vendors, from Acer to HP to Dell, not to mention Google itself, offer Chromebooks. This enables a robust bidding process for very similar products.
Price is also a key driver of the popularity of Chromebooks. Google offers a free suite of apps, Google Apps for Education, for free. This suite includes word processing, spreadsheets, and more. These apps work on the Chromebooks provided by a school, as well as phones or tablets that the students may have at home. There are no advertisements, and documents can be shared in real-time.
All of this adds up to a set of compelling reasons for schools to forego laptops, desktops, and tablets and line up for Chromebooks. Acer, however, is fighting to keep Windows based laptops in the classroom.
Acer is launching the B117 later this year. The B117 is a Windows 10 laptop targeted specifically toward schools and students. It will have an 11.6 inch display that can be opened to 180 degrees to lay flat on a desk. This display will be built into a spill resistant, rugged frame to endure the rigors of the classroom, home, and all spots in between. This laptop even features a drainage system to make sure that any accidental liquids don’t linger.
The touchpad will support Windows 10 gestures. Many of these gestures are similar to movements that students will be familiar with from using phones and tablets, such as pinching their fingers to zoom. So whether the students come from a smartphone, Windows, or OS X background, the B117 will feel familiar to them.
For collaboration, the B117 will take advantage of Microsoft’s cloud based solution OneNote. Other software will include a free educational version of Microsoft’s ubiquitous Office software suite, built in anti virus and anti malware programs, and a PDF reader.
There will be quite a range of hardware options under the hood of this durable laptop. Processors can be from the Celeron or Pentium families, and RAM will be either 2GB or 4GB. Traditional hard drives will be standard, although the storage capacities have not been announced. Flash (solid-state) drives will also be available, but again, the capacities are not known at this point. Hybrid drives and/or multiple drives are also expected to be an option.
Regardless of which features are chosen, the B117 will be small and portable. The weight will be just under 3 pounds and the total thickness of the device will be under 1 inch.
For computing devices designed for use by children, securing the data and protecting the user is of critical importance. The B117 will feature security provided by a discrete Trusted Platform Module support.
These are all nice features, but none are particularly innovative. What Acer has developed that is compelling, however, is a way to leverage the cloud connectivity of the B117 with new ideas in hardware design to add a whole new level of functionality to the classroom. Acer calls this Acer TeachSmart.
The key to Acer TeachSmart is an LED light on the laptop lid which can be lit in a variety of colors. This can be used in a variety of ways.
For instance, hand raising can be replaced by activating a certain color on the lid. Students could signal the completion of an assignment by activating a particular color. Yes/No and multiple choice questions can be answered by selecting a specific color for the LED. These laptops enable new and innovative communication between students and teachers.
Additionally, TeachSmart provides teachers with a mother ship laptop, which knows the LED status of all laptops in the room. With a glance at his or her own display, a teacher will know if any students are indicating a need for attention, or what percentage of the class is done with an assignment.
While none of the hardware taken individually is revolutionary, the combination of durability, cloud sharing, security, and the added LED light make the B117 a likely winner in the classroom. Acer has not announced pricing for the B117 as of this writing, but we expect the price to be in the $200 to $220 range.
NOTE: Given that the product has not yet launched, some of the specifications mentioned in this article may differ from those in the final product.