Acer and Microsoft Partner to Take on Chromebook in the Classroom

Posted on January 28, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 0 Comments

Acer and Microsoft Partner to Take on Chromebook in the Classroom

Acer and Microsoft revealed this week that they have collaborated on a new Windows 10 laptop aimed at the education market. Dubbed the TravelMate B117, this new laptop provides unique interactive features that are ideal for the classroom.

Aside from the specifics of this device, it’s worth noting that Microsoft’s quiet partnership with all of the major PC makers has, over time, resulted in a set of very interesting PCs that provide a level of reliability and stability—and a lack of crapware—that was previously only the province of the Signature PCs that are sold through the Microsoft Store. This is a very welcome development, and as this Acer model shows, it is starting to impact all market segments.

So this Acer.

The Acer TravelMate B117 looks like a typical laptop, though it features a ruggedized frame and spill-resistant keyboard in a nod to the education market. It’s an 11.6-inch device with Pentium or Celeron processors, up to 4 GB of RAM, and HDD or eMMC storage. So nothing spectacular, at least at first glance. But the B117 comes with Windows 10 Pro and includes a couple of very unique features that set it apart from the pack.

b117

Key among them is what the firm calls its Acer TeachSmart technology: An LED light embedded on the lid can flash in different colors. This is controllable by students, who can toggle between four colors to indicate their status. And then teachers in the room can easily keep track of where all the students are in a project or task.

Here’s how Acer explains this.

“For example, teachers can post multiple-choice questions to the entire class. After students select their answers on the notebook, the LEDs will light up in a corresponding color to indicate the answers they have chosen. Alternatively, students can toggle the LED light after they have finished an assignment, and teachers can monitor the progress of the whole class simply by looking at the students’ notebooks. The LED light can also replace traditional hand raising, signaling the need for attention to the teacher. In addition, teachers will also have a user interface that displays the total status, such as the number of students that have finished their assignments or the breakdown of multiple choice answers.”

TeachSmart also features an “integrated cloud solution” that utilizes cloud-based OneNote notebooks and Microsoft Account-based sharing. “Teachers can distribute class material and assignments and stay informed of each student’s progress, eliminating the need for hard copies,” Acer notes. “The system keeps teachers and students connected not only in the classroom, but away as well, with customizable features to fulfill the individual needs of different teachers.”

According to Microsoft, the B117’s unique functionality is a response to feedback it received from educators and students. (No doubt prompted by worries over Chromebook gains in education.) “Students and teachers told Acer was that they needed longer battery life, a rugged and yet compact design to withstand the classroom setting and a device that was great for wireless sharing,” Microsoft notes.

The B117 also includes 802.11ac wireless with 2×2 MIMO, one USB 3.0 port, one USB 2.0 port, and a full-sized HDMI port with HDCP support. Both firms are cagey on pricing, since it will vary by region, but Acer hilariously recommends that your “contact your nearest Acer office” for more information. My guess is it will undercut Chromebook pricing.

 

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