I've been intrigued by the possibilities that could open up in my classroom with the introduction of tablets for students to use. Because our district is a Google Apps For Education district, it makes sense to look at a true Google-native tablet, and right now the king of the hill is the Nexus 7. After reading reviews, I wrote up a DonorsChoose.org proposal which, unfortunately, has been languishing here for the last couple of months. (if you feel so inclined, please check it out. And donate. It's for a really really good group of kids!) Back in the fall I was fortunate to receive a grant from our school's parent group - to be used for purchasing eReaders for the class and some books to load on them. The hope for the $600 was to acquire six eReaders and use whatever was left for eBooks. At the time, the basic Amazon Kindle was the most economical option at $69. I use a Kindle keyboard at home and like it fine, and the idea of mixing them with the B & N Nooks we already have in the classroom was appealing - getting real-world feedback from the students on their preferences. Bu after viewing one student's broken Kindle screen, and learning that the setting controls on the Kindle didn't allow password protection for one-touch purchases like the Nook (an issue Amazon has since resolved.) Aesthetically speaking, for a middle school classroom, the Nook just feels more robust and durable.
Then I got a tip from a colleague that Groupon was selling the Nook color for $75, with a limit of three, which I jumped on. Then I waited in line at Target on Thanksgiving night and picked up a couple more of the Nook Simple Touch eReaders for $49 each. After getting a couple screen protectors and cheap cases for the Nook Colors from Overstock.com, I had five eReaders and still had about $250 left from the grant.
As an eReader, the Nexus 7 tablet was appealing because (I thought) I could load the Nook app, the Kindle app, and the Scholastic Storia app, giving my students access to all three platforms on one device, and increasing the size of their desktop library. Of course, the tablet has much more capability than as a "simple" eReader, and those uses would be big bonuses as well.
The Nexus 7 was a hot ticket for Christmas shoppers, and never went on sale. As a matter of fact, The Google Store sold out of the popular 16G $199 model before Christmas, and most other retailers were out as well. Luckily, I was able to find one at my local Office Depot on 12/26. Here's my initial impressions.
As an Apple native, it's taking a little adjustment for me to get used to the interface, but it's pretty intuitive (no,I haven't read the directions yet!). The tablet feels great and is zippy switching between functions. One thing I immediately noticed is the smooth way it runs Google apps - though strangely I needed to download the Google Drive app before I could try writing a document or accessing my account. On my iPad, Google stuff - especially word processing - is sometimes kind of clunky. Not so on the Nexus. Also, in Gmail I noticed that my "digest" emails from my Google Groups - which I have to manually scroll through on the iPad - on the Nexus I can tap on the headings and they open without the need to scroll down. A small, but appreciated convenience.
Next, I tried to download the Scholastc Storia app, and hit my first roadblock. Apparently, this app is only available for a small number of Android devices - all with 10" screens. So I sent an email to Scholastic and learned that they are "developing" updates that will allow other devices to run Storia, but they couldn't give me a timeline. As I said in my reply, this will be an important upgrade since the use of tablets like the Nexus or Galaxy are becoming increasingly popular in classrooms. If Scholastic expects to gain any kind of toehold with Storia in classrooms, they will need to get it on tablets quickly. But for me, now, this was a drawback, though hopefully a temporary one.
My next "surprise" came when I downloaded and opened the Nook Android app. It works just fine on the Nexus, BUT...I noticed that it was really easy - too easy - to "one-click" books to purchase. Fine for personal use, but not so great in the hands of 12-year-olds. And when I checked the settings, I couldn't find a way to turn this feature off. Interestingly, on an iPad, you can't even purchase books on the Nook app - that has to be done online; the app is only for reading the books. Why is the Android Nook app so different? I get it from a retailer's standpoint that you want to facilitate impulse shopping, but really, on a tablet where your web browser is just a click away, it seems like having the Nook app set up just for reading would be a more useful feature. Especially for classroom use. I had an online chat with a B & N tech rep and he confirmed that the feature could not be turned off and he sympathized with my plight. Unlike the Storia issue, this one is a big deal. It means that in my classroom, if students are gong to be able to use the Nexus tablet to access the Nook books I've already purchased, I'll need to remove my credit card from the account in order to avoid unwanted purchases - a hassle on an account that needs to be kept active. There may be other work-arounds for this, but I haven't been able to find them yet. What it means in the short-term, though, is that the Nook app will not be available for student use.
As I've learned, Android devices are not the seamless products that iOS devices are. Apple is successful not just because of design and advertising, but because everything Apple produces works, pretty much flawlessly and without a hitch, because Apple designs it that way. With Android devices, it's more hit-and-miss because the more open platform environment means there isn't one over-arching entity ensuring app quality or seamless program integration. Some apps - like Google apps - will work great. And some, like the Nook app, not so much. As I said, I'm just scratching the surface. As this article indicates, tablets have tremendous potential to absolutely transform the classroom and teacher/students relationships. But the limitations can also be frustrating. In February I'll be getting an iPad mini, and I'm anxious to make a side-by-side comparison once I get more familiar with the Nexus tablet.