Promethean Interactive Whiteboard

Promethean shook the world of Interactive Whiteboards a few weeks back with two announcements.  The first was the launch of their €2,500 IWB, available from their resellers.  The second was their release of ActivStudio, the software, for use on any IWB.  This review focuses on all Promethean IWBs, which have seen further price cuts.

Promethean have a healthy chunk of the Primary school market when it comes to Interactive Whiteboards.  They are graced with excellent sales people and interesting relationships with organisations like the Irish Primary Principals Network, (IPPN).  This means that they got the best space at the IPPN exhibition and their product was endorsed by nearly every speaker at the conference apart from Batt O’Keefe (although he is seen endorsing them on Promethean’s web site!).  Anyway, a business is entitled to pump lots of money into their advertising and it does work.

Promethean sell a few versions of their whiteboard ranging in price from €2,500 (from resellers) to €4,395.  I have always said that Promethean’s board is nothing special; it’s their software that sells it.

The Technology

Promethean’s boards work by having a board using electromagnetic meshing.  A battery-less pen is then used to interact with the board.  Promethean claim this is better than anything else because it works digitally unlike the others which use analogue technology.  I don’t see this as a big deal.  All boards that I’ve used seem pretty accurate to me, analogue or not.  Promethean’s board does not allow you to interact with your finger, which puts it in the second tier for me for usability.  Promethean’s staff have been trained to tell you that it’s unhygienic to use your hands on an IWB and they will vehemently defend this assertion.  They will also claim that their board is more sturdy than some others – again this is refuted in all independent studies.

The Software

Now for the positive bit: Promthean’s software is by far the best in terms of Irish primary school education.  Its resources are second to none.  Its interface is perfect for young children.  Everything about it is better than everybody else’s software.  The other cool thing about the software is the ability to get your hands dirty if you want to.  You have the ability to program using their ActionScript.  Promethean are now offering their software free until March 1st, 2009 (when it will be €99), and you will be able to use it on any IWB.  This, I believe, may hurt them as I, for one, will certainly be buying an alternative board and using Promethean’s software.

The Price

Fair play to Promethean – they have a solution to meet everybody’s pocket.  Their  resellers are selling their most basic model, (which is comparable to EBeam, Mimio, Rainbow, 3M, etc.) for €2,500. The price goes up the more you want – training, service, height-adjustability, etc.  For example, their top of the range model is €4,495, which I would only get if I had too much money.

The Quirks

There aren’t too many quirks, in my opinion, about Promthean’s board.  It’s the software that makes it most attractive.

The Verdict

As I said, there’s no doubting that the Promethean board is well-liked by many people and I’m pretty convinced it’s more to do with the software over anything else.  Their sales team is also the best in the country and they have an answer to every question you might ask them, (believe me, I have asked lots of questions). They have convinced a hell of a lot of people of the merits of their product over undeniably better products.  In turn, they use these people in their sales pitches.  For example, I was given the example of a principal who told Promethean: “I’ve tried the rest, now I’m back for the best” as an argument to why I should buy Promethean.  On the surface, that sounds like a great endorsement.  But I would ask the same principal, what it was that he didn’t like about the other boards, he bought.  I could almost guarantee it would be the software and now you can get that on any board.

Last Update: August 17, 2017  

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3 thoughts on “Promethean Interactive Whiteboard”

  1. I am a little surprised that you haven’t updated your post in a while. Much of what you have said in your “Hardware” section is out of date. I also find it bizarre that you would let how you operate the board affect your star rating so much. At the end of the day whether you touch it with your finger or a pen is not going to affect the quality of learning that is going on in the average classroom.

    I thought I’d offer some updated information:
    I agree whole heartedly that the quality of Promethean’s software shines through. However, ActivStudio has now been replaced with ActivInspire. This software is even easier to use and is far richer in it potential enhance teaching and learning even than it has been in the past. It is fact that the power of this bit of programming allows usability that cannot be matched with any other product out there – including SMART. I would be happy to quantify this if asked.

    On the subject of the digital input you said: “Promethean claim this is better than anything else because it works digitally unlike the others which use analogue technology. I don’t see this as a big deal. ” The ‘big deal’ comes with the capability to board has to be upgraded. The chip it contains means that all boards (not pen trays) can be updated on a regular basis. This means that no matter how old the hardware, is your board has the capabilities of running in exactly the same way as a brand new one. The fact that the board works digitally, also means that Promethen have been able to move the technology towards multi -user capabilities (ACTIVarena). With the new Activ Boards (and indeed an old one with updated firmware) you can now have more than one student working on a task at once.

    I am aware that SMART have just released something similar. However, because their boards are not digital it is only the software which handles the locations the pens can write in. This means that pupils can only write in a designated area on the board. The digital nature of Promethean’s Activ boards mean that pupils can work collaboratively on all areas of the board. This makes it even easier for them to work simultaneously on the same project or activity.

    Now Promethean have allowed you to purchase their software for all boards it does mean that you get the benefits of their software solution. However, the other boards on the market do not offer the same hardware product and with the way Promethean are moving I don’t think it will be too long before the board also begins to stand out on its own merits.

    I hope this comment serves to help update your review and perhaps lend a few more arguments in regards to your “technology” sections. So you know. I don’t work for Promethean. I don’t sell their boards. I am an accredited trainer for SMART and PROMETHEAN and a Secondary English teacher. When buying boards teachers need to receive the latest information and I hope I’ve been able to add an update here.

    Perhaps you’d like to review the star rating you have given them? 3 stars seems a little harsh for such an innovative product.

    • Selens, thanks a million for your comments. You make some excellent points but I’m afraid I still have to insist that Promethean’s lack of touch-interaction is a huge concern, particularly at primary level. Perhaps at second level, where kinaesthetic learning isn’t as much of a big thing, perhaps you’re right, but this site is specifically aimed at primary level. I use the following analogy: Imagine I ask you to pass me a bowl of sugar on a table. Are you going to use your finger to push it across the table at me or will you take out a pen and use that to push it over to me? Similarly on a whiteboard, should I be dragging and dropping using a pen? I don’t think so. A pen is used for writing and making marks. A finger or hand is used for moving stuff.
      I’m aware that Promethean are upgrading their software to allow dual interaction. Unfortunately, many boards already do this, some allowing up to 9 users at a time. Every board is extensible so Promethean being digital hasn’t really shown too many benefits for me. Anyway, the next generation of boards are gesture sensitive, that is, depending on how you “touch” the board brings up particular tools. For example, swiping and pinching are becoming more and more important (see Windows 7 and any Apple product). This may prove very difficult with a pen.
      Another aspect that the Promethean (or Smart) don’t have is the ability to use the IWB as a dry-wipe board. I’ve been using boards for years that allow this and the story of fading boards, etc. doesn’t hold. It reminds me of the scaremongering story of why people wouldn’t want touch-sensitive boards due to little Johnny wiping his bottom in the toilet before interacting with a touch-board.
      I’m not against Promethean as a company and there’s no doubt they have the best software out there. However, there’s better hardware out there and things have moved on since the ActivBoard was innovative. Speaking of which, you are correct, my review is out of date so a new one will have to be done before long!


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