Elementary schools often don't have an IT staff, if even more than an IT administrator, and so Samsung has introduced its first tablet dedicated to K-12 education environments, with plans to make it compatible (via an upcoming upgrade) with Samsung School, an interactive classroom management tool.
The tablet also integrates with Google Play for Education, a Web-based console and app environment where educators can search by grade level, subject and even more granularly—for example, "second grade math fractions."
"It used to be that a single textbook would guide a classroom's learning for the year," Jen Langan, director of mobility product marketing for Samsung, told eWEEK. "Now, teachers have a lot more tools and choices. Maybe today there's an app the class works with, maybe tomorrow it's a manipulative and, the day after that, a chapter in an online book. It starts to fundamentally change how people teach."
In a number of ways, Samsung has focused on making the tablet a complement to the classroom and not a distraction to students or a hassle to educators. If a teacher plans to teach fractions, she can search Google Play for Education, find the app she wants—teachers can also rank the apps they use, helping others to discover the best apps—and then download the app herself and push it out to her class.
The Galaxy Tab 4 Education is based on the 10-inch Samsung Galaxy Note. Tweaks include the addition of Gorilla Glass to the 10.1-inch WXGA (1,280 by 800) display, an included easy-to-grip rubber case and Near-Field Communication (NFC) technology.
Langan demonstrated how an entire classroom's worth of tablets can be set up in minutes.
The tablet comes out of the box ready to be provisioned. (There's no messing with the time or time zone—it turns on ready to go.) Langan showed how she can choose content and indicate the settings she'd like—what students can connect to, what they can access (the Internet on or off, social network sites accessible or not, etc.)—and then tap the ready-to-go tablet to each of the others, to transfer the information via NFC. In a matter of minutes, a stack of 30 tablets can be provisioned and downloading the software they need.
"You could practically do this on the first day of school and have them ready to go by the time everyone sits down," said Langan.
The Tab 4 Education can also integrate with a large screen. While most people of a certain generation remember walking up to the blackboard to share their work, a teacher can use her console to push a view of a particular student’s screen up to a big screen up front, so everyone can watch an equation being solved. Teachers can also push out polls and quick quizzes to determine whether the entire class has grasped a lesson and is ready to move on. Teachers also have views of each student's device, enabling them to digitally look over each student's shoulder and catch any problems early.
To keep pricing lower, Samsung didn't integrate a stylus (or choose to work on the Note instead of the Tab), but a stylus can be purchased from a third party. Other optional accessories include a rubber stand that can support the tablet in three positions and a plug-in keyboard. (Bluetooth can be problematic in a classroom of 20-plus students and may introduce security concerns—including wirelessly attaching to the wrong tablet.) The rubber case doesn't need to be removed or in any way adjusted for the keyboard to be plugged in.
Samsung has made education one of four key business verticals (along with retail, health care and finance) it plans to aggressively go after. It was initially successful introducing Chromebooks to classrooms, and Samsung is making as much as possible similar between its now two form factors for the classroom, to eliminate any learning curve for educators who want to deploy both.
"Last year was a banner year for us in education," said Langan. "We went from practically no market share to being number two, all due to Chromebooks. And while a $250 price point is really compelling, it's our Web console capabilities that is really the secret sauce."
Galaxy Tab 4 Education is now available. It ships running Android 4.4 (Kit Kat) and includes WiFi a/g/g/n support, 16GB of memory, a microSD slot for up to 64GB of storage, front and rear cameras, and a battery life of 10 hours. The tablet is priced at $369.99 (expect a lower price for large orders), and the Samsung School console, available through Google, is $30 per device.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been edited to reflect that Google Play for Education is a Web-based management console, not Samsung School. The latter is a software solution that allows for interaction between a teacher's tablet and his or her students' tablets, or other hardware.