My week with a Surface RT Tablet

IMG_20130414_084613The Surface RT tablet is the first tablet from Microsoft with the new Windows 8 Operating system.  This new version is focused on a much more touch enabled experience, with a new interface called “Metro” that is a replacement for the traditional Windows desktop without a start menu and a taskbar.  This new version has not totally moved past the old interface however, as you can always “drop down” to your familiar old desktop interface to complete some task or use some program that is not part of the Metro interface.  The new interface is a series of mis-matched dynamic ’tiles’ that can be auto-updating.  These tiles link you to apps, programs, information and games.  The new interface is responsive, and easily customizable, representing a new way to organize your start menu.  A great first tip for using windows 8: when in the Metro interface, simply typing on the keyboard will begin searching for that app, or program, and it is fast!

So, this tablet in a sense is a hybrid between a windows laptop and a app-focused tablet like the iPad and Android.  You can use the Metro interface implementing the touch screen while on the couch, but can also drop down to your traditional desktop and open up your browser or word processor, hook up a mouse, and use the built in keyboard cover to work in a more laptop familiar mode. IMG_20130414_084714 Have I mentioned yet that I really like the kick-stand that holds the tablet up? It also has the full Office 2013 software, which I used extensively in my week, creating MS Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations.

During my week with the surface, I really tried to use the Surface in as many situations, enivornments, and workflows as I could, to really see if it could be a good addition or replacement for my IT toolkit. I’ll describe my experiences shortly, but first its useful to go over the basic specs and features of the tablet for comparison purposes. (you can also read my other reviews of the Ipad 1, Android, and Chromebook for comparisons)

  • 32GB of Storage space (64gb option available)
  • 1366×768 pixels (16:9 widescreen)
  • Quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3
  • 2GB RAM
  • Wi-Fi / Bluetooth
  • Two 720p HD LifeCams, front- and rear-facing
  • Full-size USB 2.0, (SUPER USEFUL)
  • microSDXC card slot
  • HD video out port

I was able to use this tablet at work and at home, for almost a week.  I was actually pretty surprised and found I was able to be very productive in my regular workflows, as well as on the weekend, socializing and using more entertainment based features.  I shared the tablet with family and friends and they easily picked it up and found it fairly straightforward to use. Even the three year old niece really enjoyed it!  The tablet has the ability to allow multiple users share the device each logging in with either a local account, or a MSN supplied email account if you want cloud integration.  Since I am still an avid Hotmail user, I easily connected into my Skydrive, and other cloud services.

My setup for crafting this blog post.  IMG_20130414_182447

While using this Surface RT for the week, I easily hooked up many peripherals to the tablet using the USB 2.0 port.  I used both wired, and wireless mice, my 1TB Mypassport hard drive, my android smartphone, and a digital camera.  All were detected and installed quickly.  This feature alone really alleviated a lot of concerns I had. I was able to prepare, craft and publish this blog review using only this tablet!

Some of the things I was successful in using the Surface in my time were:

  • Taking minutes for our Staff Committee meeting in a MS Word Document.
  • Responding to my emails and messaging from many accounts. (Hotmail, MS Exchange, Gmail, and my own domain)
  • Marking all of my Distance Learning students submitted work in my English classes.
  • Managing my social media accounts (twitter, facebook, Skype, Messenger)
  • Taking photos and videos
  • Playing games
  • Streaming Netflix and other media from my local homegroup libraries on my home network
  • entertaining my  niece with storybooks,music making, and coloring apps
  • Multi-tasking, watching a movie, while surfing, by splitting the screen.
  • Using flash based websites in Internet Explorer.

Practical Considerations:

Holding and carrying the Surface was comfortable and easy.  It has a different shape than most other tablets, a longer bottom edge, which really forced me to keep it side ways, rather than holding it in portrait mode.  The device feels sturdy, polished, and was reliable.  The kick-stand is a fantastic feature of this device.  It works great and feels solid.  I wish more tablets had kick-stands built-in, just like the bikes of my youth. The USB port is a huge bonus that the surface brings to the tablet table.  It supported anything I plugged in like any other windows device.  The battery life was good enough, going for most of the weekend without needing a charge. During the day, at work, I kept it plugged in using the satisfying magnet clip on power coupling. The keyboard cover was another major plus to using the Surface.  Having a physical keyboard with a mouse track pad allowed me to be much more productive in my regular tasks than I have been using other tablets.  It is such a plus to not have to take up screen space with an on-screen keyboard and have a responsive physical keyboard that doubles as a cover. I was not able to try the HD video output as I did not have an adapter to use.  I imagine it would work easily, like adding a second monitor to any windows pc. The microphone and speakers were decent, but not really noteworthy. The two cameras worked great and took good photos.

The App Store:

The App store had more apps and games than I thought, but its not enough, when compared to Apple and Android.  I remember writing the same sentence about the Android App store a year and a half ago, but now it is a full and vibrant app ecosystem.  I would hope that the Surface gains a lot of Apps and Games over the next months to address a wide gap in the present.  I was able to find lots of interesting apps to check out and found searching and discovery of apps to be easy.  I did not find a fully featured twitter client, as none of the ones in the store included the ability to browse my pre-set Lists. Screenshot (4)For the majority of things I wanted to do, I was able to find an App or a Game that would fit my needs.  It was easy to browse the different categories, and to create custom searches based on price, rating, and then list them.

I definitely felt that this Surface RT could replace my Win7 home Acer Netbook in my personal life.  In the professional space, where I am teaching and doing much more advanced and demanding activities in my regular day I would still like my desktop/laptops.  If I had a Surface Pro however, instead of this RT, this might be a different story altogether, as the ability to install anything you want, and a much more powerful CPU, and I could say goodbye to my laptop/netbook!

EXTRA BONUS INTERFACE COMMENTARY

This faux-laptop is the closest I’ve felt to getting rid of my trusty netbook.  It runs flash in the browser, can hook into my local network libraries, will hopefully have lots of apps and games sooner rather than later, and with the Pro version, can actually be a total laptop replacement I believe. I feel somewhat similar to when I switched from command line DOS interface to graphical interfaces from Apple and Microsoft, it was a little bewildering at first, but over time its for the best.  Touch screen interfaces will help us transition from keyboards and mice, and move towards voice, touch, and eye-tracking interfaces.  Computing should not be constraining, as we have evolved from whole-room mainframe early computers to personal computing at home, and in computer labs at schools, to today with newer mobile carts, with tablets, netbooks, chromebooks and other BYOD facilities served through wi-fi. This surface tablet is one step towards a new way to interact with our computers.  Gestures will be big.  Learning the ‘short-cuts’ of the new interfaces takes a couple of days of dedicated practice.  Proficiency in new interfaces does take time, and it is worth it.  You will be able to navigate, customize, re-mix, inter-act, and direct all the apps and information at your fingertips with much more ability and confidence.  I was just starting to get the hang of most of the interface nuances and gestures by the end of the week, but that’s pretty quick compared to how long it took me to learn to type! (or write cursively as well!)

Overall, the Surface RT is a great tablet that will hopefully keep getting better with updates and growth of the App Store.  It has a ton of potential and has really stepped away from our traditional keyboard/mouse interface in a way that no other tablet has, while still maintaining the closest replication of the traditional keyboard/mouse combo.  Its a contradicting device, but one I was happy to use and eager to pull out in any situation, to see how I could make it work for me.  It may not work for you, but if you give it some time and dedicated practice, you might find something you like as well!

Cape Scott Adventures – A digital story! #ETMOOC

For this section of the #ETMOOC, we’ve been focusing on Digital Stories and have had some excellent presentations and opportunities to practice and learn this fascinating art.  I’ve been really enjoying the #sixwordstories and the Five-Card-Flickr stories that everyone has been sharing, as well as the animated GIFs that have started appearing around the #etmooc Google Plus Community.  I was struggling with coming up with a good story I wanted to share, and how I would create it.  And then I remembered my most excellent adventure from 2004 exploring the long abandoned Danish settlement on the most northern tip of Vancouver Island, Cape Scott.

CAPE SCOTT ADVENTURES

capescott

Cape Scott is no longer a settlement,

but a beautiful park,full of amazing long beaches.  This trip report/website/photo-sharing story I created is a little old, from 2004, but I still think its a great story, good trip report and interesting investigation into the failed Danish settlers.    I hope you enjoy it!

My Weekend with a Samsung ChromeBook (5 series)

Have you heard about the new Google ChromeBooks? chromebook They are new, affordable, lightweight, smaller laptops that are made by manufacturers like Samsung and Acer, and run a browser-based Operating system called “Chrome OS”.  They are super simple, and are a “network” based laptop, in that most of their functionality exists on the internet.  95% of what you would do with a ChromeBook is done in the Google Chrome web browser, using websites and browser based Chrome Apps to do things and complete tasks.

The laptops have a nice size, great screen, excellent keyboard, useful expansion slots (2 USB 2.0 Ports, a mini-VGA out (with dongle), a SIM card slot (for 3G internet), a card reader for SD-cards, and the usual microphone/headset port).  The laptops feel well made, offer good structural stability  and seem quite durable.  One of the best features of these laptops so far is their battery life. Google advertises about 8 hours on one charge, and I have been using this laptop all weekend without having to recharge.  It is put to sleep very easily, wakes up instantly, connects to the wifi instantly and is usable right out of the box.  Here are the key specs:

  • Processor: 1.66 GHz Intel Atom dual-core N570 processor
  • Storage: 16 GB solid-state drive (SSD)
  • System Memory: 2 GB
  • Communications: Wireless-N Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n)
  • Ports: Two USB 2.0, 4-in-1 memory card reader (SD, SDHC, SDXC, MMC)
  • Video out: VGA (via optional dongle)
  • Audio: Built-in stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack
  • Battery: 6-cell battery for up to 8.5 hours of use
  • Webcam: 1-megapixel

What do you need to use a ChromeBook?  Nothing but a gmail account! Once you start up a ChromeBook, it asks you to to Login, either  by adding an account, or browsing as a “Guest”.  When logged in as a Guest, you are able to use the device in a private mode, no data is stored, but you also don’t have access to all your “stuff”.

IMG_20130210_063728
Also, before logging in, its best to connect your Chromebook to your local Wifi Access point, using the System Control Panel in the bottom right corner:

IMG_20130210_063802

 

When you “add a new account” it asks you for your Google account and password, and then you are able to “login” using your information, rather than as a guest.  When you login with your gmail account, you have instant access to all of your stuff!  Your google mail, your google chrome bookmarks, your google calendar, your chrome apps, your google photos, everything and anything that you have attached to your google account either downloads onto the laptop, or available with a single click.

When you are logged into the Laptop, you have a typical looking desktop, and a useful little menu bar along the bottom left with some key icons:

Screenshot 2013-02-10 at 06.57.34

 

Moving from left to right, you have your Chrome Browser, Gmail, Search, Youtube, an Open browser window, a File Manager, and your App Drawer (where all your installed Apps Live).  You can add many “Apps” from the Chrome Store, most of which are free, that add extra functionality, productivity and usefullness.  You can also add fun things like games, and entertainment options as well.

All of your “stuff’ is stored in the google “cloud”, so if anything goes wrong, or you lose your laptop, you loose nothing! As nothing is stored locally on the chromebooks.  You can work “Offline” on your chromebook however, if there is no internet available, and will be able to use your Gmail and Google Docs to read and respond to emails, or to create and edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations, which will be synced and put online as soon as you connect back to the internet.

There are a few built-in Apps that will be very useful, like the “File Manager” which lets you browse, copy, paste and view any files stored locally on your laptop, or any of the portable USB thumbdrives or hard drives you want to connect.  You can also use the built in Media Player to open and watch videos, listen to music, or browse photos on your devices.

Screenshot 2013-02-10 at 07.12.07

 

Another interesting built-in app, is the “Camera” app to use the laptop’s Webcam.  With the Google Chrome store, you can add thousands of Apps to your laptop, just like you would with an Ipad, or Android device, except with the Chrome store, you are adding the Apps to your Chrome Browser.  This means that your Apps are available to you on any device you have the Chrome browser installed, this could be your desktop, other laptop, tablet, or smartphone, allowing seamless integration, access to your data, stuff, and programs no matter what device you might be using at the time.

A quick selection of some very useful “Apps” I’ve installed and have been using are:

These are just a small selection of the thousands of Apps you can install into your Chrome Book, which would then be available to you, anywhere you are using your Chrome Browser.  Because these Apps are truly ‘cross-platform’, it does not matter if you are on a Mac, or a PC, as long as you are using your Google Chrome Browser, you have all your Apps available to you.  A huge benefit!

So, what are my overall thoughts?

The Good:

  • Super easy to use
  • Multi-user environment
  • Very Secure
  • Automatically updates itself,  no IT support necessary
  • cross-platform support
  • cloud based storage
  • responsive
  • excellent battery
  • works with many accessories (extra monitor, keyboard, mouse, harddrives, thumbdrives)
  • deep integration with your Google Account
  • Affordable!

The Not-So-Good:

  • really needs a internet account to be most useful
  • can’t quite buy them in Canada very easily
  • needs more Apps that support offline mode
  • does not have JAVA installed

Google Chromebooks could be an excellent option for you if you live in the cloud, and work most of the time in your Browser.  In our increasingly Web 2.0 connected world, this is more and more the case, at least for me.  I am able to use this chromebook for 90% of the tasks I need to do in any given day. I’ve had very little trouble finding apps that I need to accomplish certain tasks, such as drafting this blog post, using only the Chromebook.  At only $250ish, you can buy 10 of these chromebooks for the price of one Apple Macbook Pro.  Granted, they won’t compare in horsepower, but for functionality, there is a lot of overlap!  I think that chromebooks would be an excellent tool for a shared classroom device that will allow students easy access to their “Stuff” and also allow the laptop to be easily shared among many classes!

 

#etmooc – Twitter Chats and Lipdubs!

Hello ETMooc’ers!

So, in keeping with my resolution to participate more, and lurk less, I wanted to write an update to what I’ve been doing in the #etmooc over the last couple of weeks. I’ve been busy, trying some new types of participation and to try to give back to the larger communtity of #etmooc as someone who’s been around the block so to speak. So, here goes:

  • I’ve committed to regular blog posts about my experiences (this is one of them)
  • I’ve joined the #etmooc Google Plus Community (AND I LOVE IT!)
  • I’ve created two Google Plus Tutorial Videos (Part 1 and Part 2)
  • I’ve watched one of the Blackboard Collaborate sessions live (with Alec Couros) on the Introduction, and I’ve watched another after it was archived (With Dean Shareski) on Sharing as Accountability
  • I’ve participated in the first #etmooc online twitter chat!  It was fast and furious, but a great time and I was able to find a whole pile of people to network with, follow, and interact with.  There were some great questions about what it means “to be connected” and how do we actively share and contribute back to our networks.
  • I’ve responded to comments on my blog posts, but need to spend more time exploring the blog hub and finding etmooc’ers to subscribe to and comment on.  Thats my new goal for the next week.  I’ve already added the #etmooc blog hub to my Google Reader account, so that should make things a little easier!

Whats coming up next?  Well, I signed up to film myself in the #etmooc Lipdub!  This will be a ton of fun, and I really enjoyed watching the example, from Alex Couros, “Thank you for being my friend”  I think this is a fantastic, fun, community building event that will produce something really cool!  Constructivism at work!

I hope to see you all around the #etmooc hitching post!

Google Plus – Whats going on? (Video Demo) #etmooc

Hey #ETMOOC

I’ve noticed that a lot of activity for #etmooc has been happening inside Google Plus, in their fantastic new Community.  Its a wonderful space and tool and I am so happy to see more people jumping into G+ and giving it a whirl to see what its all about!

Google plus can definitely seem a little daunting at first!  Whats a “circle”?  Why do we need to “hangout”?  Basically, google plus is a social network with lots of built in ways to interact, share, discuss, communicate and collaborate.  All with great safety and privacy controls!  Win-Win-Win!

Just to give everyone a little help, I’ve created two basic, quick and easy, screencapture tutorials as a tour of some of the easy stuff.  Please, give them a watch and go start playing around.  Add people to circles, hangout with some friends, make new connections and add your thoughts to some discussions in the #etmooc community!

#ETMOOC – ET Calls home!

ETMOOC

Hello visitors!  This post is part of my new year’s resolution to become more active in my online communities.  I’ve joined a “MOOC” or if you have been hiding under a rock, what is known as a “Massive Online Open Course” on “ET” or “Educational Technology”. This #ETMOOC is an attempt to gather a large group of people (thousands at least) to share their knowledge, expertise, ideas, challenges and successes with each other in using Educational Technology. I’ve tweeted it out, I’ve joined the Google + community, and now I’m starting to blog about it.  Please, consider joining me!

Normally, in previous MOOCs I’ve joined, I’ve been more of a lurker, reading everything, processing ideas, collecting resources, but not giving back as much.  I was taking lots away from these opportunities, but never contributing.  So, this is the start of my chance to flip it around and become more active in my community participation.  I think I do have lots to offer to a large group of like minded people, gathered together to learn about Educational Technology.

For those that don’t know me, I’m an online educator for the Vancouver School Board.  I have been involved with the Vancouver Learning Network, a Distance Learning school for over 9 years now.  When I first started there, it had a different name, and a different purpose.  Back then it was a ‘paper-based’ distance learning school, one that continued the long held purpose of providing education to students far far away in paper-based course packs that would be mailed back and forth through the post office.  This was the standard way of doing distance education for over 80 years!  When I started, it was the birth of our switch to online delivery, to take this old model and to modernize it, make it more active, less isolated, more personalized, a bigger community, and to make the activities and learning more problem based.  While at the VLN, I’ve also created a digital Library, or E-Library, an online space that tries very hard to replicate a real school library and the resources and services it would provide to students.  We have tutorials, a reference desk, online databases, ebooks and other digital services to help our distance learning students from afar.

I’ve also recently started teaching as a sessional online instructor with the University of British Columbia, in the Teacher-Librarian Diploma program.  I am teaching LIBE 477B – Special Topics in Teacher-Librarianship, and this course is all about Web 2.0, and how to extend your School Library out into the world, and to connect and collaborate with your peers online.  There is a ton of over-lap between my day to day job, this UBC course, and this #ETMOOC, so I am all reved up to go!

I hope that you are enjoying your experiences in the #ETMOOC and that you call home once in a while to check in and see how everyone is doing!

 

 

Welcome!

Welcome!

You’ve found your way to my little place on the internet!  Congratulations!  I’ve recently redecorated the place, hope you like the new look.  The plan for this new blog is to use it to talk about stuff going on in my life.  To share the fun moments, the deep conversations and the celebrations of friends and family.  The most important and exciting thing happening soon is Caroline and I’s upcoming wedding this summer.  Please, check out our Wedding page for lots more information!

I also plan on using this space to share some of my professional work and life, to showcase new projects, and to help share what I have learned.  Please, check out my ePortfolio I completed as my final project for my Masters in Educational Technology from UBC.

I’ve also created a few digital artifacts from my travels, mostly educational tools about information literacy, social media safety and an epic backpacking trip to Cape Scott, at the northern edge of Vancouver Island.  You can see all of these little projects on my Links/Resources page.

Finally, if you are looking to get in touch, I have a lot of different options!  Please, check out the Contact page to see the many ways you can reach out!

Remember to keep in touch!

Aaron