Full Review: CME XKey Air and CME WIDI BUD


This is a long review, and I apologize for the length, but I am very fond of these items and they deserve some coverage.  If you want to read a very quick summary, check out my last post. I also had to publish an incomplete draft in order to add in-document links, so if you received e-mail notification about the post and it was incomplete, I apologize.

I love technology, and I love teaching others about technology in relation to what they are doing in their classrooms. I have a special affinity for technology that “changes the game” and makes technology easier to use or easier to incorporate into our lives. As a music teacher and a musician–there are few occurrences where I am bursting with excitement about a product. This is one of those situations.

This review is going to look at a CME’s XKey Air and the CME WIDI BUD. You can click on either of those last two links to skip to the section about that product, and there is a (20 minute) video at the end of the review.

If you want to buy these devices, visit the CME Website.  Whie the WIDI BUD website is “live,” at the moment, the only place to buy the WIDI BUD is B&H (This will change over time).  Special thanks to CME and Virgin Musical Instruments for making these products available for this review and for the sessions that I will be presenting in the 2016-2017 academic year.

CME XKey Air (25 Key Model $199, 37 Key Model $299)

CME XKey Air 25

The XKey first came to my attention in late 2014, as a representative from CME (or more specifically, their distributor in the United States) contacted me about the product and their coming attendance at TMEA. While the company has been around since 1993, the current CME was formed in 2012. After reading some reviews on the Internet, I can’t tell when the original XKey came out (my best guess is 2014) as a high quality portable MIDI keyboard. The features of that keyboard included high quality materials, full sized keys, function buttons (instead of wheels), velocity-sensitive keys, and low-travel keys. While the keyboard can be used for performance, the target was portable studio and notation work–something it is perfect for.

I remember stopping by CME’s booth at TMEA, seeing the XKey for the first time, and showing them the Miselu C.24 keyboard. I asked them to consider BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) MIDI with their keyboard. At the time, my C. 24 was one of the few of those devices “in the wild” as they sent it to me early so that I could show it at various music education conferences. Just a word about the C.24–I lost mine in Nashville at NAfME. The C.24 was an exciting device as it was the first BLE MIDI device on the market. It promised to be a device that could be used as an iPad cover, and featured the ability to “flip” the device into form to make a playable keyboard that worked with magnets (not springs). You could combine multiple units to make a longer keyboard. The keys were scaled on an old model of a “woman’s” piano (apparently, piano keys used to be a relative item, based on the desires of the purchaser versus an industry standard). The C. 24 works, and is still available from Miselu at a (now lower) cost of $149. I do worry about the durability of the C. 24 (all the moving parts to flip open the device) and the future of the company (it still hasn’t released a promised control module to backers)–plus the function of the case changed when Apple changed the design of the iPad and the C.24 could no longer be used as an iPad case. This means that the market is still open to a high quality BLE MIDI portable keyboard, and the XKey Air fits the bill.

The CME is engraved in the final key. I wouldn’t mind if the Bluetooth sitcker were actually a permanent item on the keyboard (it is a sticker)

In addition to my feedback, CME heard that same feedback (“Please add BLE MIDI”) from a number of users, and ran a Indegogo Campaign to provide the capital to start that product. That project was funded by August 2015, and started shipping this spring.

In form, the XKey Air and the original XKey are identical. In fact, the only difference would be a Bluetooth sticker on the XKey Air, as well as multiple LED indicators and a power button on the Air. In my video review, I talk about the packaging of the XKey Air, which may seem irrelevant. After all, why does the packaging matter? I don’t know why, but it does. Part of the joy of buying an Apple product is the unboxing experience, which was carefully designed for the user. The XKey Air comes packaged in the same thoughtful way as an Apple device, and would fit perfectly on the shelves of an Apple Store. There are a couple of instruction sheets in the box, as well as a labeled micro USB cable. If you have other micro USB cables in your house, you can use them with the XKey Air–but I like having cables labeled so you know what device they came came with.

The finish of the XKey Air fits perfectly with aluminum computers like the MacBook or even my Asus Chromebook Flip

As for the keyboard, it is a joy to use. It pairs effortlessly with BLE MIDI on the iPad. As with most BLE MIDI devices, it is instantly detected by the iPad and connects with a single touch. While the keys do not have the tradition “travel” of a piano keyboard, they are pressure sensitive and every button works as it should. Some reviews of the original XKey longed for a way to attach a sustain pedal to the keyboard (instead of pressing a key on the XKey Air), but this is a portable keyboard–attaching cables and secondary pedals defeats the portable purpose of the keyboard. The low-travel keys should make the keyboard more resilient to throwing it into a backpack and running along. I had issues with other previous portable USB keyboards that I have used over the years (One example was an M-Audio 25 key unit that did not stand up to portable use).

Like traveling? The XKey series of keyboards has low travel compared to a tradtional keyboard. The travel isn’t neededd for this kind of work.

My only complaints about the XKey Air are minor. First, the 25 key model costs $199, and the 37 key model costs $299. The original 25 key XKey is $99, and the 37 key XKey is $199. As both a consumer and a music educator, I would love to see the price point drop on these models. That said, if you have an original XKey, you can attach a Zivix PUC+ to it and make it a portable BLE keyboard for the same cost of $199. In other words, the price point isn’t terribly inflated, but I would still love to see a small price drop . I would imagine that some kind of education pricing (for the original XKey or the XKey Air) could be obtained if you reached out to the company. My other complaint is that it would nice if the XKey Air included a light bag of some kind to offer protection as you throw it into a backpack.

Is it worth buying the XKey Air for $100 more than its equivalent XKey?  It depends on what you want to use it for.

The XKey Air is an ideal device for anyone wanting a portable MIDI keyboard interface without wires. When I am working with my iPad or my MacBook, I prefer not having to deal with cables. Additionally, an iPad needs a USB dongle (an additional $29 purchase) to work with a a USB MIDI keyboard.

If I were creating a school MIDI lab with fixed computers, I would consider the original XKey (even above a comparable M-Audio product). They are going to look great in your lab and will hold up to the rigors of daily use. This would also be true if I was teaching with Chromebooks…you probably are not going to buy a WIDI BUD (more on that in a moment) for each Chromebook.

However, if I needed keyboards for a 1:1 iPad school where student iPads were the MIDI lab (not a separate room), I would consider the XKey Air (even at $100 more per device). Why not go truly mobile with your lab? Also, if I was the teacher and I did any work at all in GarageBand (SoundTrap, Soundation) or notation programs, I would want a portable keyboard, particularly if the device I was using was a portable device (MacBook, iPad, Chromebook). As a warning, in a 1:1 scenario, each XKey Air has a unique MAC Bluetooth address, but show up as “XKey Air 25 BLE” on the Bluetooth MIDI interaction panel. This would make connecting difficult–much as we found with our Bluetooth QWERTY keyboards in our 1:1. If every device has the same name, how do you know which one you are using? Zivix has a unique identifier with every name, so I know it is possible to uniquely identify each BLE MIDI device, and I hope that CME is able to add this functionality in a future firmware update (if it isn’t there already, which I may have missed while looking through they XKey app).

In short, I think both CME XKey keyboards are wonderful. They are high quality portable keyboards and a far better solution (in my opinion) than mini keyboards like my old Akai LPK 25, my old M-Audio key stations, and even the Miselu C.24. Do you need the BLE MIDI feature? That’s up to you–I would say, “Yes,” because if you want to add it later, you can (Zivix PUC+) for relatively the same price-but then you again need cables (of a sort) to use the feature. It is wonderful to be able to connect without wires to your iPad, MacBook, Windows laptop, or Chromebook. I do wish the pricing was a bit lower on the XKey Air ($150), but $199 isn’t terribly out of the ballpark. When I spend money on devices, I have to ask if they save me time and frustration in the long run over doing things another way. In the world of iPad, the XKey Air allows me to connect to my iPad without a dongle (as it would to a newer Mac [2012?] than may 2008 Aluminum MacBook) which is a separate $29 purchase. It means less time to connect and take down, and less things to forget going from place to place. So if you are going to use a keyboard with your computing device–in terms of convince, it simply may be the best option to spend an extra $100 for the Bluetooth capability.

So yes, if you are interested, either the XKey or the XKey Air is a “consider buying” item.

WIDI BUD

The WIDI BUD in its blister packaging

When I opened the package from CME, my initial reaction to the WIDI BUD, packaged in a small blister card with minimal instructions, was, “HO HUM.”

That initial reaction was really, really, really wrong. It is going to be a while until BLE MIDI is packaged with every device.  If you have a newer iPad or MacBook, you have it already–but old Apple devices, many Windows devices, most Android devices, and most (all?) Chromebooks do not have BLE MIDI capability.

This little dongle, which looks like a newer flash drive, gives BLE MIDI capability to nearly every device.

This means that you can use an XKey Air with an older iPad, MacBook, Windows computer…you get the idea. There are limitations (you have to be running Windows XP SP3, Ver 4 of Android, iOS 4.2, Chrome 43.0) but generally, if you have a modern device, the WIDI BUD can add BLE MIDI to your computing device if it does not have it.

Last summer, Web MIDI was announced, and over the last year, programs have been adding it: Noteflight, Flat.io, SoundTrap to name a few.

With this dongle, you can make a Chromebook into a BLE MIDI device, utilizing Web MIDI on these programs. Sure, you can also add a wired USB connection, which is what you would do for students (you would have a stack of physical keyboards that they would check out, use, and return). But for YOUR use…go wireless. Trust me on this one.

What is amazing is that the WIDI BUD makes a connection with a BLE MIDI device on its own. I haven’t tried having two BLE MIDI sending devices turned on at the same time, so I do not know how the device would respond to two competing devices for its attention–but plug in the WIDI BUD, and turn on the XKey Air, and it works. That’s it. The WIDI BUD will remember that connection until it loses power. So, if you want to connect another BLE MIDI device (such as the JamStik+ or the PUC+), turn off the XKey Air, turn on the JamStik+, and plug in the WIDI BUD.

So yes…the WIDI BUD works with ANY existing BLE MIDI device.  (See note)

Let me copy and paste that again…

The WIDI BUD works with ANY existing BLE MIDI device. (See note)

So…the JamStik+, the PUC+, the Korg MKey Air, and the few keyboards sold with BLE MIDI…should be able to  work with the WIDI BUD.

Note: This statement was not true.  It turns out that the Quicco Sound mi.1.  See more at my follow-up article.

The WIDI BUD in use, in a Chromebook. Check out the video…it works!

I have now said this for over a year…reliable MIDI interaction with a BLE MIDI device is a game changer in ease of use and functionality.

Chromebooks being able to use MIDI keyboards over a wired USB connection is a major step forward, and it means that I could teach Music Theory (mostly with Noteflight or Flat.io) with Chromebooks, and I could teach a Music Technology class (SoundTrap, Soundation, Noteflight, Flat.io) using Chromebooks. But to be able to connect wirelessly means that using those programs for my own use (not just in teaching) becomes a possibility.

Being able to use any BLE MIDI device with just about any host computing device is a game changer, too. At that point,  you are only limited by the apps and programs that are available on your computing device. And remember…on Chrome OS, the best apps require a subscription to get all of the features that you want to use (Noteflight requires a subscription to even use MIDI recording). I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, because companies deserve to earn money. But it is something that we need to teach IT departments as they typically don’t plan for annual subscriptions.

My only complaints about the WIDI BUD are the size of the device (it has to be that small, but people will lose them), and they are a TIGHT fit in your USB port (which is probably intentional so that you leave it plugged in). I am leaving this WIDI BUD in its package after I use it, so that I can keep track of it.

My only other complaint is that I can’t find the pricing for the WIDI BUD on CME’s website, so I am hoping that it is released soon and will be affordable!

As you can tell, if you have a computing device that does not have BLE MIDI, I think the WIDI BUD is a must buy. I don’t know anything else like it on the market.

Thanks again to CME and Virgin Musical Instruments for allowing me to review and show off these devices.  A video appears below.

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A big day for music technology…

Two major items hit the news today that have the potential to impact our lives as musicians and music educators.

The first is that MusicFirst introduced PracticeFirst, a new system that will allow green note/red note assessment for $6 per student, with additional titles being added for an additional cost (teachers can also provide their own literature, which is what I would do). I haven’t see or used the system (other than some screen shots at http://www.musicfirst.com), so I cannot tell you how the service compares to SmartMusic or Music Prodigy. I can tell you that the pricing does come very close to affordable for even my current situation where student socio-economic factors are an issue. $6 per year, for the same general ability to assess student pitch and rhythm, versus $40 for SmartMusic and $30 for Music Prodigy, is one heck of a deal. Furthermore, PracticeFirst is web-based (meaning any device, potentially including phones), and it is also supposed to assess tone. I still need to see what Weezic will release in this area. I would still love to see a buy-once app that didn’t have to rely on servers, as $6 per student is still nearly $2000 for my program. That is $10,000 over five years, and $20,000 over ten years. That is a significant investment, and SmartMusic and Music Prodigy would be more! Remember, you aren’t getting much content with PracticeFirst, but with advances in scanning, it is easier than ever to scan music, and furthermore, you shouldn’t be assessing full pieces of music…you should be selectively choosing the measures you will assess. For the cost savings over SmartMusic ($11,000 for my program), I can make my own assessments, plus as a choral director, I always had to make my own literature assessments anyway.

Again, we don’t know how PracticeFirst will compare with other programs, but it will be fun to find out.

As a side note, also check out the resources at www.odogy.com for additional green note/red note applications in music. There is a web application called CommunityBand, as well as a Recorder Application, a Music Share Application, and a Duet Maker. All are priced very affordably for music education.

Finally, the handwriting music on a tablet space has really heated up. The Sibelius Blog covered StaffPad, a handwriting app mainly for the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and the Microsoft Surface 3 [The Pro is the better option with the larger 4:3 screen], about two weeks ago. This week, Neuratron announced its pending third version of NotateMe for iOS and Android. Today the Sibelius Blog broke the news about TouchNotation, a new handwriting music app from Kawai (the link is a referral link. If you buy the app from the link, I will relieve a 7% commission from Apple, but the cost is the same, and the company makes the same amount). The app was live in Japan first, and there is a free version available as well. The app is on sale for $7.99 until the end of April, and has various in-app purchases. I have only played with the app for a few moments, but it seems to work well enough, although there doesn’t seem to be a way to add lyrics (not so great for a choir director or general music teacher).

I am intrigued by the entrance of Kawai into the app space. NotateMe remains the app I would recommend on iOS or Android, as it allows for the PhotoScore In-App Purchase, which is worth its weight in gold. And I don’t have a Surface Pro 3 (I would buy myself a new MacBook and an Apple Watch first), so I have not purchased StaffPad (which would not work so well on my Asus T-100 tablet without an active stylus). But it seems that StaffPad has captured the excitement of a number of musicians and executives at Microsoft. I have seen a number of musicians who are buying a Surface Pro 3 just for StaffPad. On a similar note. I know musicians who bought iPads for forScore and unrealBook.

I also hope you didn’t miss the news about the next version of Sibelius (8?) that will also utilize the Surface Pro’s active stylus. It seems that if you are a musician who uses Windows, it is time to buy the Surface Pro 3.

So…that’s the big news today…PracticeFirst, odogy.com, and Touch Notation, as well as mention of StaffPad, NotateMe 3, and Sibelius. Aren’t options wonderful?

Looking for a Surface Pro?

After my post about StaffPad and Surface Pro, I received an e-mail from an old blogging friend, ViolaJack. In her e-mail, she mentioned that Microsoft sells refurbished Surface Pros on eBay at a significant discount.

While I am always a little hesitant to buy expensive technology sight-unseen, there is no danger in purchasing a device from the legitimate Windows store on eBay. As of today (I cannot promise that these prices will contnue), you can buy a 128GB Surface Pro 3 with a keyboard for $850, which is a savings of $279. That makes a pretty expensive device quite a bit more affordable.

Personally, I would buy a new MacBook before a Surface Pro 3, but if I happen to win the lottery…(generally, you have to play to win). But if YOU are interested in a Surface Pro 3, particularly with the news of StaffPad (and maybe even MuseScore 2.0), you can't beat $850 for a new, refurbished Surface Pro 3. It is a beautful device with top-of-the-line hardware.

It has been a big news day…new devices and programs.

My day in technology began with a note from Philip Rothman, the author of the Sibelius Blog (a wonderful blog that goes beyond Sibelius, and has the best connections with the music notation industry), who wrote about StaffPad, a new handwriting music notation app ONLY available for Windows, specifically the Surface Pro tablet. You can find that post here.

My immediate reaction was to question the business model. I have long stated that the Surface Pro is a wonderful machine, but that I would have a hard time justifying the purchase of one when I can buy a new MacBook for less than the cost of a Surface Pro plus the Surface keyboard. StaffPad will require the active pen that comes with the Surface Pro, so my Asus T-100 Transformer will not work with the program. I have no qualms with a company developing an app for a specific platform–even Neuratron prefers the Samsung Galaxy Note tablets (although they do offer NotateMe on iOS as well). But to this point, the Surface Pro has not been wildly successful (Although the latest version has done better).

This was followed by news of Microsoft, which introduced the Surface 3 (not the aforementioned Surface Pro 3). The older Surface tablets ran Windows RT, a “light” version of Windows 8. From this point forward, the Surface models will be smaller versions of the Surface Pro, running “real” Windows, and they will also work with the active pen (although you have to buy it with the lower price Surface). Had Microsoft simply taken this route with the first Surface, perhaps the Surface would be as popular today as the iPad, and perhaps the Chromebook would not have found its place in education. Anti-Apple IT departments went to the Chromebook as there was no valid solution from Microsoft. The new Surface 3 is a fatal mistake finally corrected..but is it corrected soon enough? I may buy one of these devices myself (and sell my T-100).

One thing to be aware of with any Windows device…you will need to run anti-virus (and other anti-spamware) programs, where such programs are not necessary with iPads or Chromebooks, and if you work in a school deployment model, schools usually run all kinds of background systems on school devices that ultimately use up valuable system resources. When it comes to Windows devices, always buy the device with this highest specs that you can afford (this is not unusual–I recommend not purchasing an iPad with less than 64GB of memory today).

Back to the original news…this means that StaffPad will work on the new Surface 3 (shipping in May), at a significantly lower price point, meaning that perhaps StaffPad is perfectly situated for the future.

Finally, several new Chromebooks hit the market today (or were announced) such as two $149 versions (guess what YOUR school will purchase?) and a “yoga-type” Chromebook called the Flip, which will allow you to flip the keyboard on the back of the screen and use the Chromebook like a tablet.

I am still waiting for a true tablet Chromebook or a Transformer-like Chromebook. And once those arrive, web apps have to be created that take advantage of the touch interface, and in music, we need to see Chromebooks that come with Core MIDI and other features that allow the devices to be better used in music education.

In recap, StaffPad is out as a recommended program for Windows Surface tablets, the Windows Surface tablets are finally fully featured and might offer a logical option versus an iPad, and new Chromebooks are breaking the price barrier and are starting to act more like tablets.

That is a pretty busy day in the tech world!

2 In 1

I am seeing a lot of Twitter posts about 2-in-1 programs this morning. The 2-in-1 is a detachable keyboard or 360° fold-over keyboard Windows-based computer. You can see Intel's advertisement about this here. I am not sure where the sudden 2-in-1 push is coming from, but I do have some thoughts about this line of thinking.

First, I am still not convinced that keyboards ultimately make that much difference. I know adults prefer physical keyboards, but some studies have shown that students are faster while typing on a tablet keyboard than a physical keyboard. We have had less than 20 checkouts of iOS keyboards in our 1:1 over two years (and we bought hundreds of keyboards). When you add the additional features of speech-to-text and predictive text, the perceived advantages of a physical keyboard should be reconsidered.

Second, most 2-in-1 devices are running Windows 8.1. There are a few cases of Android 2-in-1 devices, but I will not address those at this time. I have one of these Windows 8.1 devices, the Asus T-100. Most 2-in-1 devices pair a lower speed processor and overall lesser hardware to make an affordable device. These machines can run Windows 8.1, but it isn't a smooth experience. There are excellent 2-in-1 devices, like the Surface Pro 3, but they cost as much as a MacBook (more when you add the keyboard in the case of the Surface Pro 3). Let's be honest…your school always looks at budget. It will often buy the cheapest device, whether Chromebook, low cost 2-in-1, or cheapest iPad.

Third, sticking with the Windows issue, schools have to install all kinds of monitoring and anti-virus utilities, which ultimately impact the performance of any device. Think of 2-in-1 devices as the replacement of the netbook (this is a very solid comparison). Additional utilities that take up system resources result in slower performance, more time, and frustrated users.

Finally, the app experience on Windows 8.1 is lacking. Many quality apps from iOS and Android (if they are on Android) are missing on Windows 8.1, and have often found that the same app costs more on the Windows App Store than on the iOS or Android App Stores. I am fully aware that Windows 8.1 runs all “traditional” software. So, for example, you can run Finale, Sibelius, Notion, or MuseScore. But these programs were never intended to be run in tablet mode. When you use a tablet, you need programs that are optimized for tablet use. Native tablet apps are essential in a tablet environment. Additionally, computer programs are often hundreds of dollars more on traditional computers than on tablets. There are some open source solutions, but when you have to buy a program for an entire inventory of computers, it is going to be far more expensive than a large purchase of multiple iPad or Android apps.

On a related note, I am not sure there is any educational app distribution model for Windows 8.1 as there is for iOS and some Android devices.

Ultimately, I feel this 2-in-1 push must be a result of a financial campaign to move Windows devices back into education. No one can use educational-level 2-in-1 computers with background utilities causing performance issues–or visit the Windows App Store and examine the availability of apps–and leave thinking that 2-in-1 computers are a viable 1-to-1 solution in schools.

I did, however, want to end on a positive note. I do like “tile world” on Windows 8.1, Microsoft's answer to mobile operating interfaces. Tile World works well, and is a refreshing attempt to solve the issue of mobile operating systems, rather than just copying Apple or Android. But for you–likely as a music educator–Tiel World isn't going to offer the range of apps that you need for your classroom or personal musical involvement.

 

 

 

A New Device…Asus T100 Transformer Windows 8.1 10″ Tablet

This is the Asus T100, docked in its trackpad keyboard.
This is the Asus T100, docked in its trackpad keyboard.

I have been working on selling my Acer Iconia W3 8″ Windows tablet that I have owned for a few months. The W3 served its purpose in my life; it let me see how Windows RT and Windows 8 (then 8.1) worked. I even used the tablet for a little bit of Finale and Notion work, but it became clear that I would need a Bluetooth mouse or some kind of (additional) external keyboard with a trackpad to get any serious music notation work done on that computer. In that time, two different things happened. First, Asus released a new transformer tablet, not based on Android, but on Windows 8.1 for $399; and second, Acer released a W4 tablet to deal with the shortcomings of the W3…mainly a better screen and a faster processor. It took a while, but I sold the tablet to someone over Craigslist. I paid $290 for it shipped, and took $250 for it. The tablet was in mint condition, so I feel like I did okay, and that the buyer also got a good deal.

The Asus T100 closed in its notebook configuration.
The Asus T100 closed in its notebook configuration.

I have been looking at the T100 for some time, as it comes with a detachable keyboard with an attached trackpad. Best Buy had a 32GB model on sale for $299 a few weeks ago, but I knew I wanted the 64GB version. I have been bidding on eBay for the tablet, but prices were regularly rocketing above $400 for a $399 (MSRP) tablet. New Egg was selling them for $379, but is now selling them at $399 (and are out of stock), and even Amazon is selling the tablets for $439 (used!) right now.

The Asus T100 separated from its keyboard (a single button unlocks the keyboard)
The Asus T100 separated from its keyboard (a single button unlocks the keyboard)

Why is this tablet so popular? Because it is basically the Microsoft Surface Pro 2, minus the digitizing pen, with a keyboard, for over $600 less. If you are looking for a Windows tablet, the T100 is the best bargain you will find, and battery life is excellent–at iPad levels–something the Surface Pro 2 can’t try to match.

 

At any rate, I was looking online and saw that my local Wal-Mart has a T100 in stock for $379, so I went to Wal-Mart to do our weekly shopping and found out that they had one T100 left, which I bought. For the record, this is the T100-C1, which is the 64GB version. There is also a T100-B1, which is a 32GB version.

This is a 10″ 16:10 aspect ratio tablet. The T-100 comes with the trackpad keyboard, which connects directly to the tablet, so it is not a Bluetooth keyboard. There is a Micro USB port, a Micro HDMI port, and a Micro SD card on the device (like the W3), but the keyboard also has a full USB 3.0 port on the keyboard. So although this tablet is $89 more expensive than what I paid for the W3 (not including tax), the faster processor, bigger screen, better screen, and USB 3.0 port make it a far better computer.

The USB 3.0 port located on the keyboard.  As a right-handed person, I wish this was on the other side.
The USB 3.0 port located on the keyboard. As a right-handed person, I wish this was on the other side.

As with all Windows 8.1 tablets, you get the schizophrenic relationship between Windows RT (tile world) and Windows 8.1 (Desktop). Windows desktop, overall, is the same thing Windows has always been; Windows RT is a joy to use, but it just lacks apps that iPad or Android tablet owners would be looking for. If you are a musician, there is no PDF music reader for Windows RT. You can use a traditional PDF reader, but page turns are up and down, not left to right. You can buy PDF music readers for Windows 8.1 (Desktop), but these applications generally won’t take advantage of the tablet interface, and in fact, buttons may be too small to accurately press without a stylus–something that isn’t going to happen in a rehearsal or performance. Windows really has a good thing with Windows RT on its hands…they should be shipping the major OS developers big loads of cash to develop apps. Once people use Windows RT, they will like it. But if the OS lacks app, people will not come to the platform. Apple set the standard, opening with a huge array of apps (both for the iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch) on the first day of the iPad, and even Android is still struggling to catch up when it comes to tablet apps. My fear is that Windows will have to abandon RT before its benefits are known.

That said, like all widescreen tablets, it is strange to look at music on the 16:10 screen. You either don’t see enough of the screen (landscape), or the music appears too narrow and there is a space at the bottom of the screen (portrait). When it comes to viewing music, this is a reason I prefer the iPad or a 4:3 Android tablet like my “hacked” HP Touchpad or the Kuno. I don’t think you can find a 4:3 Windows tablet. Even though the 16:10 screen might be better for movies, I would prefer the 4:3 for working on documents and for sheet music.

This image shows the size difference between the iPad's visible screen and the T100...the iPad is significantly wider.
This image shows the size difference between the iPad’s visible screen and the T100…the iPad is significantly wider.
This image shows how the T100 is longer (taller?) than the iPad.
This image shows how the T100 is longer (taller?) than the iPad.
This image shows the iPad over the T100, giving the idea of the length and width of the entire T100 versus the iPad
This image shows the iPad over the T100, giving the idea of the length and width of the entire T100 versus the iPad

The T100, like many other Windows devices these days, also comes with Microsoft Office Student and Home.  In the world of GAFE and iWork in the Cloud, this is no longer the incentive it once was.

At $399 (MRSP) and likely under $379 for schools, this device would be appealing to me beyond a Chromebook in education; you can certainly run any Google App for Education on this T100 (it is just as fast as any Chromebook, save for the high-end Pixel), and you can run Google Chrome and all Chome Web apps on this device. For those people that still need Flash (you have to wonder about the web designers who are sticking with Flash in this day of mobile technology that doesn’t run flash), Flash will work on the T100. And if a few developers could be lured to the RT platform, the device could be separated from its keyboard and used in classes that just didn’t need a substitute for writing papers by hand or typing them on a typewriter.

Granted, the T100 will face the challenge of malware, which does not exist on iOS, Mac, or Chromebooks; and implementation of a T100 1:1 program would be as intensive as any Mac, Windows Notebook, or iPad implementation (Chromebook implementations are supposed to be the easiest to manage). But for $180 more than a barebones Chromebook, you get a device that can potentially do a lot more. So if your district is considering Chromebooks, you might want to check out the T100 first.

New cables for the Acer Iconia W3 Windows 8.1 Tablet

On the day the iPad Air went on sale in the United States, I finally received the cables I needed for my Iconia W3 nearly a month ago. One cable is a Micro USB to Male USB, and the other is a Micro HDMI to HDMI. These cables are very expensive (if you can find them) in stores; ordering on Amazon, they were less that $6.00 for both, shipped. Almost less than the cost of postage.

This meant that I was able to attach my Casio PX-350 to the W3 for the first time…and it worked flawlessly. Remember: Casio is using a MIDI driver that currently does not work with Finale (I'm hoping that Finale 2014 solves the issue), so I had to test the cable/connection with Notion 4. It works great…and in fact, I can tell that I would prefer using a tablet PC (perhaps not an eight inch tablet) with a keyboard versus a notebook computer. When you are working on a stand-alone keyboard, and not a mini-keyboard, there is no great place to put your notebook while you are working. The tablet fits easily on the piano's music stand, and the keyboard of the Acer W3 can be placed anywhere. Granted, buttons in “legacy desktop” PC programs are still VERY small for any tablet application, but keystrokes can be substituted for most onscreen buttons.

I also connected the W3 to out family's HDTV, and that was flawless (even a better connection than our MacMini which normally uses that connection–the Mac Mini seems to forget the display settings every time you turn off the TV, causing the image to go to 4:3 rather than widescreen, and I can't find any easy solution to fix the problem. I can see purchasing the W3 as a desktop computer (really), using a bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and buying a cheap widescreen HDTV to use as a monitor…this would be a pretty reliable setup. At that point, however, you are treating the W3 as a desktop rather than a tablet, so the negatives of the legacy desktop on the tablet are gone–but then the Windows RT/Metro interface makes no sense.

The new cables stuck into the Acer Iconia W3

Windows has talked about creating tabets that run Windows RT, Windows 8.1, and Android. They call this double boot, whereas I would call it triple boot, as their setup already acts as if you have two devices. This device would be appealing to me, as I could have one device to test all of the features of all of Apple's competitors (Windows and Android).

I have had some issues with the W3, such as unexplained shutdowns, and I had to completely restore the device once already. I still can't get the news tile from Microsoft to load, and I'm pretty sure that Microsoft isn't going to help me. But for a device that cost $293, shipped, with its keyboard, is a pretty good deal.

There is another new tablet, the Asus Transformer T-100 that just entered the market. It is a 10 inch tablet with a detachable keyboard with touchpad included. Early reviews have been skeptical about the keyboard, but in many ways it is a Surface Pro 2 without the higher price tag. It also lacks the special stylus of the Surface Pro 2, so that may be an issue for you. You can buy the 64GB model from a number of resellers for $399. It has a far better screen than my W3, and it is 2″ larger diagonally. If you are looking for a Windows computer, you might want to consider that device (hoping you find a good one and being willing to exchange until you do)…but I would also suggest the extended warranty if you buy such a device. Oh…and you'll still need those extra cables that I bought for the Acer Iconia W3.