Many businesses rely on collaboration between staff located across the world. This means that collaboration tools are becoming ever more popular in offices up and down the UK - both in terms of software applications and 'smart' whiteboard hardware.
Organisations in a variety of industries - from architects, to city planners and manufacturing firms - are using interactive boards to create technical drawings and precise workflows, sharing this data at the click of a button to colleagues located overseas, or in other offices up and down the UK.
Aside from its obvious collaboration features, electronic whiteboards are made to improve employee engagement and bring in a world of resources to your meeting room.
However, there are a few downsides to be aware of when selecting a device, such as cost and choice of operating system.
Here, ComputerworldUK looks at seven interactive whiteboards, paying particular attention to price, ease of use and collaboration features.
Real-time collaboration is at the heart of Google's G Suite platform, and the same can be said for its interactive whiteboard. Google's Jamboard comes in at $5,000 (£4,000), which is not exactly cheap, but if your office uses Google's collaboration applications widely then this whiteboard will fit in nicely.
It is on the light side in terms of features when compared with others listed, but depending on your usage it could be more than enough.
The Jamboard is a sizable 55 inches and offers a 4K resolution screen, so even though you can write on it like a whiteboard, it doesn't have the processing power of other devices, and therefore probably fits more comfortably in the monitor or screen category.
If you're working on a group project with other offices with Jamboards, for example, the screen can be shared and any changes made on one device can be reflected on all of them. This is perfect for idea development and group-led meetings.
As it uses G-suite, users can pull information, documents and photos in from any of Google's apps such as Docs, Sheets, Slides and Drive. And as it's using Google your work will be saved automatically to the cloud, so there's no worry about losing an intense brainstorming session.
The Jamboard's webcam adds extra collaborative features to the mix, with video conferencing being pretty simple. This is great if you're doing a simple task but not so great if you're not. For example, the Jamboard can cast what's on the board to those on the other end of the video conference and it can host video chats via its webcam, but it can't do both at the same time, which will be a little frustrating for some businesses with lots of remote workers.
The bottom line: The Google Jamboard is great for simple brainstorming and whiteboard usage, but if you're looking for a whiteboard that can create detailed documents and collaborate more extensively, you might want to look elsewhere.
Microsoft Surface Hub
Microsoft's digital whiteboard is more like a powerful computer, which differs greatly from the approach of Google's Jamboard. The Microsoft Surface Hub is a beast in both size and in raw power but be warned: it is pricey.
The Microsoft Surface Hub comes in two sizes, 55 inches (like the Jamboard) or a massive 84-inch model. Both models are pretty much the same in features and specs, only differing in screen resolution, weight and CPU (the 55 inch version runs Intel HD, while 84 inch whiteboard runs NVIDIA Quadro).
The 55-inch model will set you back around £8,000, with the 84 inch Surface Hub costing an eye-watering £21,000.
The Surface Hub runs Windows 10 and offers adapted versions of its Office apps, OneNote, Skype for Business and range of business apps from the Microsoft Store.
Ideal for existing Microsoft customers, this board will save to One Drive and email documents in one click, although support for Microsoft Teams is not available currently, which is a little confusing as both are built for collaboration and would fit nicely together.
Both models come with 128GB of storage with 8GB of RAM, wide-angle camera, microphones and two pens.
The Surface Hub lets multiple people write on it at once, meaning fast-paced team projects and presentations are a breeze. And for those businesses that rely on remote workers, Skype for Business can be enabled easily on this device, supporting up to 100 different callers at once.
Although, the downside here, is that only three caller videos can be displayed at one time.
Now to the drawbacks, the Surface Hub is Microsoft reliant, meaning that it doesn't integrate with any other OS's or software. So to make the most out of its features - and at £21,000 you really should - you'll need an enterprise subscription to Office 365, which will add to the overall price.
And while some collaboration apps such as Slack are possible to integrate, they would have to be approved by the Windows Store, which could be a bit lengthy.
Sadly, the biggest issue with the Surface Hub is the price. It is a powerful machine and is packed with features, so it was never going to be cheap, but justifying a £21,000 purchase on one smartboard is going to be difficult.
However, it should be noted that Microsoft does offer the Surface Hub on a subscription-based model which includes the initial investment and configuration costs.
The bottom line: The Surface Hub is visually stunning and its collaboration power is excellent. However, the price and its lack of compatibility will leave smaller businesses and non-Microsoft organisations in the dark.
Cisco Spark Board
The Cisco Spark Board is a digital smartboard for interactive meetings and group brainstorming tasks.
Cisco's offering is clean in design and provides basic, but effective, functionality similar to the Jamboard, and for around the same price ($4,990).
As the name suggests, the Spark Board was built around Cisco's cloud-based Spark collaboration tools, which includes messaging, meeting and VoIP calling services.
Unlike the Jamboard, this interactive board works in conjunction with an application which will run on your smartphone, tablet or PC, allowing users to share documents and files on the board, share video calls, while iPhone users can even drag and drop calls to the board.
The Cisco Spark Board comes in two sizes, 55-inch or 70-inch. Both support a 4K camera and offer 12 microphones which will pick up sound from a packed meeting room.
Sadly, the Cisco Spark Board does require you purchase a monthly subscription, which comes in at around £150 per month, although there are a number of packages, ranging in price and available on request.
The bottom line: For that already take advantage of Cisco's Spark service, it might seem an obvious choice to use the Spark Board. However, if costs are a big factor in your decision, the monthly subscription rates could be a massive turn off.
So like the Microsoft Surface Hub, businesses will have to weigh up how much the use and benefit from their existing infrastructure, whether it be Cisco Spark or Microsoft Office 365.
SMART kapp iQ
When most people think of digital whiteboards or 'smartboards', they think of SMART Technologies.
Typically used in schools and education, SMART offers a couple of whiteboards designed specifically for business use, the SMART kapp iQ and the SMART kapp iQ Pro.
Both boards come packed with business features, and while they aren't cheap, they are still significantly less expensive than our most costly board listed, from Microsoft.
The kapp iQ and the kapp iQ Pro both let up to 250 employees join together to work on the board remotely at one time, provide ultra-HD display, enable users to send completed workflows as PDFs, let users wirelessly split the screen and take advantage of its built-in web browser.
Like the Cisco Spark Board, both interactive boards come with the SMART kapp App, which means remote employees can join in on meeting using their tablet, laptop and phones and contribute. These remote workers will also be able to save the meeting's notes or images to their devices.
In regards to video conferencing, you'll need to plug in your laptop for this to be possible. While this won't be an issue for most, if you want a seamless, all-in-one product, this might be a letdown.
But of course, there are a few things that set the kapp iQ and the kapp iQ Pro apart. To start, the Pro comes fully integrated with Microsoft Exchange and Office 365, perfect for businesses already running Microsoft software, although for those that don't, you'll need to get a licence which will add to the cost.
The Pro also comes with 'SMART Meeting Pro' software, this allows you to drag documents from any application or device into the digital whiteboard. From there you'll be able to write over them, save your annotations and share with the team afterwards. The SMART Meeting Pro comes with licences for one meeting room and 25 personal software licenses.
The SMART kapp iQ comes in at around $5,999 CAD (£3,550) for the 65-inch model and $8,199 CAD (£4,850) for the 75-inch model, while the SMART kapp iQ Pro will set you back $9,999 CAD (5,926) for the 65-inch and $12,199 CAD (£7,230) for the 75-inch model. And while this is cheaper than the Microsoft Surface Hub, it can't beat Microsoft as an all-in-one machine or on features.
The bottom line: The SMART kapp iQ and kapp iQ Pro can be seen as bridging the gap between the Cisco Spark Board and the Microsoft Surface Hub. It offers a collaboration app, like Cisco and takes Microsoft's approach to subscription by offering licences via the SMART Meeting Pro software.
Dell's interactive conference room monitors
Dell has long been a producer of devices such as laptops which are designed for business users. And its digital whiteboards or 'interactive conference room monitors' are no different, coming packed with features all designed to improve workflows and collaboration for remote workers.
There all quite a few on offer at Dell, but we'll take a look at some of the more popular models available in the UK.
Dell's C7017T model is a 70-inch LED-backlit flat panel display unit and comes with 10-point touch, which is miles behind the Surface Hub which offers 100-point touch.
The board itself has an anti-glare and anti-smudge layer on screen, and functionality to enhance text and images, so if your meeting room is on the large side, this shouldn't matter.
Sadly, this Dell cannot take on the monster that is the Microsoft Surface Hub, simply because it is 'just' a monitor, while the Surface Hub has all the functionality of a tablet or a PC, with a giant screen.
However, this shouldn't mean you write the C7017T off. This model does come packed with ports for easy connectivity, it features four USB 3.0 ports, one of which is for rapid charging and audio in and out connections, and one USB 2.0 port. In addition, Dell customers will receive one DisplayPort, two HDMI 1.4 ports and one HDMI port with MHL which is designed for mirroring what's being displayed on smartphones and tablets.
With Dell's Interactive monitors, video conferencing is possible, but as this is a monitor, rather than an all-in-one interactive board, you'll need to purchase a webcam.
This year Dell launched a new 86-inch 4K monitor, and while the size may rival the Surface Hub, its specs definitely don't. Although, it is half the price, so definitely worth consideration.
For $9,999, you can buy the Dell C8618QT. It comes with four HDMI ports, four USB ports, two speakers, one DisplayPort and like we mentioned a 4K screen.
You’ll also find that, as with Dell's other 70-inch model, this monitor also comes with an anti-glare and anti-smudge coating on the screen to help improve visibility. And Dell also offers the same monitor in 55-inch for smaller meeting rooms and budgets, costing about $5,000 (£3,930).
Perhaps the biggest downside to Dell's boards is that they are monitors. You'll still need a PC to run your workflows or media on. And while the screen will enable you to draw onto that workflow, the setup and additional cost of the PC to run it will be needed to factor in when evaluating costs.
The bottom line: As these Dell interactive boards are essentially glorified monitors, it's difficult to compare them to the likes of the Surface Hub and the Jamboard. What we do know is that they are half the price and still offer good functionality, with a good connectivity and screen resolution.
You can pick up a Mondopad Ultra in a few sizes, all of which come packed with features aimed at collaboration and business functionality.
Like the Cisco Spark Board, the Mondopad Ultra offers a mobile app called ControlView. This enables users to stream what's on their phone to the screen, ultimately mirroring the device. What's great is that you can annotate the document being shown on screen from your smartphone, tablet or laptop without having to get up and actually make those changes. This, of course, lends itself perfectly to remote workers.
Even better, both Mondopad Ultras include a free licence for Microsoft Office business, so that's one thing taken care of. And while it's an extra thing you won't need to pay for, it also means that it comes set up and ready to go which is pretty handy.
It's worth noting that there is a discontinued 65-inch model that might confuse you, the current 65-inch model is called 'Mondopad 65-Inch with Capacitive Touch'.
In terms of specs, the 65-inch model comes with 10-point touch, 8GB of RAM, 128 SSD storage, Intel Core i7-4770T, two stereo speakers and full HD (1080p) screen resolution. There are also lots of ports including DisplayPort 1.2, USB 3.0 and two ethernet ports.
The bigger 70-inch Mondopad Ultra comes with a 4K, multi-touch screen, built on top of a Windows 10 PC. And like the smaller version, this interactive board come with a full licence for Microsoft Office as standard. However, the 70-inch model does come with a few extras too.
The larger model will provide users with ConX Cloud, its cloud-based video collaboration tool. The ConX Cloud working as part of the package will let you collaborate with three people or 'seats' for one year for free. If you require more, you can get 50 seats for $9,99 (£7,85) per month.
You'll also receive 256GB of SSD storage, 8 GB RAM and all the same ports. The biggest selling factor here is the 4K screen, however, let's face it, it's not entirely necessary for all users.
As to be expected, both models aren't cheap. Like Microsoft's Surface Hub, the Mondopad Ultra's are essentially massive computers, although the Mondopad is still lagging behind Microsoft in terms of features, as most are here. But they are still cheaper.
The 65-inch model will cost around £8,000, while the slightly bigger model comes in nearer £10,000 depending on the reseller.
The bottom line: Mondopad is a great choice for an interactive whiteboard. It comes with a lot of extras that the other boards don't provide. However, they are still quite expensive and rely on the Window's OS, so for those running a Google office, you might not see a free subscription the Microsoft Office as a bonus at all.
There are lots of interactive boards out there, although most are directed at schools and teaching, so the majority lack features suitable or advantageous for a business environment.
However, if you do want something that is cheap(er) with basic functionality, you shouldn't write off one of these boards straight away.
Take the Panasonic UB-T880 for example, this board won't support video conferencing or remote workers like the other boards listed, but it will provide solid in-meeting collaboration features, built-in speakers for playing high-definition videos and multi-touch across the entire screen, ideal for brainstorming.
Users will be able to capture images from the internet, create collages and email their brainstorming session to themselves or at the very least, save it to the board.
However, some would argue that businesses might as well just use a standard whiteboard and save themselves some money. And there is logic in that of course.
If you're looking to spend a little but don't want to lose out on collaborative features, then virtual whiteboard could be the answer, if you're willing to work on smaller personal devices.
Imagine you're working in a team of four but three are working in Berlin. You'll be able to use your own PC, tablet or smartphone to connect with them over a web-based smartboard and draw, brainstorm and message (to name a few) without actually needing to buy a physical interactive whiteboard.
Virtual whiteboards or web whiteboards can allow teams to connect via the cloud to produce drawings, annotated notes and worksheets, then they can be saved to your PC or mobile device.
In terms of cost, there are lots that subscription-based services, but equally some good free choices too. So it might be worth trying out a free web whiteboard to see if you can save a considerable amount of cash before plumping for a physical board or a subscription-based service.
If you have a large budget, an interactive board is rarely going to be a bad decision. However, sadly for most businesses in the UK, this is one of the biggest deciding factors.
Digital whiteboards are expensive and some are set up to interact with specific operating systems and software that you'll need to already own or purchase (cough Microsoft).
As these machines are quite complex, even with the best user experience, there will need to be employee training to get to grip with the board's intricacies.
Some of the whiteboard companies do offer training, but not all and even the training provided might not be enough.
That being said, the benefits of an interactive whiteboard are extensive, with many offering excellent brainstorming and collaboration capabilities, cloud-storage and HD video calling services.
The Microsoft Surface Hub provides technical beauty, offering a powerful machine with features hard to beat by others listed.
But it is expensive, perhaps too costly for most organisations.
Coming in at around the same price, the Jamboard and Spark Board are solid options and offer great meeting functionality, and while it does miss out on some of the features of the Surface Hub, for most businesses, what they do offer, is more than enough.
And for those wanting something in the middle, there is always the Mondopad Ultra.
Whether or not your budget can stretch to any of these options is probably yet to be decided but what is for certain, is that collaboration is a vital practice to have at the heart of your organisation.
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