Friday, 8 March 2013

Google Chromebook Pixel in Student Hands

I got my hands on a Chromebook Pixel this week and released it into the wild. For some background on what the Pixel is, check out this review. In sum, killer laptop with incredible resolution and touch screen interface.

Students use Chromebooks in my science class. They check them out at the beginning of each period and return them before the end. On Tuesday, I substituted the slick, aluminum body Pixel for one of the older Samsung Series 5 machines.

Curious about how a student might best use the touchscreen interface, I rigged the test by handing the Pixel to one of the more active and curious students in this particular class. The lucky student (guinea pig?) was Zach.

Our one hundred minute block periods allow for significant independent activity time, and I structure the majority of that time in Montessori-style work stations. This allows me to move around and interact with students individually and in small groups. On Tuesday, this also allowed me to observe Zach throughout the class.

At first, Zach was as impressed as I was with the screen resolution and overall aesthetic. I told Zach that the screen had touch capability when I gave it to him. He immediately began to test that out, and did almost all of his screen navigation with his fingers. This surprised me because I found the touch navigation a bit awkward. It could be that he was just putting it through the paces, but he had a smile on his face as he re-sized windows and opened new tabs and touch-clicked open new links.

In very short order, Zach opened up a Google Drawing, guessing as I had, that this must be an enhanced experience. Just as I was, however, Zach was disappointed. “I can’t do anything with the touch screen in drawings. Really?” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

By the end of the period, many students had gathered around Zach and the classroom was occasioned by the occasional squeal. They had discovered that using Maps with the Pixel touch screen is pretty awesome. Take the best smartphone map experience you can imagine and then port it to a much larger screen with significantly higher resolution.

Because the operating system is Chrome, Pixel users are initially limited to whatever web apps they can use. However, it is reportedly possible to run a second operating system on these new pixels. Yes, linux and maybe even Windows. Putting Google’s competition strategy with Apple aside for the moment, if I could run native applications on that machine, it would most definitely become my primary workhorse. At a $1300 price tag, however, Zach is going to have to wait a few generations before he gets such luxury in class again.

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