It’s back to school time: Here’s how students can get the most of our their tablets


Each year tablets become more useful to students, both college and high school (and lower grades, as well). Amazingly portable with fantastic battery life, there are a lot of advantages to using them in your pursuit of education.

In this post, I’m going to go through some of accessories and apps students may find valuable for their Android and iOS tablets. The focus on this article isn’t on replacing your laptop or desktop; instead, it’s about how to lighten your load and work in the classroom and library.

Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize

Of all the accessories you can get for your tablet, I think an external keyboard is the most valuable one. While some people can type amazingly fast on their tablet’s on-screen keyboard, for us mortals a physical keyboard is still quicker.

I’m a big fan of the Logitech keyboard keyboard cases. They make cases for Samsung and the iPad Air and iPad mini.

I also recommend a decent length of USB extension cable to go with your charger cable. Since power outlets can sometimes be hard to find, with an extension cable you can be quite a ways away from one and still get power.


The leading online courseware is Blackboard. But unless it’s gotten significantly better in the last couple of years, you’re likely to get extremely frustrated using it. The web version is somewhat of a dog, and the tablet apps (iOS and Android) aren’t much better. One nice feature they’ve added recently is he ability to upload files from Dropbox, and the iOS version also allows you to also upload from Google Drive. One thing I’m not sure of is with iOS 8, if the different app extensions will let you upload from OneDrive.

Note taking
One thing that’s guaranteed in school: you will be taking a lot of notes. Good note taking is very important and arguably the most vital skill you will learn in college. Regardless of your major, you will still end up taking notes of some sort in your job.

Before I get into the apps themselves, I want to talk about one overlooked note taking device on your tablet: the camera. Oftentimes, the instructor will put a complicated diagram on the board and the easiest way to capture it quickly is to just take a picture.

There are two good apps for note taking: OneNote (iOS and Android) and Evernote (iOS and Android)
Both lock you into their systems. OneNote uses OneDrive, while Evernote uses its own HTML wrapper and database. Of the two, I prefer OneNote because I like the interface better. Both apps let you have separate notebooks, which is useful in breaking down your notes by class. OneNote, however, lets me easily create separate pages within a notebook. These pages are in a sidebar on the right and make it easy to navigate between subjects. OneNote also handles bullets and indenting a little better than Evernote.

Other than notes, you’re pretty much guaranteed to write a lot of term papers. On iOS, I fell you have better options for writing your paper. Apple has provided Pages for free with new iOS devices. For writing term papers, it’s a perfectly valid option. Another option is Microsoft Word for iPad. The downside to Word is that it requires an Office365 subscription to edit files. The advantage to Word is it makes round-tripping with other Word users very easy.

On Android, your best choice is probably DataVis’s Docs to Go. The problem you can run into formatting issues with third-party programs that support Microsoft Word. However, I usually run into this problem with very complicated documents. Your average term paper is pretty simple to format, so you shouldn’t run into too many problems.

Citation Management
Citation management on a tablet is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it’s easy to enter in a citation while you are reading a book in a library. It’s a curse because I’ve found that exporting the citations into a bibliography on the iPad is a bit of a challenge.

On the iPad, you have a choice of Endnote, Sente, and Mendeley as the leading options. All of them sync back to their desktop versions, where it’s probably easier to build the bibliographies. With iOS 8 extensions, it would be nice to see Endnote desktops Cite While You Write feature come to the iPad.

On Android, unfortunately I haven’t really found any I like. If there are any that I have missed, feel free to chime in with a comment.

Final Thoughts

It’s pretty obvious I’m bullish on tablets. However, while I think tablets are a good addition to a student’s toolbox, we are still about two to three years away from tablets being the sole devices students use – and that’s not even taking into account majors that require specialized apps, or a significant amount of coursework just can’t be done on a tablet. I didn’t mention the Surface Pro 3 in my discussion because I feel its starting price point of $799 is too expensive. However, if you need to have one, ultraportable device, the Surface Pro 3 is an valid option.

Most tablets – even Apple’s – have a generally low initial price point. You can get a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 for around $300 (and it has an SD slot). An iPad mini starts at $399 and an iPad Air starts at $499, each for the 16gb model (no SD card supported).

My general recommendation for a larger tablet is the iPad Air. The app library is better and I feel you can get through most of your college career without upgrading. I’m still using a 2-year old iPad and it’s still going strong.



I think you are missing one of the best tablets for the money, the dell venue pro 8. The pen digitizer and a Bluetooth keyboard make this a very power full not taking device. Full Microsoft office, and one note what else do you need. I love Android,but after using the venue for a bit I won’t go back to an Android tablet.


My two cents: recommending a new app called Centrallo rather than OneNote or Evernote….. has heirarchical lists (lists within lists within lists- modern day outlining), a really strong sharing capability so kids can share/build on each other’s notes, and is just overall super intuitive. I was an Evernote user and have wholly converted to Centrallo. Just a thought!

Steven J. Tryon

OneNote vs. Evernote and OneNote makes the top of the list? I’m shocked!

Evernote gets the job done – all sorts of jobs with all sorts of hooks/connections to other apps – while OneNote is more Microsoft bloatware!

Just my two cents…

Mendeley Talks

Mendeley is currently developing an Android app as well!

Ann Teve

Some further thoughts on a very interesting article. As evidenced by my earlier comment, I am heavily biased toward Apple products. I come by this pragmatically, through my own extensive experience with Apple and with the other platforms. Simply put, for the university environment, I sincerely believe that Apple is the only way to go.

For sophomores, university can be daunting. There’s a lot that’s new, strange and potentially overwhelming. Foremost to keep in mind as you prepare, is that you’re not ‘buying a computer’ for college, you’re buying the tools that will either enable or encumber the process of getting good grades and advancing your education. Whatever you do, don’t cheap out. Sure you can get the assigned text at the library and save the coin. Just don’t waste it on beer; put it into an iPad. If you’re budget can’t cover an iPad and an iMac, then get an MacBook Air (MacBook Pro could be steep). An Air is compact and light enough to shlep around campus without killing yourself and it’s robust enough to take the abuse. Plastic does not cut it on campus and if money is tight, the last thing you want is a cheapo laptop with the keys falling out, the trackpad going south or the screen blinking out.

By itself, a MacBook Air is an excellent solution. As Mark says, the iPad alone isn’t quite up to the challenge of your full Further, the choice of computer has to consider the uses to which it’s put at school. Again, the selection of an iPad alone would be a bit of a stretch as your only computer.

Ann Teve

As a mature student, I’d like to add the following recommendations. I can’t speak directly to students outside of Arts and Humanities but my experience with computers suggests that what follows should apply there as well.

The perfect combo if you can afford it as a student is an iMac and an iPad. Get the Applecare (it’s a must if money is tight if only for piece of mind) and get the right software. If you live in a dorm, get the security cable. Get a good backpack.

The iMac gives you a desktop monitor large enough to work with when writing papers. It’s also fast and you can use it to watch Netflix (if that’s your thing). The iMac screen size makes everything you have to do on a computer easier. There’s nothing worse when writing an essay than to have to continually scroll up and down as you’re revising and editing work. You can read a full page of a .pdf. Again, not having to scroll is a huge plus. A MacBook Air or Pro for the comparative cost to an iMac still leaves you with a small screen. On an iMac, you can have two pages up (side by side). You can see enough of a Numbers or Excel spreadsheet so that you’re not scrolling all over the place. As for software, I would recommend the Apple productivity suite (Pages, Numbers, Keynote). They’re free and they’re vastly better suited to student needs than the MS suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint). (Note; I have and use the MS suite for sophisticated documents in Word and Excel but I’ve yet to encounter anyone from undergraduate, graduate, Doc, Post-Doc and even professors who can master the complexities of even the most basic Word formating features. Word has its place and it’s not with students.

I think that an iPad (I have an iPad Air) with a keyboard (Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard i5, here) is pretty much the optimal tool for carting around campus. I suppose the author is not supposed to say it, so I will: Nothing touches Apple products; don’t even look at anything else. My original iPads (going on 3 and 2 years) are still in use by the students I gave them to. Get an iPad and know that it will last until you graduate. I think an iPad Mini is too small for notetaking in class (unless you’ve got lots of coin, get it in addition to an iPad and want to use it on a crowded bus to catch up on readings.)

If your subjects will entail a lot of reading and research (like Women’s Studies where you’ll have two or more papers to read for each class) then Goodreaderâ„¢ is a must. It is a .pdf annotation and organizer. It’s brilliant. Perhaps its best feature is that after you annotate a reading, you can transfer the annotations into Pages and print that out as a reading summary for class. Sign on to Dropbox; i find it better than iCloud for syncing documents. Pages, Numbers and Keynote come for free on the iPad. Stick with those. The iPad will connect into class presentation equipment and Keynote allows you to imbed Youtube and other video formats. Trust me, that is a killer feature missing from Powerpoint. If you don’t want to use Keynote, use Preziâ„¢; it’s awesome.

Again, I would dissuade you from putting out for a 360 subscription. I mean, why? I’m a very sophisticated Word user and the formatting needs of an undergraduate will never exceed what Pagesâ„¢ can do for you. Practically, (the day to day writing/document needs of the average student) are better met with Pages. Word is too cumbersome, too slow, and too costly. Pages can read .docx (Word format) nearly flawlessly; It can even open older Word documents that Word itself can’t open. Pages can export into .docx format nearly flawlessly. (Someone is bound to find some arcane formatting that doesn’t port back and forth between Pages and Word but the exception will prove the rule.)

Another must for every student is iStudiez Proâ„¢. The app will run on both the iMac and iPad. This app is awesome and incredibly powerful. It allows a student to schedule classes by subject, link classes with prepartory tasks (like an assigned reading or math exercises), schedule all assignments, monitor as incomplete/complete, and track your course mark as assignments are completed. For individual classes, you can add the class topic and readings from the course syllabus.

If my university is an example (Western University in Ontario, Canada) the campus networks flawlessly work with Apple iPad, MacBooks and iMacs. Network services like SPSS all work with MacBooks on local wifi and off-campus remote. University is awesome (that’s why I went back.) Get good stuff so you don’t have to struggle with it or worry about it breaking. Have fun.


Reblogged this on Taste of Apple Tech and commented:
Some interesting points here. I have iPad Air (and Mini), which are both very useful in helping me to accomplish work on the go. I’ve seen a great number of students embracing tablets as their go-to for classroom tools, and I think there’s a great deal that they can accomplish in education.

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