iPads, Chromebooks, and Choice

by Jean Tower


When selecting which computing device to use myself, I think first and foremost about the task I have to accomplish. I start with the end in mind. This works fine for me, since I have multiple devices and therefore, the luxury of choice. I have a desktop computer, a laptop, and an iPad.

But it gets trickier when recommending a 1:1 device for a school. It’s trickier because people want to do the best thing, but the most economical as well, and many think that we can pick a single device – one size fits all – fits all students and staff, fits all assignments, fits all tasks. I understand we all have financial limitations, but I increasingly believe that students deserve more choice. I have written and spoken about my belief that BYOD (bring your own device) in inevitable – most public school budgets are simply not going to be able to sustain the resource commitment of supplying devices for every student every few years. Additionally, students who use their own device can personalize their computing environment and become more “at home” and fluently productive. And the iPad is a great 1:1 device – more than other devices, it really is designed for a single user. We have experienced lots of successful uses of the iPad in the district where I work. Students do research, shoot video, take pictures, and create music and incorporate all into their creative work. They use iPads for projects, as well as for the small, less noteworthy daily uses that help them be more productive in a connected way.

But we still have laptop carts and computer labs, so there really is some level of choice for students and teachers, based on the task. But as we invest in 1:1, do we continue to also maintain laptop carts and computer labs? Can we afford to? Is there a need? Furthermore, as we look to scale out 1:1 to the upper grades, is an iPad the device of choice?

Reflecting on these questions I have been developing the notion of a computing environment in which all students have an iPad – very portable, personalized, long battery life, maybe some keyboards available to borrow for those who prefer them – along with a few carts of chromebooks in the schools to allow for choice. At the secondary level we may also need a few computer labs for specific purposes.

I recently ordered a chromebook to evaluate it as a device for students. Having witnessed and experienced the iPad as an aid to innovation and a catalyst of creation, I was unsure whether there was a place for chromebooks in our computing ecosystem, especially if they were meant to be “the single device” – the 1:1 device of choice. But as an ancillary device, I can see it taking the place of our laptop carts.

With iPads, our teachers have been incredibly inventive and have unleashed students’ creative forces in exemplary ways. They have designed workflows and options that are conducive to collaboration, multimedia projects, and sharing online. Students and teachers are redefining ways to demonstrate learning and mastery.

In contrast, chromebooks seem more like tools that reinforce more established technology practices, like research and writing. We are a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) district and we use Google drive on the iPads, so I imagine it would be seamless to use chromebooks to access Google drive. Chromebooks might be a great answer to replace laptops for office suite like work – word processing, spreadsheets, presentations – as well as online collaboration. I am really eager to hear what students and teachers have to say about chromebooks.


So back to comparing the devices themselves, what are the differentiators, iPad to chromebook? Here’s what I found in my research.


We can buy chromebooks for as little at $199 (though the Lenovo Thinkpad X131e Chromebook, which is a decent model, is $429) and the iPad Air is $499.

Chromebooks come with a keyboard, while the Logitech wired keyboard for the iPad costs about $50. Wired is vital if you will use the device for online assessments like PARCC.

The iPad wins on battery life – about 12 hours compare to 7-8 hours.

The iPad has a back-facing camera for taking photos or video while the Chromebook does not.

The iPad weighs about 1/2 the weight of a typical chromebook.

Most chromebooks have a display resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels while the iPad air has a 2048 X 1536 resolution.

Google says there are tens of thousands of apps for the chromebook. In 2013 Apple announced that there were 1 million apps in the app store, and now iLife suite apps – iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote – are free.

Utility when not internet-connected
Chromebooks now have offline mode, and thus are now somewhat useful when there is no internet connection. Most iPads apps are designed to be functional offline, so the iPad is more useful when no internet is available.


Related post: Authorized and Emergent




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