View Full Version : Windows tablet computer suggestions for educational program?

Ken Gracey
01-19-2012, 04:03 PM
Hey all,

I'm in the process of setting up a robotics lab at our local middle and high school. I guess you can say I've been waiting for about a dozen years for this opportunity, and the time has finally arrived with the perfect support from a few key teachers and administrative staff. For this program we've agreed to have out-of-the-IT-system computers so that we can control their use perfectly for robotics. None of us are interested in these netbooks for a couple of reasons (small display, slow processing speed, etc). We're wondering if tablet computers and wireless keyboards would be a better solution.

I haven't done any research. Feel free to tell me to "Google it, Ken!" too.

But I can't help but wonder how many of our customers are programming Parallax products with tablet computers running a Windows program. Is this a practical solution? Can anybody recommend a tablet computer I might look into? Do you think they'll become antique faster than a netbook? Anybody have experience with tablet computers in education, for robotics?

Any input here would be appreciated.


Ken Gracey

01-19-2012, 04:37 PM
Hi Ken,

I have 2 netbooks that I've used on and off for various propeller programming tasks - Propeller Tool, 12Blocks, S2 GUI, Propgcc. The first netbook was running Windows7 w/ 1GB of memory. I upgraded it to 2GB and the Windows experience was 200% improved. I since have reloaded it with Ubuntu and it's a fun little machine. Netbook #2 is still running Windows7 and still needs an upgrade to 2GB but it is usable for the Windows Propeller tools. If you want a bigger screen, you can always hook it up to a $99 monitor, keyboard and mouse.

Netbook rule#1 - upgrade to 2MB as soon as you can.
Netbook rule#2 - before you buy, make sure it isn't a case of major surgery to implement rule #1. My first netbook had a hatch on the bottom you could open to get to the memory, the second one requires you to take the case apart (top and bottom) and remove the keyboard to get to the memory chips.

For not much more than the cost of a netbook, you can buy an inexpensive laptop ($298-$328 at Walmart) that has 2-3gb of memory, a bigger screen, optical drive, etc. If size/portability wasn't a concern and you had to have a laptop (see below), I'd probably go this route.

General problems with kids and laptops or tablets. Laptops/tablets are fragile, kids aren't gentle especially in what could be a chaotic lab environment. They fall, hinges break, they can walk away, etc. Your own kid and your own laptop is a lot different than some one else's kid and the schools laptop. Laptop display goes out, pop on teh keyboard, either major repair costs, replacement or your laptop just became a funny looking desktop with a monitor and external keyboard.

True Windows tablets are more expensive than any other solution as far as I know.

Small desktops with an inexpensive monitor might be a better solution. For $298 (and up) you can get a dual core, 3GB, 500GB plus desktop with keyboard speakers and mouse and Windows7 - add a monitor for $99 and you're ready to run almost anything. No hinges to break, can't be dropped or knocked off a table. Spill something on the keyboard, worst case is $20 for a new keyboard. LCD monitor goes bad, $99.

Just some options to consider.

Ken Gracey
01-19-2012, 04:51 PM
Great feedback, Rick. Those are all points I wouldn't have thought of on my own. I think you're well-tuned into the value aspect of these decisions. You're right about what happens to hardware in the hands of others, too.

I wonder if anybody will recommend tablets. From the asking around I've done they might be too poor of a value.

Ken Gracey

Mike Green
01-19-2012, 05:28 PM
You can get very cheap 15" LCD monitors that could also be used with the VGA output of a PropBOE, wired USB keyboards, and one of the cheap "brick" PCs with just a small hard disk, maybe no CD drive and a pretty fast, but basic processor. These are sold in the commercial market for desktop use in small (and large) office environments where they're mostly used with networked applications. They're roughly equivalent to the guts of a much higher performance netbook, but with the external monitor and keyboard. You can always have an external DVD drive for the lab manager for installation and maintenance. You might be able to find some used units.

Tablets are excellent for consuming data content ... surfing the Internet, reading books, browsing e-mail, running applications that mostly access networked (or local) data. They're not so great for creating data, like entering programs ... even with an external keyboard. I have both an iPhone and an iPad2. They're excellent, both of them ... and I use them all the time, but I mostly use them for accessing data, both local and Internet. I have a wireless keyboard that I can use with them ... It's the same type that I use with my desktop computer ... and I have Apple's iPad word processor (Pages) which is what I use on the desktop, but I don't think I'd do any kind of extensive typing on the iPad. I might edit a big document or write something short like a letter, but not a paper or report. I'd do that on the desktop. Debugging on a tablet would work as would entering small (educational) programs, but the applications (development environment) really have to be designed from the beginning for the tablet / touch environment.

01-19-2012, 05:44 PM
If you want something similar to a netbook, this would probably work AND is sure to attract some attention!

I think it has 2 USB ports, a webcam, and a mic. Assuming this computer is for the EDDIE and MSRS doesn't take a lot of RAM, it should be perfect for the job. It's gotten some good reviews.

EDIT: I thought this was a computer for the EDDIE system, not as an independent programming device.

01-19-2012, 05:44 PM
I also think small desktop is the way to go, though I wouldn't skimp on the monitor ~ $150 will buy you a good 23" LCD these days. Wal-mart may be okay if you can find those e-Machine/Acers where you choose your own monitor. They will probably do everything you need to do, but be prepared for hard drive failures sometime in the first year after the warranty runs out :) . You could also build them yourself if there's not going to be a lot of them. For 25-50% more cost, you can build 100-200% better quality/performance. For some strange reason I think you may be too busy to consider this option.

01-19-2012, 05:44 PM
Ken, I have a co-worker who owns a Windows tablet he got at the last MS PDC. This machine is running beta Windows software and can run either the classic Window 7 UI or the new Metro theme. The good news is that it runs all windows programs flawlessly. The touch screen acts as a virtual mouse and keyboard which creates minor problems for the classic Window UI as it wasn't set up for that, so he uses it with a mouse and keyboard with the classic UI. At that point it's basically a windows PC with a 10" screen, not unlike a net-book in terms of feel. He also uses its metro UI which was designed for touch screen interaction and works more smoothly, but it is beta software and I'm not sure how ready for prime time it is.

I have an eLocity A7 Android tablet and I like it for e-mail, web surfing, games, music, movies, and Kindle books. I also have office suite software so I can do text editing and spread sheets, but a touch screen is fatiguing to use for any typing intensive task.

Ken Gracey
01-19-2012, 07:11 PM
Great input. I think it's pretty clear that a notebook is a better choice than a tablet, even with a wireless keyboard and mouse. The tablet screen resolutions look too low to be useful for code, and there's no way I'd buy another netbook for programming purposes (bahhh, train wreck!).

The desktop appears to be the best value for the money. Only problem there is that we're working in a full science lab with big tables. This means we need to set up, tear down in a matter of minutes. This makes laptops more appealing, bringing me full-circle.

I'll go and take a look at the Dell/HP laptops.

Any more input would be appreciated.


Ken Gracey

01-19-2012, 07:33 PM
I was going to vote again for "lab made" desktops as a great first project and cost effective solution. With the additional information, you're taking me back to laptops as the best choice.

The are easier to secure when not in use since the "Lab" is "dynamic".

Portability in the lab and ability to set-up tear down quickly is an advantage, now! Ability to take to contest and events (or remote fields to fly robotic ELEV-8s, for example) is another advantage.

I don't know if any companies have deals for educational purchases. Are they going to be a school district procured and owned asset? That may have some influence on the decision.

WBA Consulting
01-19-2012, 07:39 PM
I have been privy to the HP Slate 2 Tablet PC (http://h10010.www1.hp.com/wwpc/us/en/sm/WF06b/321957-321957-64295-3841267-3955550-5160457-5160459-5204374.html?dnr=1&jumpid=reg_r1002_usenc-001&lang=en&cc=us)due to a project at work that uses it and can honestly say that it is really nice. I have thought about loading the Propeller IDE onto it just to see how it performs since one of the units is simply for mechanical fit usage and I can do whatever I want to the installed OS (Win7). However, for the $749 retail price tag, there are probably better options.

I will second the low end small desktop solution as that is a cheap way to go but will give you a good display. HP has all-in-one solutions starting at $429 like the HP Omni 120z (http://www.shopping.hp.com/webapp/shopping/computer_can_series.do?storeName=computer_store&category=desktops&a1=Category&v1=All-in-One+PCs&series_name=120z_series&jumpid=in_R329_prodexp/hhoslp/psg/desktops/All-in-One_PCs/120z_series). You can also go with a touchscreen solution; the HP Touchsmart 320m series starts at $549. I am sure there are several other manufacturers with solutions as well, I just happened to have the HP site open.

Depending on what price range you want to stay in, there are micro chassis PCs that can be piggybacked to an LCD monitor. Inveneo does this for their computing stations for third world countries. They use EeeBox PC EB1007 and the Fit-PC2 (both available through Amazon). The downfall is that since these are designed for a particular market (compact and efficient) the prices are higher. An EeeBox with Windows is about $450 and would still need the monitor.

**edit** I just customized an HP Omni 120z All-in-one by upgrading the LAN card to include bluetooth and changing to a wireless keyboard/mouse and the price is $479. That's my final answer!


WBA Consulting
01-20-2012, 02:04 AM
OK, I have one more comment. If you use a small desktop chassis then you can use an Ergotron mount to combine it all as an all-in-one style PC. Only $79 for this one:


Oldbitcollector (Jeff)
01-20-2012, 02:35 AM
Something like this seems like it would be perfect...


No idea when we'll be able to get our hands on them.. Anyone have an inside scoop on this?


01-20-2012, 04:29 AM
Just some notes.

I spent some time looking at graphical programming on Android devices today mainly because I have an Android Tablet.

One solution that is very close to being practical and has been tested some by Lego is the former Google "App Inventor" project. App Inventor has been moved to MIT as of this year and will be rolled out anew by spring time. The problem with App Inventor is the server must be hosted, and today the only general solution is to use Google App Engine - and there is a fee for that with a given usage volume.

Scratch is another project - the basis for 12 blocks? It seems that Scratch would be more difficult to run as an "app" on Android. Maybe Hanno has some thoughts on this.

In the iPhone space there is Stencyl - looks cool, but I don't have a clue about it.

01-20-2012, 07:08 AM
I was going to suggest the raspberrypi as well. It's gone to production as we speak an should be in our hands soon.
In the mean time similar but more featurefull boards can be had in the Beagle Board, Panda Board or IGEP from ISEE for a bit more money. A lot less than a decent tab. Just put them in student proof boxes and add keyboard, mouse, display.
But what to do for dev tools for the Prop say. Well perhaps Parallax can compile the Prop Tool for Linux and the ARM architecture. If not the is PZST which can be compiled for ARM.
Then it needs an ARM build of BSTC and BSTL which will require BradC's input.
Or there is the command line HomeSpun Spin compiler which runs very well on ARM using the mono .net run time. I have tested this setup myself.
Or there is propgcc which I'm confident can be compiled under Linux on ARM. I am trying to find time to do this on my IGEP board.

01-20-2012, 07:26 PM
I think windows laptops are a much better value, much more flexible, and have been proven to work. Tablets are sexy now (I love my Iconia), but in a lab where kids are creating not consuming, I highly recommend keyboard+mouse+big screen=laptop.
That said, someone sent me a screenshot of 12Blocks running on an android tablet and it did look pretty cool!

01-20-2012, 08:03 PM
If price isn't the main concern there are also supposed to be quite a few laptop.tablet combo machines similar to this DELL


I'm sure there are ones for a lot less out there.


01-20-2012, 10:27 PM
I think the desktop or laptop route is the right one to follow. Although, I have to admit that I found developing on a netbook to be "not too bad". Screen resolution was always an issue so I did move up from a 1024x600 netbook (actually started with a smaller 7" linux netbook) to a 1366x768 ultralight laptop (now if I could just convince myself to buy an Asus Zenbook - 13" 1600x900 display. My 15" laptop has 1920x1200 and my desk has a 1920x1200 and 1600x1200 side by side - I like lots of display real estate).

But, for interactions where a tablet does make sense, you can always use an Android tablet with remote desktop/splashtop/etc. to get the desktop from the PC.

Maybe developing on the PC and then interacting with the robot (or other device) through the tablet may be the way to go. You get ease of development and "coolness" of a touch screen tablet.

01-20-2012, 11:21 PM
A few years back I made a luggable system using one of the smaller clone cases and a 19" lcd monitor. I mounted a luggage handle on top of the case, removed all but the hinge portion from the monitor stand and used angle brackets to mount it to the side of the case, and glued an imitation leather pouch to the case just below the monitor to hold the keyboard and mouse. Worked pretty well.

01-20-2012, 11:44 PM
Tablets will be the way of the future. But for now, I agree, there is no really ruggedised version for kids in this environment. I don't believe Windows will survive the android assault on tablets, but android has a long way to go to make a robust usable system IMHO (I have a Xoom).

So currently laptops. Shame they dont make 15" netbooks yet.

Ken, I presume all they will be doing in this lab is programming their BOE-BOTs? Is this correct??? I have an idea ;)

01-20-2012, 11:55 PM
If they are just programming the prop, why not do it on a prop? Surely the programs are not that big?

I am certain the forumistas would be willing to help out here into getting something running quickly. We do have the basics running, albeit in various incarnations.

Need to know exactly what the users will be doing... what programming language... etc

01-21-2012, 12:07 AM
Where is the propeller BOE_BOT information? I have just looked everywhere.

01-21-2012, 03:45 AM
Where is the propeller BOE_BOT information? I have just looked everywhere.


01-21-2012, 06:57 AM
Thanks although those pages don't tell me much. Remember, I already know what the hardware is (because I know the prop that is), but nothing really about the software. Guess it is still early days for the prop boe-bot.

01-21-2012, 01:38 PM
If its for educational purposes and your on a budget the refurbished Dell Latitude D630 is not a bad option, you could buy 10 for between $1500 and $2000. At that price you don't get WiFi but you do get a 802.11 and they are cheap enough that you can keep a couple of spares. Just buy one to begin with and see if it works for your purpose.


Jeff T.