For the past few days I have been playing with an Android tablet to explore the possibilities of its use as a computing device for students. The Archos 101 is an inexpensive tablet with a 10.1 inch screen, 16gb of memory, a micro sd slot for more expansion, a vga webcam, and wifi.
The size, shape, and weight are excellent. The device is as thin as a magazine and has a built in kickstand to keep it at good angles both for viewing content and for typing. It is unnoticed in my briefcase and is as easy to carry as a legal pad. The screen is big enough to easily read and the virtual keyboard is adequate if not just as good as a netbook. It can be held in one hand comfortably.
The screen on the 101 is not the greatest. The resolution is fine but the glare on the screen is terrible and the viewing angles are poor. It is a magnet for fingerprints. That said, it is acceptable and I will be getting a screen protector that should make these issues easier to deal with.
Although the typing is OK I decided to plug a keyboard into the USB port just to see what would happen. It workded flawlessly with no setup at all. So I tried a mouse. That workded too. So did a keyboard with a USB port and a mouse at the same time. A USB flash drive worked just as well. I could view video, office files, and pictures with no issues. One thing that impressed me was the ability to see shared network folders and open and save documents to and from the network.
The wifi was shaky at first and I had trouble staying connected but it settled itslef down after a couple of days. Speed online was good and the browser was as good as a desktop browser. Yes, flash works well for video but is iffy for interactive stuff. Using Google docs, dropbox, twiiter, Flickr, all worked very well.
The battery life is very good and should get students through a day pretty well. The hardware seems relatively durable although a case would be a must for students use. For $300 the device seems pretty darn good.
But.. we are talking about education here. What can it do? Android has advertised itself with the slogan "Android Does". It is true. I can create and edit office docs easily. I can share those docs. I can colloborate live. I can take and watch video. I can research and take notes. I can check books out of the library and read. I can listen to music on surpringly good speakers or with a headset. I can communicate through email, chat, twitter, facebook and almost any other social tool you'd like. In some cases better than on you PC. The apps are there. The Android developer tools and Google app inventor make it easy to create apps too.
In the next year we will see a good number of these tablets hit the market in a range of sizes and prices. Some will have 3g or 4g, some only wifi. As a learning tool these are flexible devices with a great range of applications. As a computing device they are powerful and accessible. As a communication and social device they are top notch.
Overall I give Android a huge thumbs up and this particular tablet a B+. Better screen angles and a better out of the box experience could have pushed it higher as I had to tweak a few things to get it funtioning at its best. An Android tablet is looking like an attractive option for 1:1.