The good folks over at Neat were nice enough to send us a Neat Pad evaluation unit to test in Duke’s Zoom Room environment. Neat says that their Neat Pad is “a simple and elegant touch screen you can configure as a controller inside your Zoom Room, or use as a scheduling display outside any meeting room,” and it delivers! But, is it for everyone?
First, why would a University want a Neat Pad when options like an iPad or various other 3rd party controllers (Crestron TSW-770 for example) are available as Zoom Room controllers?
An iPad works wonderfully as a Zoom Room controller and is usually updated first when Zoom pushes out an update to the Zoom Room platform. But, at the end of the day, it’s still an iPad with all the little quarks surrounding such a universal device. Specifically, an iPad has a less than ideal charging system for conference rooms. The iPad also requires mounting/security hardware, etc. etc. Finally, if the iPad isn’t using ZDM, the iPad is basically another enterprise computer to manage, both the iPadOS and Zoom Room application need to be maintained. Plus, iPads have a tendency to “grow legs” as they are recognizable mobile devices. Having a wireless option is nice, but not so much when you need to send a technician to a conference room to “plug in the iPad” after a faculty/staff/student has forgotten to reconnect the iPad to a charger (or when the charging cable goes missing).
Many 3rd party controllers have nice features including Power over Ethernet (PoE) to provide clean wired network connectivity and power over a single cable, but they too require a good bit of management, occasionally requiring a specific skillset unique to AV technicians. While these devices usually have the advantage of being used for other applications outside of the Zoom Room environment… updating the firmware (specifically “Firmware Friday“) sometimes isn’t for the faint of heart.
The Neat Pad, in contrast, eliminates many of the challenges mentioned above. Unlike an iPad, the Neat Pad is tethered via a network connection for Internet access and power so while less “mobile” than an iPad, it is less likely to walk away. Also, because it’s not an iPad, people are usually less inclined to attempt to disconnect or “borrow” the device. Setup, unlike an iPad and other 3rd party controllers, takes <3 minutes and can be fully managed from the Zoom environment (aka, once connected, all management of the device is implemented by Zoom’s native web interface – no fumbling around with a hardware manufacturer’s specific software or cryptic embedded web pages for firmware updates. It’s all Zoom). As for price, the Neat Pad has an MSRP of $500. While that’s more expensive vs. an iPad, once you add in the additional hardware to make an iPad function in a conference room, you are quickly approaching that price point (not to mention the time involved with configuring the iPad). The Neat Pad is also less expensive than comparable 3rd party controllers. The only “cons” (and I hate to use that label – perhaps “consideration”) to the device would be that it will only run the Zoom Room environment – either as a controller or room scheduler (both worked wonderfully). It’s never going to run Microsoft Teams, O365 calendaring, Appspace, EMS, Robin, etc. etc. It runs Zoom Rooms and it does that well. One other consideration is that the Neat Pad usually trails a few weeks, perhaps a month, behind the official version of Zoom Rooms in terms of the app update (other 3rd party manufacturers do as well ). Finally, if I had a “Gee, I wish Neat would…” item, it would be that I wish they had a 10″ and 12″ version. The 7″ Neat Pad is great, but there are some locations where having a little more real estate would be ideal.