Best Devices for 1:1? The Great Chromebook, iPad, and Windows Debate
In 2010, Apple released the first generation iPad. Despite early skepticism about its size, utility, and even its name, the iPad would go on to revolutionize portable computing—especially within the world of education. The release of the iPad would mark the beginning of the end for clunky laptop carts and cramped, overbooked computer labs.
Since the iPad hit the market, Google, Microsoft, and Apple have been in a race to win over schools, educators, and, the next generation of consumers, students. Google would release the first Chromebook the very next year in 2011. And, while Apple took an early lead in K-12 device shipments, by 2018 Google accounted for 60% of all computing sales to schools, with Microsoft and Apple accounting for 22% and 18% respectively.
With such fierce competition, there are more options than ever for schools making the move to 1:1. With so much variety, K-12 educators and IT administrators can find a specific device that works best for their school and students. But having so many options can also make the search for the right device more daunting.
Which is best? Well, that depends.
Google may be “winning” the race in terms of overall device shipments, but that doesn’t mean Chromebooks are the clear-cut choice for every school.
The truth is there isn't a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Each category has benefits and drawbacks that depend on everything from grade level and curriculum to budget and teacher preference.
For example, iPads tend to be the most flashy in terms of technological innovation and applications. But they’re also more expensive while lacking essential features like a traditional keyboard. If you have budgetary constraints, or if typing skills are an essential part of your curriculum, iPads are probably not the best choice. You’re likely better off with Chromebooks or Windows devices.
For young students, iPads can be fantastic since they are designed to be simple to use. Chromebooks and Windows devices are often too complicated for lower grades, and their keyboard can often be a hinderance with students that don't yet know how to read & write - let alone type.
To help you make the most informed choice possible, we’re going to break down the biggest differences between iPads, Chromebooks, and Windows-devices in a classroom setting:
Operating System, Software, and Apps
Reliability, Maintenance, and Security
Hardware and Connectivity
Pricing (and Accessories)
Operating System, Software, and Apps Chromebooks use Chrome OS, which is built off of the Chrome web browser and is almost entirely web-based. There are some real advantages to this approach. First, since the devices mostly need to be able to access the web and run web-based tools, they don’t require nearly as much processing power, RAM, or storage to run well. This is why Chromebooks tend to be much more affordable—they don’t need higher end hardware to run reliably.
Chrome OS also integrates seamlessly with Google accounts and Google’s cloud-based services. So, if a student or teacher breaks their Chromebook, they only need to log in to their account on a new device to regain access to all of their files. There’s little to no risk of losing anything and switching devices is relatively painless.
But Chromebooks are the most limited in terms of what third-party software and apps they support. Because ChromeOS is web-based, you’ll be mostly limited to using web applications. Some newer Chromebooks are capable of accessing apps from the Google Play store, but storage and performance will be limited.
Reliability, Maintenance, and Security The other big reason that Chromebooks have become the darlings of tech directors everywhere is that they’re extremely easy to set up and maintain. Chromebooks can be managed remotely via Google Admin console. They update automatically when they boot up. And when it comes to malware and viruses, Chrome OS is one of the most secure platforms out there.
As far as repairs go, the most common issue we see at TechUnwreck are broken LCDs (And the same is true for almost every device we fix.) Chromebook LCDs are widely available and the repair process is relatively straight forward.
Hardware and Connectivity Now that Chromebooks have been around for more than decade, there are a wide variety of makes and models at almost any price point you can imagine. Some of the more popular models we see from schools are the HP 11 G6 EE and the Dell 3100 P29T. These models (or similar) will generally run between $200-$300. For that price range, you can expect specs similar to these:
Intel Celeron Processor
2-4 USB Connections
Being honest, your cell phone is rocking significantly better specs. But for the price, these popular Chromebook models give educators everything they need to keep students productive in the classroom. Keep in mind that Chromebooks just need to run a web browser!
Accessories and Pricing Chromebooks remain the most economical solution for most schools since each device can be purchased for around $200 and require very little else in terms of accessories or software.
Operating System, Software, and Apps iPads run iOS, which is the same operating system used on iPhones. Like Chrome OS, iOS is an operating system built specifically for light-weight mobile computing. Optimized for the iPad’s hardware, the OS runs well while being an interface most students will be very familiar with.
iOS is designed, first and foremost, to be user-friendly and to take full advantage of one of the best touchscreens on the market. This makes them fantastic for younger learners who may not be ready for keyboards and trackpads. And, with access to the nearly two million apps on the App Store, there’s no shortage of software tools for educators of all kinds.
iPads are fast, sleek, and, with built-in cameras and cutting edge Apps, can create some of the most innovative education experiences out there. But, as we’ll discuss next, that comes at the investment of more time and more money.
Reliability, Maintenance, and Security Like Chrome OS, iOS is also one of the most secure platforms. Not only is it more resistant to malware and viruses compared to Windows, Apple has also released a number of improvements over the years to address user privacy concerns.
But, iPads can be significantly more time-intensive for your tech teams to maintain. Consider this quote from an article by the Ballard Community School District in Iowa:
If a teacher wants us to add an online service to the Chromebook for class, we can hop onto a computer, click a few buttons, and it is available for students the next time they login. This is a far cry from iPad installation and distribution, which is far more time consuming. This was further confirmed in a recent telephone conversation with a school that just recently deployed 500 Chromebooks. They informed us that they spend more time managing an iPad cart of 30 iPads than they do all of their Chromebooks.
Hardware and Connectivity
As we mentioned, iPad hardware is built and optimized for iOS. For better or for worse, Apple carefully controls their ecosystem so that performance is fast and consistent across their products and across any third-party Apps.
However, connectivity can be a bit of an issue. You’ll need adapters or specific cables to hook your iPads up to anything (even headphones!)
Accessories and Pricing
Not only are iPads more expensive than Chromebooks and some Windows devices, but they also require additional, often expensive, accessories if you want students to be able to use things like headphones or keyboards. The Apple Pencil also adds a lot of fun utility and application, but also adds a significant amount to the price tag.
Most importantly, since iPads have glass touchscreens, cases are a necessity.
You can see Apple’s current education price lists here.
Operating System, Software, and Apps Windows has been around since 1985, so it has a serious head start in terms of software and developer support. Microsoft Office is still the leader in productivity software, and there are countless other tools that can only run on Windows.
Windows is also the most widely used operating system in the world across all industries. There’s something to be said for making sure students learn a platform that’s so ubiquitous at the University level and in the workforce.
However, Windows does have some drawbacks. First, it’s significantly more complicated and high-maintenance than Chrome OS or iOS. It’s also much more resource-intensive, meaning Windows generally requires better hardware to run faster and more reliably.
Reliability, Maintenance, and Security Every tech director already knows that Windows devices will require the most maintenance out of the bunch. Between OS updates, antivirus and security setup, software installations and updates, and troubleshooting, Windows computers come with all of the usual problems we know and love.
Windows also requires better hardware to run more reliably. You might be able to find Windows computers for around Chromebook prices, but be wary of running Windows and Windows software on sub-optimal hardware to avoid lagging, crashes, and compatibility issues.
Hardware and Connectivity If you’re looking for Windows laptops around the same price point as popular Chromebooks—between $200 and $300—you’re going to end up with very similar hardware specs. The issue then is that Windows is a much more resource intensive operating system—meaning performance will generally be slower compared to their Chromebook counterparts.
On top of that, any third-party software you use will also have minimum hardware requirements in order to run. Just because you’re using Windows doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to run any Windows-based software optimally. If you decide to go the Windows route, you’ll either need to spend a little more to upgrade hardware, or make sure that the tools your teachers plan to use are well within the capabilities of lower-budget machines.
And when it comes to connectivity, nothing compares to what Windows devices offer. HDMI video output, headphone jacks, USBs of all types—you name it, chances are a Windows laptop has it. Windows machines are built for flexibility, which is their greatest strength.
Accessories and Pricing
The nice thing about Windows devices is that they typically come with everything you need. And prices are much more varied due to the wide range in sizes, styles, and hardware configurations. But, that means that there are significantly more options for you to find just the right model that works best for your school, your faculty, and your students.
Just be aware that with Windows devices, you very often get what you pay for hardware-wise. What seems like a great deal can often lead to headaches when it comes to performance and reliability down the road.
Making Sense of It All
While it's impossible to choose a device category that's going to work for every school, we can make some very general recommendations. Chromebooks have taken over the market for a reason. They're economical, easy to maintain, and utilize a software package that many schools already use (even on non-Chromebook devices). But, if your classes are software-heavy or need access to particular programs or hardware, Chromebooks may not be the right solution. As we mentioned at the start, iPads are sleek, reliable, and can do a lot of really cool, innovative things in an education environment. They're also fantastic for engaging younger learners. Unfortunately, they do require a greater investment of both time and money to distribute and maintain. Windows devices are all about flexibility and utility. They're also great for getting students to learn a platform that is very widely used across Universities and in the workforce. But they demand the most amount of time to set up maintain. Many schools are moving on from Windows to the more streamlined experiences of Chromebooks and iPads, but that doesn't mean that they aren't the right choice for you.