Friday, January 18, 2013

Forget "the New iPad". Go Mini

So I've had an iPad2 for about a year and half. It's great. Mobile, powerful, multi-functional. Everything I thought I'd want in a tablet. But then our team received iPad Mini's to review just before winter break. Now I'm not sure where the old iPad is because it means nothing to me now. The Mini has taken over all my needs. 

Now before you say that the new mini must be a system upgrade, let me tell you the stats. The iPad2 I was using was 32 gig with 3G capability. The Mini is 16 gig, wifi only. Because I am usually in wireless zones at work and home, losing 3G wasn't an issue. In fact, I never signed up for any data plan on the old iPad. I was a bit concerned about losing half my storage capabilities when I moved to the Mini. But that hasn't been an issue. 

We've only deployed 16 gig iPads to our teachers and schools. There are usually between 120 and 160 apps on the iPads I help deploy to our schools. Space has not been a problem. Personally, I loved the need to start over on my work iPad. When I set up the Mini, I was able to only install the apps that I use the most, not the hundred others that I thought would be cool but don't use regularly. With my work, I demo a lot of apps for teachers. Apple's Cloud fits my needs perfectly here. If I need an app, I visit my purchased content and install it. Then I can delete it if necessary. At this point, I have 4.8 gig of storage left on the Mini. And that includes 159 songs.

The size of the Mini is perfect. I can fit the Mini into my coat pockets quite easily. It's so thin, even in a case. And the screen size isn't an issue. In fact, it's not a lot smaller than the full sized iPad. It didn't take me long to start thinking that the normal iPad was too big. The first thought I have when I pick up an iPad2 now: it's so huge. 

The most surprising aspect of my switch as been with typing. On the iPad2, I was always a one finger typist. Inefficient, yes, but it got the job down. With the Mini, I'm splitting the keyboard and using the dual-thumb approach, or the "teenage-girl texting method". Because of my demographic, I can't compete with your junior high daughter. But I'm getting better. In fact, I think I'm faster in the end because I'm not trying to go quickly. 

Other features that are superior on the Mini:

  • The Mini's camera is much better: 5mp back camera with full HD
  • 1024x768 screen resolution. It's not retina display, but it allows better pixels per inch than the full sized iPad2. It's noticeably crisper.
  • Siri
  • It's less expensive: $309 if you are buying ten-packs for schools
Everywhere I go, teachers ask my opinion when they see the Mini. My answer is always the same: go with a Mini for students, no question about it. It's a perfect size for the little hands of elementary students and for the mobile needs of secondary students. Teachers might be a different because, well, teachers are different. But the majority of teachers who already have iPads have said they would prefer the Mini. 

Basically, I'm over the "New iPad". Go Mini. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

App Review: Pixntell

Ever use Photostory to make video projects with students? If not, you need to. Just in case you aren't familiar with Photostory, it's free software for combining pictures and narration into a video. Finally, there is a great app to create similar projects, all on your iPad. It's called Pixntell, and you should download it immediately because it's free and awesome. 

Pixntell is very easy to use. You create a new project and name it. Then you can add images. Students can take pictures from inside the app. Images can also be added from your camera roll. Choose up to five images per project with the free version. The images will appear on your project screen. You can even perform some editing of those images similar to what you'd find in Instagram. Choose "next". This is where you can add narration. Press the microphone button to start recording. When you are ready to switch slides, swipe left or right to move to the next slide. You can go backwards to revisit slides. When you are finished, choose the option to save your project. And that's it. Videos can be exported to Dropbox, Facebook, YouTube or through email.

Now that's the description of the free version. For $.99, you can upgrade to pro. The pro version will let you add more than five images. You can also create custom slides that include text. Those are great features, but probably not something you have to purchase. 

Pixntell is a great app. I'm really glad that I found it. It's easy to use and the instructional possibilities are endless. Check it out. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

App Review: MyOn Reader

This year, our school district purchased the online reading program called MyON Reader. Basically, it's a database of electronic books that students can read online or download to a mobile device to read locally. Students are loaded into classes and teachers can assign books, create book groups, and monitor reading activity. In theory, it's a really nice setup. I say "in theory" because we are just starting to learn how to use it. But I'm only going to focus on the iPad app for this post.

So let's just assume that a teacher is a MyON expert. He or she has all students enrolled in the class, book groups are created based on reading ability, and book sets are created to assign to specific book groups based on interest and levels. Students log in to a computer and can access the content that is designated for them. So it only stands to reason that when a student picks up an iPad to access the app, he or she would be able to do the same. Wrong.

There is none of the functionality you would expect in the app. You can access thousands of books through the app. But students won't see their reading groups, don't have access to assigned book sets, and worst of all, have no good way to search for books that are suited to their instructional level. Inside the app, you find and download books based on a "visual search". You choose a category, such as animals, then choose from more specific categories. Once the books are found, you choose the book that most interests you. Except you don't know the reading level until you choose the book. And as a parent of a kindergartner in the district, I find it a bit annoying that I have to continually hunt to find a book that would fit his needs. 

Now, my favorite media specialist/English teacher who sits behind me would argue that those features don't matter. All that matters is the access to reading materials. We are going to agree to disagree on this one. In my elementary world, it's important that I direct students to reading materials that are developmentally and instructionally appropriate. Right now, the MyON app doesn't do it for me. 

I can only imagine that MyON is currently working on this issue. I find it almost unbelievable that they would have so much functionality on their website, but not on the app. With so much computing going to the tablet format, MyON really needs to get these changes applied so they can continue to serve the needs of students and teachers.