I recently had to loan my Apple iPhone 4 to a colleague while we looked at getting his broken iPhone 3Gs repaired. I thought this would be a great opportunity to try out one of the cheaper Android handsets that are currently flooding the market. Why?
- First,, to see if a relatively cheap smart phone can provide the level of functionality I have become accustomed to with my iPhone 4.
- Secondly, to think about how these cheap smartphones might impact on teaching and learning in schools
Which Android handset to try?
With more android handsets than you can shake a stick at, it is hard to know which one to choose. To narrow things down I looked for:
- Something under $500NZD – I wanted it to be more in the price range of your average teenager than a new iPhone
- Had to have GPS
- Must be able to use Wi-Fi as well as 3G connections
- Needed to have a Wi-Fi hotspot function to allow sharing out of the 3G connection
- The processor needed to be a reasonable speed
- Built-in camera had to be 5MP at least, with some level of video capability.
After reading a number of reviews, it was obvious that to get all of the above in a new Phone, it currently needs to be in the $400NZD price bracket. It didn’t take too much more looking around to settle on an HTC Wildfire S, which I managed to pick up from a parallel importer for $425. Full specs for this phone are available here.
How does the Wildfire stack up?
Having used the Wildfire for approximately a month I have to say that I could easily survive with it as my permanent smartphone. It is by no means an iPhone 4 equivalent. I miss that crystal clear retina display, but for checking email, basic web surfing, the odd twitter update, an occasional snapshot, and some help from Google Maps to get to places, this handset more than adequately performs.
What I really like about it is:
- It has a much smaller profile than the iPhone 4, fits nicely in the palm of the hand, and so, combined with the cheaper price tag is less impact on the pocket in more ways than one.
- With Swype installed, the smaller keyboard performs better than the larger iPhone 4 keyboard.
- The Wi-Fi hotspot also seems to perform much better than the iPhone equivalent.
Will cheap smartphones impact on education?
The arrival of these cheap Android handsets means that smartphones are going to have a much faster impact on schools than if this technology stayed at the $1000 price level of the iPhones and higher-end Android devices. While a student is not going to spend the day working on an HTC Wildfire, this and other devices like it provide a highly usable communication, research and data gathering tool. As ownership of this level of device increases, schools need to be asking the following questions:
- Do current policies on the use of cell phones in classes need to be revisited in order to make use of the potential of these devices?
- Does the school have the wireless infrastructure and policies in place to allow connection of these devices? If students are also bringing a laptop, then, for a school of 1000 students your infrastructure needs to be able to cope with at least 2000 connected devices.
- You may have filtering in place to prevent inappropriate use of your school Internet connection, but do you have policies and education programmes in place to cope with the fact that a student can share out an unfiltered 3G connection? Currently, 3G traffic prices are too high to allow this to be a widescale problem, but there will be students willing to pay the monthly data charges to have uncontrolled access to Facebook, etc., on the school grounds.
What do you think?
I am sure there are many other questions that schools and teachers need to be asking about the potential uses of these devices, along with any downsides. We would love to hear your comments if your school is currently grappling with this issue, or if you have forged ahead and are doing creative things with student-owned smartphones.
Glen Davies is the IT Manager at CORE Education, and responsible for the IT infrastructure for CORE's geographically dispersed workforce. His passion is finding ways to incorporate technology into teaching, learning, and online collaboration.
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