The Device Debate: What Tablet Is Right For Classrooms?

Group of tablets_11There are a lot of tablets out there and we at Edudemic are certainly guilty of focusing a lot of our attention on the Apple iPad. That shouldn’t come as a surprise since iPads make up more than 94% of the education tablet market. That’s a big ol’ piece of the pie.

But there are a boatload more tablets that teachers should probably consider. The Apple iPad may be the most used at this point, but every teacher is different. Like students, each has his or her own needs, likes, dislikes, and skills.

We have been examining education technology products for more than 4 years now at Edudemic and it’s given us a unique perspective. We’re able to look back at where things were with vivid detail since it’s all documented right here on this site. In fact, Edudemic launched the same week as the announcement of the iPad! Back in April 2010, though, there was only one tablet. Now, there are a lot of other players in the game.

So let’s get the device debate going. What tablet is right for your classroom? In the interest of providing some real-world concrete examples, we’ve tested a few of the tablets we think would make a decent fit in most modern classrooms. We chose one tablet for each major operating system and tried to ensure each had a price that was reasonable for a school or district’s budget.

Below are some of the newest tablets on the market:

ipad air photo

The Apple iPad Air (iOS)

Summary: It’s the king of the tablet market and for good reason. This is the one that started it all and has influenced how others make their tablets. The iPad is known for being easy to use and reliable. It’s used in 94% of tablet-using classrooms and has seen a tremendous growth rate in the education sector.

Pros: It’s 1 pound and requires just a single cable. The wireless receiver is quite good and it is resilient thanks to the amount of metal on the backside. Just don’t step on the glass with high heels and you should be okay. This means it’s useful for classrooms where students pass around the iPad and – whoops – accidentally drop it on the floor.

Cons: The iPad Air starts at $499 not including the education discount. That’s a bit pricey for your average teacher or student. So don’t plan on any self-bought 1:1 iPad classrooms just yet.


The HP ElitePad 1000 (Windows)

Summary: The ElitePad is as durable as the day is long. You could probably drop one from a one-story building and it’d be ready to go. For all the Windows desktop users out there, this could very well be the best way to transport your life on the go. That’s because it runs both the Windows mobile operating system as well as the full version of Windows. This means it could be a very useful ‘transition tablet’ (a term we just made up, feel free to use it!) for any classroom that had previously been relying on a Windows desktop machine.

Pros: We tested one out courtesy of HP and the battery life was quite good. During a typical full day of use (8-9 hours of various usage), it still had at least a quarter of the battery life to spare. Considering the fact that it can run Windows as well as it does, that’s a big plus. Another interesting side-note is that some apps (e.g. Plants vs Zombies – very educational!) work on this tablet as the ‘Windows version’ rather than the mobile version. This means you’re getting the exact same experience you’re used to from your desktop or laptop, but on your mobile device. In terms of classroom application, the familiar tile-based home screen is welcoming and shows you a lot of news and updates right from the home screen. Personally, I think this is great and could prove to be very useful for students who are studying with the tablet. They’ll get quick no-nonsense updates while writing on their laptop or the tablet. The HP ElitePad can also handle an external keyboard and docking station, so really that student could type away on the tablet using the full version of Windows. Snazzy, eh?

Cons: It starts at $739. That’s a steep price to pay for a product you haven’t used yet, that’s for sure. It’s also about 24 ounces, making it a bit on the heavy side compared to other tablets.

google nexus

Google Nexus 7 (Android)

Summary: There seems to be a new Android tablet out every week but this (as of publication of this post) is the Android tablet to get. If you want a light and quick simple tablet to use for half the price of the iPad, check out the Nexus 7.

Pros: It starts at just $230 so it’s a great deal for classrooms and school districts on a tight budget. Which would be every single one of them, no? The screen is sharp and the tablet feels just about the same as the iPad. I would say the video performance (Netflix and other video-centric apps) is quite good as well. This means it could be a very useful tool for any classroom that uses Skype or other video calling. There is a Micro USB port on the device which means it’ll hook into a lot of your third-party hardware such as a microphone and other popular classroom tools.

Cons: The tablet is actually not that easy to hold onto. The back is not very grippy (similar to the iPad) and can really benefit from an external case. Also, the camera is not the best in the business but, honestly, it’s half the price of the iPad so you get what you pay for. That being said, it’s certainly good enough to take some selfies or have a low-bandwidth Skype chat with another student or classroom around the globe.

So, Which Is Right For Your Class?

Here are our key takeaways in case you skipped over the main meat of this article. It’s okay, we do that too.

  • If you want a tablet that’s easy to use, works well in your Apple-centric classroom, and offers an array of classroom resources: go for the iPad.
  • If you want a tablet that’s durable and lets you easily transition from a Windows-based classroom: try the ElitePad.
  • If you want a cheap and flexible tablet that works well with your Android phone, get the Nexus 7.

What do you think? Which tablet do you think is the best one for YOUR classroom? Weigh in down in the comments! Your favorite tablet doesn’t have to be one of the few listed on this post, by the way.


  1. Tom McDonald

    August 27, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Its NOT the tablet that empowers student success…far, far from it. The thing that matters most is the innovative education (research driven pedagogy) that’s delivered over the technology.

    Education simply is fixated with the ipad (look at LA schools)to the detriment of the students…go figure

    Paradigm changing pedagogy (truly personalized learning, over time) delivered over technology is the solution

    Lets follow the proven learning research not the over hyped technology

    ALL tablets should work for delivery, not just the ipad

    • Steve

      August 30, 2014 at 2:55 am

      Well said, Tom. I also am getting very tired of the device and platform wars. Good Learning and Teaching needs to be the driver, not the technology. I have seen imaginative, creative, innovative and truly wonderful learning taking place on many different types of technology – including laptops. But it was a pedagogical approach that allowed (even encouraged) students to go beyond the confines of mandated curriculum that encouraged this – not the type of device. As you have said, it’s about “research driven pedagogy”

      • Richard

        August 31, 2014 at 10:45 pm

        I agree… and disagree. First, second and third place MUST go to innovative pedagogy. Without that, it doesn’t matter what you put in front of a student, it’s not going to be effective.

        Once you equalise that argument, though – i.e. start with the premise that good pedagogy is in place – then you can start focussing on what kind of technology enables good learning.

        I remain convinced that a tablet offers a greater opportunity to break out of the “productivity” focus than that which laptops can devolve into (note, “can” not “will”). Portability and battery life are also major factors; touch screen is also important (with studies showing that a tactile interface stimulate the same parts of the brain as is used when doing “hands on” activities).

        Following from that, you’ve then got to consider which platform. Apple’s ecosystem remains superior to Android and, to a lesser extent, Windows/Mac and if you’re already hooked into Apple’s iOS ecosystem (like we are at my school, given we’ve had iPads since 2010), it’s really hard to justify the switch (as Apple, I’m sure, are aware!!). If, however, I were starting again from scratch, I’d consider my options carefully, as there are definitely more serious competitors out there than there were four years ago.

        TLDR: pedagogy is important – critical – but that doesn’t obviate the need to look at other considerations such as form factor and OS.

  2. Sam Sinclair

    August 28, 2014 at 2:11 am

    Thanks Jeff. My school is in the middle of this debate right now. We all like the idea of iPads, but some of the more anxious/reluctant staff are scared of the price tag and perhaps with good reason. The HP looks good (I hadn’t even considered it before) to aid the transition between desktop and tablet which I think is a real issue for many teachers. But for the money, I think most would go Apple.
    I am looking at a Google Nexus 7 for my own son, for exactly the reason it’s here: good performance and great value. When making multiple purchases e.g. for a school, unit cost becomes critical so I think that is my winner, especially in the face of dwindling budgets for the foreseeable future.
    For the purist: Go iPad. For the realist, Go Nexus + Google Classroom.

    • Jim Rice

      October 2, 2014 at 4:51 pm

      Desktops should not be replaced by tablets. They are used very differently and tablets will not accomplish near as much as a desk top in Computer Science. If you want to add tablets I recommend the Samsung, its android based and there is so many more free and low cost apps than apple it is amazing.

  3. Bob Price

    August 30, 2014 at 4:37 am

    For me Android is the best. The Nexus is not the best example, there are Samsungs and other lower cost tablets available with the same functionality. The main thing is to remember that these will get damaged as the year goes on. Do you have £800 to replace your wonderful HP tablet when you can replace an android one for less that £100?

    There are a huge range of apps and they all have access to the Google range of apps that can extend the classroom way beyond the school gates.

    I should add I am an Apple fan, and have a Mac Mini, but also have a HTC phone and a Samsung tablet. But when it comes to the impoverished budgets of UK schools, iPads are a luxery

  4. Chris Dunn

    October 7, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    A cost effective android solution that works out the box that’s #Learnpad#

    Using them now for the last 14 months. The classroom tool, gives teachers complete control over hardware and software and a facility to view, demonstrate, control one or even the entire schools tablet. Plus the management tools for staff to develop lessons from taylor-made links to webpages,files, apps etc or or use the curriculum 2014 ready stock held educational resources are a joy to use and manage. QR code scanning makes short work of adding the devices to your system and much more. Full integration with the school network gives children and staff 2 way access to files and folders while the ‘hand out/hand in’ facility makes giving and receiving children’s homework/work a cinch. There are many other benefits you do no worse than considering Learnpads as an option. “The world is not Apple!” quotes a member of staff.