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Could a Microsoft mini tablet benefit students in education?

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The website Fool.com reported on June 21, 2014 that a Microsoft mini tablet appears to still be in development. The Fool.com contended that because references to a mini tablet were made in a user manual explaining how to use a stylus pen, the development of a mini tablet is real. This likely does suggest that Microsoft has been working on a smaller size tablet, but it remains unknown if and when such a device would reach the market.

Microsoft is very tight-lipped about any mini version of the Surface line of tablets. Prior to the release of the Surface Pro 3, many technology pundits predicted a mini tablet. That did not come to pass, but it seems that Microsoft is indeed working a smaller form factor tablet. In theory, this could be good for use in education. The idea that the tablet would include support for pen input suggests a good use case for students desiring note taking functionality, and the ability to efficiently annotate while reading digital text. Note taking and annotations are two very important needs for students.

A smaller screen does come with some compromise. The Surface Pro 3 offers a 12 inch screen, and the keyboard attachment offers a near full size keyboard that is comfortable to type with and very efficient. It is reasonable to expect a student could type a full paper using the Surface Pro 3. Could the same be said for a mini version? Absolutely not. A mini version of the Surface would simply be an augmentation to a laptop or desktop computer.

A companion device for a laptop running Windows 8 is not a bad idea, if the price is right. The biggest obstacle for Surface Pro 3 is the price. The entry level model with a keyboard is right at the $1000 mark. That is way too pricey for most students and schools. If a mini tablet can be priced in line with other mini tablets, the use case would be much stronger.

Students could use a laptop/desktop as the primary productivity device, and use the tablet for other tasks such as reading and note taking. Actually, a tablet is much better suited to reading and note taking than a laptop; therefore, the value in education could be supported. Students roundly dislike reading from laptop screens because of the difficulty and cumbersome nature of annotating text. Further, note taking is often more cumbersome using a laptop, and the cognitive benefits of hand writing notes is supported by research.

The debate has already begun about the Surface Pro 3 viability as a laptop replacement. While there are good arguments for and against, the use of a tablet as a complimentary device to a laptop is intriguing. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft approaches the positioning of the mini tablet, as no 8 inch screen could ever compete with the usability of a laptop. If the mini offers an Intel processor, stylus pen functionality, Windows 8 (not RT), and a good selection of Windows 8 based apps, this could develop into an interesting consideration for schools and students. Most students in higher education use Windows based computers, so the additional cost of a tablet might not be too much of a stretch. To purchase both a laptop and tablet at the same time would be another story, but could still be a viable technology choice that would not break the bank. The key is the additional cost of a mini tablet.

An important tenet of technology in education is that no one device fits all. That means not all tasks, or all students. Different levels of education have varying needs, and student preferences are also important. The one constant across all of education is the cost of the technology. Perhaps the alignment of tablet functionality with student writing needs, and as a complimentary technology device, could well serve the needs of students.

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