The SMART Table, a multitouch coffee table device designed for educational use, is now available to buy for UK and US schools

It is being marketed as a more affordable device for the education sector than the Microsoft Surface, costing schools around £5,500 each (as opposed to around £10,000 for the higher-spec Microsoft device).

Following the recent BETT exhibition, TechRadar spoke with Christine Gillies, the product line manager over at SMART Technologies to find out more.

TechRadar: Why do you feel the SMART Table is better for educational use than the Microsoft Surface?

Christine Gillies: The SMART Table interactive learning centre is designed specifically for primary school students. While other products might feature similar technology, The SMART Table comes with several education applications installed including Puzzles, Addition and Multiple Choice designed to be fun and encourage collaboration.

The Table also includes content packs such as Shapes and Naming Body Parts to assist teachers in developing learning activities. Additionally, teachers can use a PC or Mac and the SMART Table toolkit to create their own customised lesson activities and content for the Table. No other table-top learning display has these features. More applications and content will be added as SMART continues to develop the Table.

Is there not a problem with the number of children who can see the SMART Table's screen at any one time?

It should also be pointed out that the SMART Table works well with the SMART Board interactive whiteboard. The content packs complement interactive lesson activities that a teacher creates with SMART Notebook software and displays on the interactive whiteboard in front of the whole class. Concepts in those lesson activities can then be further explored by small groups at the Table.

The SMART Table underwent rigorous testing to ensure it would meet the needs of educators and students around the world. For example, it can withstand a weight of up to 200 lbs. and is liquid and is scratch resistant. The SMART Table will be commercially available, in limited quantities initially, in February 2009 at a price of £5,499, which is considerably less expensive than other displays.

Does SMART see a long-term competitive threat from Microsoft if they make a dedicated play for the education sector with Surface?

Cost is just one factor educators consider when making purchasing decisions. They also put a great deal of importance on a company's background in education. For nearly two decades SMART has been a global leader in providing technology and education solutions designed to meet the specific needs of teachers and students.

We also offer the training and support required to ensure optimal use of the technology. When it comes to the cost, SMART will always price its products competitively and we are confident that, after considering price, software, content and support, most educators will continue to choose our products.

The company also provides a number of free apps and classroom activities for use with the SMART Table download over on its website.