Back to school tech tips and new accessories for everyone

WATCH: Steve Makris gives the Morning News some back to school tech tips.

What computer should you get for back to school? A Windows or Apple laptop? How about an iPad or Android tablet? Or is your teenager pitching for a new smartphone that does it all?

Don’t be confused by the barrage from advertisement flyers promoting back to school computers. And don’t give in to peer pressure from fellow students. With a little bit of research, you may find out last season’s laptop or tablet will be just fine.

Here are some tips to get you through all the for-school tech buying questions.

  • Step one: check with your child’s own school to see what they recommend for K-12 grade levels.
  • All Alberta schools are required to follow the curriculum set forth by Alberta Education. As long as schools (or school districts) meet the expected outcome for each course, they can choose their own tech tools.
  • Schools use different platforms for teaching. A few may still have a proprietary platform that requires the purchase of a specific PC laptop or iPad. Most have progressed to web-based teaching tools which work with any laptop, tablet or smartphone that is web capable. Google Apps for Education, for example is used my most schools, including the Edmonton Public School Board.
  • More schools are adopting a BYOD (bring your own device) policy but it’s important to understand that a larger screen, like a tablet or laptop, will show web sites better than a smartphone which shows a condensed mobile version of the same web site. There is also the distraction factor when using a smartphone with constant social connection chatter.

Terry Korte, a technology coordinator with Edmonton Schools (EPSB), says more schools are open to the increasingly popular BYOD but stresses the importance of large screens and keyboards for learning. “Google Apps on iOS (iphones and iPads) and Android (phones and tablets) have improved a lot over the year. Still, if I were a parent sending a student to an EPSB school, the Chromebook with a full keyboard and access to the full version of all of our Google Apps would be my definite choice.”

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I agree, even larger-screen tablets lose a good chunk of their view when using on-screen keyboards. This also means a smartphone or small tablet would be a poor choice for school work.

For school work, a computer or tablet’s ability for a fast wireless connection is more important than its gaming ability (sorry, kids). Korte notes that because of the province-wide SuperNet many schools have much faster wireless connections than most households. WiFi “N” standard should suffice for a great online wireless computing experience. Even computers that are  several years old will have that connection speed, so your child may be just fine with the device you already have on hand (sorry again, kids).

If you do decide to upgrade, you may have some options to make the purchase more affordable. The EPSB, for example, has a pool of 25,000 Chromebooks and desktop ChromeBases for student use. The Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools has a technology purchase plan for students that provides for the purchase of a MacBook Air or Acer Chromebook, spreading the cost over 8 to 10 monthly instalments.

Chromebooks, which are laptops that rely on an Internet connection for running programs, are best suited for schools that use web-based tools. They cost under $400 and are available from most computer makers. Despite their reliability in today’s prolific WiFi world, they are not as independent offline as regular laptops with their large hard drives and installed software.


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  • Getting tired of your smartphone? Keep summer memories alive with a splash of Aquamarine, Lucite, Marsala, or Strawberry Ice hues with a new military standard shockproof Shock Express case, $34.99, from Canadian Caseco. Available at most specialty cellphone stores.
Add suttle or vibrant colours to your new or old phone from Makris
  • Check out the Caseco anti-LCD blue light Screen Patrol screen protector, $29.99 US (free shipping in Canada). It has shatter-proof and scratch proof tempered glass.
Logitech MX Performance Wireless Mouse. provided
Logitech Keys-To-Go for iPad. provided
  • The Logitech MX Performance Wireless Mouse, $99, tracks anywhere, including glass. With switchable Hyper-fast scrolling and four programmable thumb buttons and a small unifying USB connector which can run other Logitech devices, you get a lot of mouse value. Logitech’s Keys-To-Go ultra-portable wireless Bluetooth keyboard. $69.99, for iPad, iPhone, Apple TV and more has spill resistant FabricSkin and a great soft key response. Both available at BestBuy.
Dell Venue 10 7000 quality Android tablet. supplied
  • Dell’s Venue 10 7000 OLED 2560×1600 10.5” Android tablet ($599 for tablet – $749 with keyboard) is unlike any other. It is quality-built, thin, with a removable keyboard and a cleverly designed thicker battery compartment on one side for easy holding. It is designed for Google for Work allowing it to run work in an office environment and personal home device. You can’t even get a screen capture if a mix of work and personal information is on-screen. The multi-swivel QWERTY keyboard which features a PC-like left/right touch pad when in laptop mode, flips around for Tablet mode or simply just comes off. This is one of the few tier one Android tablets that can rock for school use too.
From left Ventev Dashboard 2100c powercell 3015c and powercell 3015+. supplied
  • Smart mobile quality accessories are hard to find. US based Ventev’s car Dashport 2100c $24.99, on, charges two devices with one standard USB and micro cord connector. The powercell 3015+ battery charger 2-in-1 portable battery and wall charger, $49, with LED battery indicator delivers 12.5 hours of extra talk time and can charge USB-powered devices. Arriving in stores now, the fashionable powercell 3015c battery charger, $49, with micro USB or Lightning cable provides 12 additional hours of talk time.
Philips 9000 Laser Guide mens trimmer
Philips 9000 Laser Guide mens trimmer. supplied


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  • The Philips laser guide BeardTrimmer 9000, $99.99, help you guide your cut accurately with the dual-sided reversible trimmer. You don’t need to actually trim in straight lines, but the projected laser line shows where the trim is taking place. Its water-resistant for easy cleaning and comes with two beard comb attachments.
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Check my Edmonton Global TV Sunday Morning News Tech Talk segment this weekend for the prize entry key words.

The HP Pavillion X360 13.3 inch convertible laptop. supplied
  • The HP Pavillion X360 13.3” laptop, $700, swivels its keyboard completely, for full touch screen mode. Powered with an AMD Quad-Core A8-6410, 6 GB RAM and a 500 GB hard drive, it features bilingual modes and is Windows 10 free upgrade-ready. The prize includes a HP ENVY 7640 e-All in-One printer, $199.99, with extra paper and ink thrown in! It is NFC ready for touch printing from your mobile device or with your WiFi router, has two-sided printing and a 3.5” touch screen.
Plantronics BackBeat SENSE wireless headphones. Plantronics
  • Plantronics’ newest sound isolating BackBeat Sense, $199, on-ear Bluetooth wireless headphones feature a mic for cellphone use and auto pause when your phone rings. It has the best Class 1 Bluetooth 4.0+EDR for pristine quality audio up to 100 meters away. You can switch between two wireless devices, use large built-in volume control.The music also pauses if you take the headphones off. They are chargeable via USB cable for 18 hours of wireless play but also work with audio cable, both included. They are light on your head and sound so good, with deep but not intrusive bass. Gotta love that included case. Nice.
Canadian Caseco Core 360 is simple yet effective at holding your phone in your car at any angle magnetically. supplied


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  • Caseco’s minimally designed small and smart Core 360 magnetic car mount, $44.99, holds your phone at any angle. The magnetic attachment is strong to hold any size phone but releases the phone with a small tug.

Follow my personal blog for more cool technology and my recent visit at Ford’s Silicon Valley Research Centre.

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