The Digital Eye

The Digital Eye: Technology for School

Article and Photography by Ed Sum To buy new technology is almost always a temptation for those people going back to school. Whether or not the institution is middle school or university, the questions asked should be; “Is that tablet really required, or will a netbook suffice? What about that laptop or desktop unit I have sitting at home?” When considering that videogames are the driving force that changes the landscape of computing—where faster processing speeds means a better experience—to upgrade usually means obtaining a new unit nearly once every two years. All computers can last for twice that, before the demands of an industry forces change—especially with the type of wires that keeps cameras, printers and other external devices connected. A visit to a specialty store can reveal a bounty of adapters to keep that firewire cable current. Fortunately, for USB 3.0 and 2.0–a more common cable–that’s already built in to the new devices. To get the faster speeds, a cable rated for handling the newer format, will have to be purchased. But for the brains of the computer, more power doesn’t always mean improved productivity; that just means more computer programs can run concurrently. But in what's available now, tablet computers are changing the scholastic landscape. They can hold nearly everything a post-secondary student needs for that arts, biology or physics class. But that’s only if the school has those books available in digital form. More Ivy League campuses and book publishers are slowly delivering the content, but not all K12 schools are following suit. A little research is required before racing out to buy an iPad for school. When that textbook or those course notes are not available in digital form, there's really no point to owning a tablet other than to play a videogame like Angry Birds when a lecture gets boring. Fortunately, most tablets are capable of recording lectures with its built-in video camera and microphone. Battery power is rarely perfect for those engaged in full time studies. A charger needs to be kept in the school bag. Also, the software bundle that comes with a unit won’t be sufficient for an academic life. Minimally, a universal document reader, word processor and sketchbook are required. On the hardware front, laptops and netbooks have a better functionality than a tablet. Those documents can be easily worked on and shared because there is a file based graphic user interface that’s based in the Windows 7 or OS X operating system. There are a few tablets in the market that do run Microsoft’s operating system, but they don’t have the elegance of being fully integrated. Windows 8 will streamline the touch screen experience. In the products that are currently available, some tablets put the applications upfront than the documents being edited. To navigate the layers to access that information is not everyone’s cup of tea. For those people who are touch typists, there is no verdict if a tactile response from a keyboard is better than touching a flat screen. While there are fewer parts to damage, the adage of this piece of technology—tablet, netbook, or laptop—won’t break doesn’t truly apply. Portable electronics tend to take a lot of abuse when on the road and it will eventually fail. The product might be worth repairing if the information contained within is valuable, but quite often, high failure rates usually means that portable electronics are meant to be disposable. Before authorizing a repair job, the owner should, get a price quote. If the cost exceeds that of a newer unit, simple reasoning may have some people simply go buy a new computer. Before flashing that credit card, the expense of purchasing a three-year extended warranty is a must. This will make life easier during post-secondary studies and for that globetrotter. Under warranty, if the unit fails, the store where it’s purchased from may simply replace it with the latest model. But before buying from places like Staples, or any other large-scale electronics store, be warned: their turnaround time in conducting repairs is never, if ever perfect. A quick check into Consumer Reports will tell people which repair centers are better than others, and also how reliable certain brands, like HP, Toshiba, Sony and Samung are. At least once a year, this publication evaluates how well these manufacturers and service centers rate. The results can also be found online in the Electronics & Computers section. Consumers should know that some companies, like HP, uses customized parts in their products. While computer memory and hard drives are universal, an off-the-counter product like a DVD-ROM will not fit into a HP laptop. In trying to replace either that a cracked screen or burned out motherboard is almost never worth it when the product is out of warranty. The cost of the repair can be invested into a new computer with newer pieces of technology incorporated into it. There is no time frame in when new features appear, but they tend to appear in retail outlets months after the Consumer Electronics Show in January. October is also a good month to buy too. This show unveils the latest in electronics and there’s almost ways going to be a new gadget that electronics enthusiasts will crave. Despite the fact that consumers love portability, the sacrifice is that there’s no such thing as universal ease of use. That desktop unit at home can very well be old faithful. If it goes, at least parts can be easily found and a functioning unit can be cobbled together. Transplant surgery for papa bear couldn’t be any easier with that computer do-it-yourselfer in the family to piece it together.

About the Author: Ed Sum wears many hats in the life of a critic- He writes about all matters of food, movies and tech. Check out his blog: Two Hungry Blokes

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