Wednesday, February 22, 2012

nowBoard! Portable Whiteboard Reflections

Photo I took at TCEA 2012 Conference

What do throwing knives, BB guns, fancy high-tech devices have in common? The person who uses them unsuccessfully. Sometimes, it's the person, sometimes it's the thing that fails. The first comes as a result of a failure to implement, the second as a result of false advertising. Often, you can figure it out quickly, other times, it remains a mystery.

Ever go to a shopping mall, and see one of those guys flipping a dragonfly looking airplane into the air?With amazing grace and technique, the vendor of the airplane can make the plane do whatever it wants. Yet, when you get home, you have to wonder what he had that you don't because your management of the plane=FAIL! I've had this experience numerous times with various items

If you've had that experience--watching something work awesomely elsewhere, then not being able to replicate the awesomeness yourself--you know how I feel about the $499 nowBoard! after trying to get it work on any surface. I'd received the nowBoard prior to the TCEA 2012 Conference but came down so busy with work, then got sick, so this evening was the first chance I had to give it a shot. Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to see the nowBoard! in the hands of a master at the TCEA 2012 Conference.

Allow me to review that experience briefly, although you can certainly read about it here with photographs!

I connected the nowBoard to a Macbook Pro, an Epson digital Projector and projected onto my wall, which happened to be a window with blinds (the advertising says ANY surface). After a 20 minute process to calibrate--the first hint of frustration with this device--my assistant and I were able to get the device going. Calibration just wasn't any fun since we had a small wand and I kept having to adjust the laser.

Case & Contents on Dining Room Table

The hardware--shown in the image below, excluding the project and computer--that comes with the nowBoard! package is nicely contained in a small nylon-looking bag. The components themselves--wand, triangular stylus, camera (laser pointer)--are made of plastic and appear durable. At the end of the review, when I was putting the components away in the bag, I dropped the stylus about 5 feet to a tile floor. The clear plastic piece snapped out, but was easy to snap back in. When I tried the components in tandem, they worked fine. I decided not to drop any of the other components, but of all, the stylus seemed the most vulnerable and it survived handily.

In spite of our best efforts, we were able to get things going, using the wand to tap and "control the computer" in that way. However, doing so with the short green wand with a hand,  forefinger extended, encased in a plastic white glove seemed awkward and had a bit of a clunky feel to it.

Here's a snapshot of what it looked like at first.

After playing with the tools a bit, my colleague and I both were a bit frustrated at how clunky it was. I kept asking myself, Why isn't this working better? At TCEA 2012 Conference, the vendor had mentioned that the unit I'd been sent was a pilot or prototype. Maybe that was it.

The nowBoard! software installed quickly and worked just big problems there. The real challenge came from the clunkiness of the wand. I was able to easily erase content, save it for later usage:
One of the neat things about the device was being able to select text on the screen, then click, etc. Again, you have to overcome the awkwardness.


The more I reflect on the experience--especially after long calibration experiment--it seems that the nowBoard! just didn't live up to my expectations. Like one of those big airplanes you buy on a whim at the Mall for your kids but then fails to live up to the demo, I found myself trying to get it to work. The two big issues are ease of calibration and getting more responsive wand action.

In short, I couldn't imagine this device "in the field"--which happens to be my wife's 2nd grade classroom--in the rough classroom environment just yet, having to adjust the laser beam with a dot on the wall for calibration. While calibration is a necessary evil, the device would have to be more forgiving and have greater range for calibration.

Finally, take this review with a grain of salt. A colleague and I spent 55 minutes playing with the nowBoard! and though it didn't quite work as well as we'd expected given performance at TCEA 2012 State Conference, it may be that newer versions of the device may address its perceived shortcomings. 

As for myself, I'd have to give it 3 out of 5 stars. I really had hopes this device would be a slamdunk like the others from Learning Resources family, such as the Easi-Speak and/or Luna Interactive Document Camera.

If you'd like a different perspective, you might read Kathy Schrock's review which was a bit more positive than mine. Other reviews also appear online here.

Full Disclosure: In the interests of full disclosure, this blog was provided a free nowBoard! device.  This review was not otherwise solicited or compensated from Learning Resources, and the opinions of the review are the opinion of its author.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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