What to Look for When Buying Mobile Computer Carts for Your School
If you’re an IT director or technology coach and it’s budget time, you’re probably looking for store and charge solutions that can accommodate the tech you have today and adapt to the tech you’ll have tomorrow. With devices cycling out every three to six years, it only makes sense to use your budget wisely and choose storage solutions that will grow with you and last beyond the next round of updates. What should your mobile computer cart have that will help ensure it will last? Here are some key features you’ll want to look for when specifying or buying mobile computer carts for your school.
Some carts are designed for a specific type of device and allocate space and power only for that device. This type of cart may meet your needs at first, but if your school or classroom switches from tablets to laptops or you need to store a variety of devices within a single unit, you’re going to be stuck with a cart that won’t have big enough slots or wide enough outlet spacing to accommodate larger devices and different power cords. To ensure you’ll get a cart that can adapt to device changes, choose one that has large slots that can handle a variety of device sizes and that has staggered power outlets and brick trays for different power cord designs.
One aspect of a computer cart that can be easily overlooked when specifying is its ability to organize power cables. When there is no system to separate and secure power cords, they can become tangled and knotted. This scenario can lead to damage when students pull on the cords in an attempt to get them to reach each device. It also slows down loading and unloading time, which can interrupt classroom activities and instructional time. Thoughtful cart design will include a cable management system that is easy to setup and consistently keeps cords separated and organized so they don’t become tangled.
All mobile computer carts should be equipped to handle the power draw of the number of devices they can store and charge and should include surge protection to prevent electrical damage to devices. In addition to basic charging, carts can also include smart charging and auto-shutoff. Smart charging refers to the cart’s ability to monitor the amount of power available and distribute that power to devices in the most efficient manner to charge the greatest number of devices in the least amount of time. An external display indicating when all devices or tiers of devices are fully charged is also a useful feature for classroom teachers, so they can be confident devices are ready to go at the start of the day or class period. In addition, an auto-shutoff feature, sometimes called a smart timer, stops charging devices once they have reached a full charge. This not only saves energy, but also extends the battery life of devices by not overcharging.
When devices are stored inside a computer cart and are actively charging, they generate a lot of heat. Ventilation in the form of small, patterned slots or openings in the cart should be present to allow heat to escape and to protect devices from overheating and incurring damage. Just be cautious that the ventilation openings aren’t sacrificing security. If openings are too large and construction is poor, openings can easily become entry points for unwanted access and theft.
Just because a computer cart has a lock on the door doesn’t mean it’s secure. While a lock is an important feature, construction is also key. For maximum security, a cart should be constructed of heavy duty steel, and doors and access panels should be fully hinged to deter unwanted entry. The locking mechanism should also secure the door at multiple points, not just at the center point; otherwise, doors can be easily pried open along the top and bottom. A three-point lock that secures the door at the top, middle, and bottom provides a much higher degree of security. You should also consider the type of lock that will work best for your users. Key locks and hasp and padlocks are common options.
Weight & Stability
Your mobile computer cart needs to be strong enough to support the weight of the devices inside when it’s fully loaded, and it should be able to do this without any visible bending or sagging of shelves. All-steel construction is desirable for this reason. To effectively manage a full classroom set of devices, cart shelves should be constructed of 20-gauge steel or thicker to ensure proper support.
The ease with which your mobile computer cart can move from one location to another can vary wildly depending on how the cart is designed. If your devices frequently need to travel from one room to another, your teachers will want a cart that is easy to steer and maneuver in crowded hallways and tight elevators. For maximum control, make sure the cart’s handle is positioned to allow comfortable steering and that the wheels roll smoothly to assist the driver in maintaining control. Locking and directional locking casters can help lock the cart in place when it’s parked and control the direction of cart movement when it’s in motion. If you choose the right manufacturer, these features will be standard and not tacked on as an additional cost.
When all is said and done, you always want to choose a mobile computer cart with a good warranty that includes the construction and parts of the cart as well as the electrical components. The better the warranty, the more confidence you’ll have in knowing you chose a cart that’s going to last; however, if the warranty is from a new manufacturer that hasn’t been around very long, you may be taking a risk. For peace of mind, choose a manufacturer that’s well established. Even better, choose one that is well established and located within your region. That way if there is a problem, it will take less time to have the problem repaired or the product replaced.
Protecting Your Investment
Technology is a big investment, and it may be tempting to choose the cheapest option for your computer cart. Unfortunately, the cheapest option can end up being the most expensive if you have to replace it every year because it breaks down. If budget is a concern, some manufacturers will work with you on price and may offer quantity discounts to help you get the quality you want at a price you can afford. Don’t just take the first, cheapest option. Talk to the manufacturer to see if you can do better.