The first is the new re-vamped Classic "Low A" ukulele from Empire. I tried the new concert sized Classic and I was extremely impressed with the quality. I suspect the soprano version would be the same quality and same build. The only question I do not know is how it would stand up to humidity. Whith the Kalas I tried to use, I found the dry winter air caused the wood to shrink causing sharp fret ends and creating a buzzy sound on many notes. My guess is the new Classic will be fine but I do wonder if the new upgrade version with the nicer laminate wood will be more prone to dry weather than the old ones. The first picture in the article shows their new re-vamped Classic.
The second new ukulele option are the student models offered by the Twisted Wood company out of St. Albert, Alberta. I have asked them about the humidity issue and was told that they dry out their wood more than other manufacturers to help them stay good in our dry climate. I have not tried any of their ukes but I hope to get the chance to at some point. I can't find a picture online of their student model but I have included a picture of one of their other ukes to the right.
Lastly, I have a sad, sad story. I bought Kala Waterman ukuleles for my school under a bit of a time pressure. I needed a uke that I knew would stand up to the harsh dry winters but couldn't get the Empire Classics because they were out of stock at that time and I didn't have any more time to get anything else before I lost the money due to the school fiscal calendar. In other words, I had to spend it right away or lose it.
I got the Waterman, and in a lot of ways, it is a fantastic little instrument. It stays in tune like nobody's business and is easy to clean. It's durability is second to none. And even though most students say they prefer the sound of the old Empire Classic ukuleles, I find them to be very good in comparison. They are even a little louder.
The downside is the action. It is too high for kids and most kids can't find success with them. While we can do some single note work with them, the kids I teach find single note picking it to be not enough to hold their interest. It's all I have now though, and it pretty well puts an end to any progress I can ever hope to make with the ukulele.
For good usable ukuleles, check out: