One might ask why it’s taken me until 2010 to review the eBeam. The eBeam is probably the third best known interactive solution in the education market. Back in the days when there were really only two companies fighting for the right to sell Interactive Whiteboards in Ireland, (Smart and Promethean), the eBeam came along costing a fraction of the price.
Up until a couple of years ago, I was telling everyone to go out and buy eBeams over the other options. To be honest, I was selling eBeams! My argument was based on cost. Back then you could buy 5 eBeam set ups for the same price as 2 Promethean or Smart boards. This is not the case anymore.
For those of you who don’t know what an eBeam is, it’s basically a small boomerang shaped dongle which sticks to an existing whiteboard. Through plugging it into a laptop, it transforms the whiteboard into an existing interactive whiteboard. You can then interact with the whiteboard using an electronic pen.
The cost of eBeams have gone down a lot and now you can buy them for around €500. (Add a bit more for a wireless version). Because of this, many companies have been using the technology to make their own boards. Essentially, they stick an eBeam onto a whiteboard, give it a fancy name and sell it as cheaply as possible. Examples include the 3M board, the Vosa iBoard and the Rainbow IWB. You’ll generally get a short-throw set-up with full instalation for around €2,000, which is a good price.
My main problems with the eBeam are to do with the pen that comes with it. Firstly, if you drop the pen on the ground, you’ll be lucky if it works ever again. Replacements are about €80. I also find the pen clunky and you need to put batteries in them. This gives them the annoying feature that all of a sudden they just stop working. My other problem with the eBeam is that it doesn’t allow for finger interaction.
On the positive side, they are cheap. They also allow the user the ability to keep using the existing whiteboard as a dry-wipe board. I’d recommend that a matt-finish whiteboard will cause less glare from a projector so probably it’s best to use those.
EBeam argue that their dongle is portable and can be shared between classrooms. I found that this didn’t really work in practice and found that it was easier to permanently install eBeams in classrooms professionally.
Software-wise, eBeam uses a circle toolkit, which has a few features, none of which are outstanding in any way. There are few clipart resources either. Most companies provide alternative software with the eBeam these days, usually Easyteach from RM. I’d recommend using Promethean’s Activ Inspire instead.
Overall, I would not be looking at the eBeam as an option for my school. There are better cheaper options such as the Intech Portable Board. I even think the Mimio just about edges it out for accuracy. Having said this, there is a lot of love out there for the eBeam and a pretty large community out there to support it. If you’re looking for a reasonably cheap IWB option, and you’ve already got a whiteboard and projector, this may be a cheap investment.
This is a more recent article outlining some of the debates about the eBeam. In it, I’ve tried and break down why they were so successful in Ireland. After that I’ll try and bust a few myths.
1. It’s been around for a long time
The eBeam came to Ireland back in 2004 when IWBs cost around €7,000. The eBeam came in at a lowly €700. Its name was always tossed around, particularly by this web site, as a real viable alternative to the better known brands of Promethean and Smart. Today, almost every school in Counties Carlow and Wexford, thanks to Rainbow Education, has an eBeam-style IWB in their school. In 2007 when the market became saturated with other models, the eBeam name was always there in the same breath as Promethean and Smart.
2. It’s cheap
It’s very cheap. When IWBs came out first, you could buy 2-3 eBeam enhanced IWBs for the same price as the bigger brand names. Nowadays, there isn’t a lot of difference in price but the general impression remains.
3. eBeams are everywhere, even in other brand names
Whichever clever person decided to stick an eBeam in the corner of a whiteboard and claimed to have invented a brand new type of IWB was on to something. The Vosa board, the early Hitachi boards, the Rainbow IWBs, the early 3M Boards, etc. were simply that – a decent whiteboard with an eBeam stuck in the corner. All of a sudden you had something resembling a Promethean or SMART board but for half the price. If you bought one of those boards, check in one of the corners and you’ll find an eBeam.
4. Word Spreads
Lots of schools have bought these devices and they’ve worked out quite well. These people tell their friends in other schools and on discussion fora and a domino effect is born.
5. Everyone wants an IWB
If you asked a school to boast about its facilities, they will inevitably say that every room has an interactive whiteboard, as if this is some yard mark to how good they are. Parents and the wider world now believe this so if you don’t have an IWB in every classroom, you risk losing enrollments. Now, if all you know is that you have very little money, you’re going to think that buying an eBeam is your only option because they’re cheap.
I’m not saying that I would NEVER buy an eBeam. If I had a projector, a decent whiteboard and laptop, I’d probably consider it for 5th and 6th class. There’s a few reasons why I would be thinking twice about them today.
1. Not the cheapest anymore
Firstly, they’re no longer that much cheaper than other boards. While you can pick up an eBeam for less than €500, there are now other options that cost even less and others that are better that cost only slightly more. The Onfinity device costs about €350 for a basic model and does pretty much the same job. Actual board-shaped Boards now start at around €700 so look out for these bargains.
2. Not the best guarantee
There’s only a one year standard guarantee with eBeams. All other traditionally shaped boards have at least a 3 year guarantee and often a lifetime guarantee. That can be worth a lot in the long run.
3. Software included is dire
The software included with an eBeam, in a word, is dire. While this isn’t a particularly huge problem as you can easily buy software, this is an added expense. To carry on the Ryanair analogy, it’s like having to pay to bring a suitcase on holiday. You don’t really need to but you probably do need to.
4. The Pen
The pen that comes with the eBeam is battery operated. That means you need a stock of AA batteries. That’s not such a big deal. However, if you drop the eBeam pen, it will break much more easily than any other pen in the IWB market. Replacements cost €80.
Like it or not, after a certain amount of time the eBeam loses its accuracy. How long depends on how often it’s moved. If initially it is permanently placed and hidden in a corner, you’ll get a similar lifetime as any other board but if you’re moving the eBeam around a lot, you’ll be lucky to get two years out of it.
6. They are no-frills
An eBeam cannot be interacted with anything but the magic pen. You can’t use your finger to interact. There are no extra frills – no real training, no decent resources to support the software and no add-ons. While this isn’t particularly a very negative thing, bells and whistles can be the difference between it being used and not. Unless your school has built up a nice big bank of resources, you’re on your own.
As I said at the start of the article, I’m not saying I would never buy an eBeam. They are functional. They make any surface interactive. They give you an interactive classroom. Because I have a good bank of resources, I would probably buy one for older classes. I think it’s highly important for younger classes to be able to interact with their fingers and the eBeam doesn’t let that happen. The eBeam is popular for many reasons but so is Ryanair.
Last Update: August 17, 2017