Android Tablets: More to the story than low prices

To start, I want to clarify that all of my personal use devices are Android-based. I have to say this because I am about to say some negative things about deploying low-cost Android devices in schools. I assure you that I neither hate Android, nor do I love iOS. There are things about both that I like, and there are plenty of things about iOS that drive me crazy as well.

This post is about making sure you know what you're getting yourself into when you decide to try Android in the classroom, especially in light of Google's new education initiative with its Nexus 7 tablet.

There are plenty of things to be excited about when it comes to the Nexus line of devices. They have very good specifications, and are generally the first devices to be upgraded to the newest version of Android. They always run "stock Android", which means you don't have to worry about losing some neat feature if you switch between Samsung, HTC, LG, or Sony (or feel like to have to commit to one manufacturer repeatedly to ensure you keep that feature). They also tend to be quite a bit cheaper than Apple's offerings.


Google does not actually make any of the Nexus devices. Device manufacturing has been contracted out to various companies including Samsung, LG, and Asus. The first problem is that Google does not have direct control over the supply of their Nexus devices. This has lead to supply issues, especially for new devices. It also lead to some quality control issues with the original Nexus 7 tablet.

As for the low cost of the devices, purchasing devices directly from Google Play will incur additional shipping charges. You can get the Nexus devices from several retailers, but they typically charge slightly more than the price seen on Google Play. It is also unlikely you will be able to walk in to a local Best Buy and walk out with an entire class set of tablets. I'm not sure that's how you want to make your institutional purchases anyway. It is also not possible to purchase devices from the Play store using a purchase order. Regardless of how you go about buying the tablets, the Google advertised price isn't the price you'll pay.


Apple has had a Volume Purchase Plan in place in the US for a while now, and it spread to many other countries about a year ago. The VPP lets you purchase iOS apps in bulk at a discount (50% for 20 or more licenses). iOS 7 even introduced new ways to keep control over the licenses you purchase, allowing you to grant a license to a user and then later revoke it in order to grant it to another user.

Although Google's recent announcement includes bulk purchases via purchase order, there are very few details. It does not appear that there is a discount, nor does it seem there is the same level of control over the deployed licenses.


Although Nexus devices receive the latest updates first, that does not mean that all Nexus devices will get the newest version of Android. The Galaxy Nexus phone from two years ago will not receive the latest Android 4.4 update (officially, anyway). There is a pretty detailed summary of the update status for various devices here.

Even on devices that do qualify for the latest update, you have little control over when your devices will actually have access to the update. The updates are pushed out to devices at random times. Although there is a mechanism to manually check for the update, it won't give you access to the update sooner. It just means that you might see the update before the scheduled automatic check. There is an explanation of the process here. Google does post device images, but even these are typically available after some devices will have already received the update.

For major updates, beta versions of iOS are available well in advance. These can be useful to IT administrators who are tasked with supporting the devices and training users. With Android, it is quite likely that end users would receive an update before the IT staff.

Maintenance and Repair

As previously mentioned, Google does not actually make the Nexus devices. This leaves you at the mercy of the service centers of the manufacturer, and generally speaking the service is pretty bad. Turn-around times are typically over a week, and in one personal case, it took over three weeks to get a repaired device returned (after the second repair).


As I mentioned, there are plenty of things to like about Android and the Nexus line of devices. Android 4.2 and higher introduced multi-user capabilities that make Android great for shared tablets in a classroom. The app store has been improving in both the number and quality of the apps. It really doesn't hurt that the Nexus devices offer some amazing specifications for the price, even if the price is slightly higher than Google says it is.

I want to be clear that I am not trying to tell anyone to not go with Android tablets for the classroom. I am just trying to make sure you know what you are getting yourself into.