Thursday, April 25, 2013

Which case for student iPads?

A critical piece of the decision-making process when it comes to issuing iPads to students in a 1:1 situation is the case. Once you determine that you will provide a case with the device, you'll quickly find that there are a sea of cases available and choosing one that meets all of your requirements can be very difficult. You may wish to keep the cost as low as possible, but end up spending even more money replacing those that wear out, rip or tear under the strain of frequent use. You may have to give up a desired feature or two and go with the one that's most practical.

You may opt to allow students to purchase their own cases but that comes with issues as well: if the devices are school owned, the cases must provide adequate protection. Some students may purchase simple top covers or other non-durable case; some students may not be able to afford a case with keyboard or a case at all; teacher troubleshooting of various brands and models of Bluetooth keyboard cases can result in lost class time if the teacher is unable to diagnose the problem. 

The first thing that should be decided is: Will you be issuing cases with built in keyboards? If so, that will add a small amount of additional weight to the device. It will also add an element of responsibility to students in that they will have to charge the keyboard as well as the device a regular basis. The batteries in Bluetooth keyboards have lasted weeks or even longer; however, if students do not develop a routine to charge them periodically, they may be surprised one day when they are typing in class and the dreaded red light flashes and the keyboard turns off. The unit that we ultimately decided on offers no feedback on the condition of the battery. A red light will flash when the battery is just about empty so students need to be proactive and charge their keyboards regularly.

Cases without sufficient protection increase the chance of breakage if the device is dropped so hands on testing of cases is the best way to determine what works. When we were looking at cases, we requested demo units from several companies. Many complied with our request and shipped out a unit for us to try. One company emphatically told us that they do not provide demos and pointed out that they also do not offer discounts if units are purchased in bulk. Their somewhat dismissive response to our request caused us to question the quality of customer care we would receive if warranty service was needed, so they were crossed off the list. 

The demo cases we received were varied in features and functionality. The top contenders were: Targus, Kensington, Clam, and Adesso. We received two aluminum keyboard cases for demo as well; however these were just keyboards with a slot in which to stand the iPad and snapped onto the front of the device when not in use. We could not go with this type of case because it provided no protection for the back:

The clicky-ness of the aluminum case keyboards had a great feel to it but we needed something that would fully envelop the device.

Once the finalists were chosen, I gave them out to various teachers and asked them to give it a try. Every few days, they would swap their case for another so after two weeks, just about everyone had tried out multiple cases. 

The Adesso and Kensington cases wwere an immediate hit because of the removable keyboard. The teachers felt cramped typing on a keyboard that was not detachable from the case and the ability to push the iPad further away and keep the keyboard close was a great feature. A couple pointed out that younger kids would not have as much of an issue with it. Both cases had a vinyl, soft feel to them and a few were concerned that the units lacked sufficient corner protection. The keyboard had a good typing feel and was not mushy at all. 

The Clam case was dismissed outright by all but one teacher. The weight of the case turned off many right off the bat. A couple remarked that for a family device that would only be carried indoors by young children, this case would be ideal but for kids to carry in backpacks all day it would add significant weight to their backpacks. Another pointed out that once the iPad is placed into the Clam case, it becomes very top heavy and if leaned back too far, the iPad would tip. One teacher said it felt off balance. Before putting the device into the Clam case it looked like it would be the top choice since it felt so lightweight. Once it was coupled with the iPad though, it felt like it gained a huge amount of weight.

The Targus Versavu was the most popular one that everyone wanted to try after the first tester raved about it. The case itself felt rigid rather than soft, and the keyboard had a good feel and response. The Targus case's four hard corner protection edges were noticed right away as the best of the bunch. Once the testers found that the device can be rotated from portrait to landscape right in the case, many were sold. One issue mentioned about the Targus case is that there is only one angle available and to some it was too vertical.

We took a vote and it was a close one but the Targus Versavu case won by a couple of votes. Several liked the Kensington case because it did not feel as bulky and weighty as the Targus and this group believed that was very important to consider. The ability to remove the keyboard from the case was another huge feature that the Targus lacked. After a discussion to determine the number one requirement, all agreed that corner protection was key and the Targus case was the winner. Just about everyone said if the Targus case only had a removable keyboard, it would hands down be the case of choice.

Interestingly, once distributed, some students inquired about the case choice. They feel it is too heavy and bulky and wished we had gone with something else. I showed them some of the other options and they quickly learned that any case with a keyboard will add both bulk and weight and of all the cases we tested, the Targus was one of the lightest. Also, before we surveyed the teachers, I did show three cases to several students and asked which one they liked best. They chose the Targus because of the ability to rotate the screen in the case. I originally wanted to put together a team of kids but due to time constraints was unable to do that. 

We chose the case that provided the best protection for the device, and for us this was the Targus Versavu. For next year, we will try to demo some of the newer offerings and may choose a different model if we find one with better features. We will also have a crop of students test out the cases and get their feedback as well.