Selecting the Best Device for Online Lessons

In order to get online for video lessons, you must ensure that you have an appropriate device that is compatible with Zoom or any other video communication app of your choice. We will provide information on the four types of devices used for video conferencing.

1 - Desktop Computer

Before the advent of mobile devices capable of internet connection, the most common way of getting online was through a desktop computer (or the Apple equivalent: the iMac). Using a desktop computer can provide a heap of benefits for online lessons, such a wide selection of hardware and software/apps to use, a larger screen for video calls, and the ability to use a dependable wired Ethernet connection.

Budget setups can consist of a modern desktop computer (commonly known as the tower), monitor, and a USB webcam. More complex setups can include studio quality recording microphones, multiple HD-capable cameras, and direct-to-computer recording of compatible instruments (such as a digital piano/keyboard or electric guitar).

The main disadvantage is that the specifications of your computer vary widely. Top-of-the-line computers from a decade ago can be considered obsolete in comparison to a budget-priced but more modern models. If you are unsure if your computer can properly run your video communications app, you can check Requirements for Video Communication Apps to compare your current hardware with the minimum and recommended specifications for your app of choice. Other disadvantages can also include limitations to computer placement (as desktop computers can be large and clunky), the added complexity of setup (both in terms of hardware and within the apps), and the resulting difficulty of troubleshooting setup related problems during a video lesson.

2 - Laptop Computer

Many people today are more likely to own a laptop computer (or the Apple equivalent, the MacBook). Compared to a desktop computer, laptops are much more convenient, with the screen and input devices (such as the keyboard and touch pad) already being included. They also use less electricity, primarily run on battery, and can be plugged in when you want to charge the battery or run off of a wall outlet. Most modern laptops are generally more powerful than other mobile devices in the same price range, and also include a front-facing webcam, microphone, and Ethernet* input for wired internet connections.

However, the convenience of a laptop is not without some compromises. Laptops are generally less powerful in terms of overall speed to their desktop counterparts, and can also be more expensive. Depending on the age of the laptop, the quality of the webcam and microphone can be below average. Older or more budget-oriented laptops are also notorious for having poor speaker quality and lack output volume, which can make it difficult to listen to your teacher or student. Placement is less of an issue with a laptop, but since many laptop webcams are built into the monitor frame, your camera angles can be limited at times. Lastly, you can still experience the same level of variance and complexity in terms of hardware or software setup. This may cause you issues if you are uncomfortable with diagnosing problems on a Windows or macOS environment.

3 - Chromebook

Although they have been left in relative obscurity when initially sold in 2011, Chromebooks have become more and more popular for classroom use and distance education over the last few years. Chromebooks offer the form factor of a traditional laptop with one important difference: they run on the Linux-based ChromeOS operating system instead of Windows or macOS. This gives Chromebooks two major advantages. First, the interface is relatively easy to navigate and is comparable to a smartphone or tablet. Second, since ChromeOS can run well on low-spec/low-power machines, Chromebooks are noticeably cheaper than laptops while providing more battery life. Also, since ChromeOS is a Google-based product, most Android apps can run on a Chromebook as long as your version supports the Google Play Store.

Chromebooks are not without some disadvantages however. The level of support or compatibility with certain hardware may be limited in comparison to Windows or macOS machines. Therefore, you must ensure any microphones, webcams, or other USB devices are compatible. The low-spec nature of many Chromebooks may also hinder the performance of certain apps. Also, due to size and design budget constraints, most modern Chromebooks don't have a built in Ethernet port, so if you want to use a wired connection to your internet service, you would require an external USB-to-Ethernet adapter.

4 - Smartphone

Smartphones, such as an iPhone or Android-capable equivalent (from companies like Samsung, Google, and Huawei) are very user friendly. Apps like Zoom are readily available from the App Store or Google Play store and download at a tap of the screen. Most modern smartphones (2016 and after) meet all the necessary hardware requirements to run these apps, such as a front-facing camera, microphone, and a modern processor that won't slow down.

The main disadvantage when using a smartphone is the small screen in comparison to other devices. Depending on the instrument used for lessons, the small screen can be either a minor annoyance or a major problem, especially during piano or guitar lessons where it can become difficult to see related technique issues. Other potential disadvantages include potential placement limitations (if you do not own a smartphone tripod or stand), lesson interruptions due to phone calls or text messages, shorter battery life (video calls use plenty of battery power), and the general inability to connect to the internet through a wired connection without additional adapters (when WiFi or mobile data signals are not stable enough).

5 - iPad or Tablet

Tablets (and its more well known Apple equivalent, the iPad) function much like smartphones. They use the same respective app stores, and apps like Zoom are identical in terms of functionality and user interface. However, their larger size puts tablets in a happy medium between a smartphone and a larger (and potentially more complex) computer system. You will benefit from a larger screen and potentially longer battery life, as well as less phone-related interruptions as long as your tablet does not carry an active SIM card or phone number.

Aside from the benefits mentioned above, a tablet can still share the same limitations of a smartphone. Placement and proper camera angles can be even more difficult depending on size of the tablet and the sturdiness of the mount/stand used. Video calls will still drain battery at a rapid pace, and it is not uncommon for 4-5 online lessons to drain a tablet to critical levels from a full charge. You will also not be able to used a wired internet connection without purchasing additional and potentially expensive adapters.

Android tablets specifically can vary in terms of hardware specifications as well, so it is imperative that you check the Requirements for Video Communication Apps link to ensure your Android tablet is fast enough to provide a dependable platform for your video lessons.

Certain compatible tablets, such as the Amazon Fire, may use specialized versions of the Android platform, and can look and operate differently in terms of their user interface. Also, tablets such as the Microsoft Surface and Surface Pro are actually Windows-based machines, and technically makes them a laptop, but with added tablet features.

Ethernet refers to network connections within a local area network, such as a home network, that is connected to the internet. It is often synonymous to wired internet connections.