Tegra Note 7 - Android with a stylus

"It's like we said on the iPad, if you see a stylus, they blew it."
- Steve Jobs

While I can agree that a designer "blew it" if a touch screen interface requires the use of a stylus, there are some activities (writing and drawing) best suited for a stylus. One of my absolute favourite apps is Notability. In fact, it is the only app that keeps me going back to my otherwise neglected iPad. As much as I like Notability, I am frustrated that I have to use a stylus with a tip roughly the same size as my pinky finger.

Samsung capitalized on Apple's refusal to recognize stylus use-cases with their Note line of phones and tablets. The Note series have enjoyed great sales, but they are among the most expensive Android options available. In fact, most of the tablets that have good styli tend to be expensive, primarily because they use an active pen. Active pens allow for pressure sensitivity, detection of pen versus finger, and more.

Last year Nvidia released (through various manufacturers) the Tegra Note 7 (TN7), a 7-inch Android tablet utilizing a passive stylus. The use of a passive stylus, along with a mid-range screen and Nvidia's own Tegra 4 System-on-Chip (SoC), keeps the price of the TN7 to $200. Despite the use of a passive stylus, the TN7 distinguishes between stylus and finger touch, handles palm rejection, and while it doesn't support pressure sensitivity, it does recognize stroke size.

There are plenty of reviews of the TN7, so I won't go into detail about the specs and features. Nvidia is primarily known as a maker of video chips designed for PC gamers. I believe it is because of this heritage that the reviews of the TN7 are almost entirely from PC review web sites. Those reviews focus on specs, build quality, speed benchmarks, and games. In those areas, the reviews are quite positive.

I have stated that purchase price is only a small part of the story when it comes to tablets, so I think it's important to discuss some non-technical aspects of the TN7. For one, one of the manufacturers making the TN7 is EVGA. I have experience dealing with them from an RMA standpoint, and that experience was positive. As for the OS, Nvidia has included extras related to the stylus, but otherwise it appears to be stock Android. The TN7 shipped with Android 4.2, but received an update to 4.3 late last year. It isn't yet known if or when the TN7 will see an update to Android 4.4. By minimizing the changes to stock Android, it should be relatively easy for Nvidia to keep the tablet up to date. Unfortunately, only time will tell.

Note: So, I left that last bit intact, but Nvidia actually released Android 4.4.2 before I published this entry. This is the latest version of Android available. It is a good sign for future updates, but once again only time will tell for sure.

Right away, the TN7 is usable in the classroom. It can connect to a projector via HDMI, and it works very well with the Netgear PTV3000 for wireless video. This makes it a good option as a document camera. There is a very basic drawing app included with the TN7 that will take snapshots from the camera and let you draw on top of them. Having an accurate stylus, and one that can detect and draw in different pen widths, makes the experience better. The inclusion of a microSD slot makes sharing of photos easy, but you can also use Google Drive.

Android educational apps are continuing to improve, and I will be going back and re-testing some note-taking and drawing apps with the Tegra Note 7. Hopefully along the way I'll find a replacement for Notability and finally let my iPad go.

FETC 2014

Last week was FETC 2014 in Orlando, Florida. It was the second FETC for me. There are a few reasons I like FETC, other than the opportunity to escape the deep freeze of January in Ontario. It has a great mix of activities, workshops, receptions, and a great exhibit hall. All of that is rolled into an event that is far less overwhelming than ISTE.

While the exhibit hall can often be an area where you want to dodge aggressive company representatives, it's also a great place to get your hands on devices that you otherwise just see online.

I first saw Swivl at ECOO in the fall. There is a new Swivl coming out, and the new model was on display on the FETC exhibit floor. The Swivl has a rotating base and a microphone with an integrated tracker. The base will hold a tablet for you to record the video. The microphone connects to the tablet via bluetooth, and the base rotates to track the movement of the microphone. This is a great device for creating instructional videos. In our Teacher Education program, our students record micro-teaching lessons to review and learn how to improve their practice.

While I believe there are better choices in educational technology than interactive whiteboards, I was impressed with the simplicity and price of the IPEVO Interactive Whiteboard System. If you've always wanted an interactive board, and you already have a whiteboard and LCD projector, the IPEVO is $150.

The robotic devices zipping around the VGo booth made quite a few people turn their heads. I think it would be great for a district to acquire these robots to share among schools. These devices allow kids stuck at home (sick, broken leg, etc) to continue to participate in school. This goes beyond classroom participation. Kids can even hang out with their friends during breaks.

Although I saw much more at FETC, the last item I'll talk about is JAMF Casper Focus. This is a fantastic way to hand over some of the controls of Mobile Device Management (MDM) to the classroom teacher without having to grant complete administrative access. The teacher, using an iPad app, can lock iPads to an app, direct an iPad to connect to a specific AirPlay receiver (student must confirm), distribute content, and even remove a PIN from a locked iPad. It was great testing this out at the JAMF booth with a few iPads.