Intel's latest Classmate: Who needs an iPad?

Intel's latest Classmate: Who needs an iPad?

Summary: Intel launched the latest generation Intel Convertible Classmate PC this morning in Central Park, with a group of 5th-graders touring the Central Park Zoo, Classmates in tow. I'll post video content from the day as Intel uploads it, but for now I wanted to provide a thorough review of the new device.

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TOPICS: iPad, Intel, Mobility
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Intel launched the latest generation Intel Convertible Classmate PC this morning in Central Park, with a group of 5th-graders touring the Central Park Zoo, Classmates in tow. I'll post video content from the day as Intel uploads it, but for now I wanted to provide a thorough review of the new device. I've been putting one through its paces since late last week and also had a chance to talk with Intel representatives about new features and improvements, some of which are evolutionary, and others of which are quite significant.

I've been a fan of the Convertible Classmate since its launch. After all, what's not to like about an inexpensive tablet/netbook combination with an educational software stack, plenty of hardware and software partners, and ruggedized features? I was such a big fan, in fact, that I rolled them out in two of the elementary schools in my district.

While the Classmates were initially a big hit, we ended up running into some reliability issues, particularly at one school where the computers were being treated quite poorly. Although some easy hardware fixes, some professional development for the teachers, and training for the students largely addressed the problems we were having, I was still a bit concerned. These machines weren't as cheap as completely disposable netbooks and were designed for much harsher conditions than rural Massachusetts should be able to dish out.

Then one of the new Classmates arrived last week and every one of my concerns went away. Although slightly heavier, the new convertible tablets are improved on several fronts, taking a relatively tough, kid-friendly computer and turning it into a rugged iPad killer with a keyboard and software stack suitable for a variety of use cases all the way from Kindergarten through 12th grade.

Go to the next page for specs and specific improvements »

So what's changed? Don't get me wrong here: the previous generation Convertible Classmate has been rolled out to thousands of kids and is a great tool. As with all things in tech, though, there was room for improvement and Intel really pushed the envelope in terms of capitalizing on component upgrades and technology advances. The bottom line is increased performance, improved battery life, improved durability in several areas, improved ergonomics, bigger screen/keyboard, and a better OS. Here are the specifics:

Feature 8.9" Previous Generation Classmate 10.1" "Summit Peak" Classmate
CPU Intel® Atom™ N270 at 1.6GHz Intel® Atom™ processor N450 at 1.66GHz (Pineview)
Chipset/Integrated Graphic Intel® 945GSE Intel® NM10 Express
Screen Size/resolution 8.9", 1024x600 10.1", 1024x600 or optional 1366x768
Weight 2.8 pounds 3.4 pounds
Keyboard (% of full) 89% 92%
Battery life (with 6-cell battery) 6 hours 8.5 hours
Memory 1GB standard, 2GB optional 1GB standard, 2GB optional
OS Windows XP Home or Linux Windows 7 Professional or Linux
Ports Single audio, USB 2.0, SD card, 1/2-sized mini-card Dual audio, USB 2.0, SD card, 1/2-sized mini-card, full-sized mini-card
Network Fast Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Fast Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n with optional WiMax, 3G, and GPS
Storage 16G/8G/4G Flash or 1.8" HDD 32G/ 16G / 8G SATA Flash, 2.5” SATA HDD with hard-drive protection from the new digital accelerometer (previous generation was analog)
The keyboard, in addition to being larger and easier for touch typing, can now also be ordered with antimicrobial plastic. The keys, which some unruly students managed to pop off previous generation Classmates, are now closer together and feel significantly more secure. My one major complaint? How many function keys do you really need? The right-hand Fn key, shown here, means that the right shift key is tiny and often, instead of capitalizing a letter, you move to the previous line. Probably not a huge deal for tiny hands and slow typists, but for a guy with relatively small hands who types pretty quickly, it's a pain.

Overall, though, the size of the device lends itself to a larger cross-section of users. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the new Classmate to an older student and would certainly consider the little computers for 1:1 applications at all levels of K-12. Their increased durability, size, and HD-capable video performance make them great tools to have at the ready in any classroom situation. The 8.5 hours of battery life, by the way, is a realistic number, making it well-suited to an entire day in and out of backbacks or moving from room to room on a cart. I've gotten almost 8 hours continuously broadcasting on my "ChickenCam," sharing my agricultural adventures without AC power and with anyone who cares to watch 12 chicks sleep on top of each other for several hours at a time.

Go to the next page for a video review and my thoughts on Windows 7 »

In addition to improved hardware, the availability of Windows 7 makes a real difference in the performance of the new Classmates. Boot up is quick, applications are generally snappy, and multitasking is certainly tolerable. Windows 7 also has native support for touch, making the tablet interface even more appealing.

So is this actually an iPad killer as I called it above? Watch the brief video review below to find out why I think most educational settings can benefit from one of these new Classmates at least as much, if not considerably more, than an iPad.

So, do we have an iPad killer on our hands? At least in education, the Classmate's competitive price (final pricing hasn't been released yet, but should be comparable to the $499 of the previous generation), physical keyboard, full-blown OS (as opposed to a phone OS that relies on Apps), a touch screen/stylus combination that feels remarkably like writing on paper, built-in webcam, and expandable components all make the iPad hard to justify. There are plenty of use cases to which the iPad is well suited, even in schools. However, my money is on the new and drastically improved Classmates for most situations.

Topics: iPad, Intel, Mobility

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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86 comments
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  • Its nice, but it's no iPad (nt)

    NT
    John Zern
    • I totally agree (NT)

      .
      themarty
      • Of course not since it actually supports Flash

        ... SilverLight, Java and so on, and there's no monopoly approval panel deciding for you what you should or should not run.

        One problem tho. This thing should have a dedicated OS rather than a general DESKTOP OS.
        LBiege
    • That's right! This might be useful! (nt)

      nt
      wizard57m-cnet
    • That's probably a good thing

      Students and teachers will have more freedom with this device over and iPad. I bet they save some money by not needing to buy $100's in accessories either and without the Apple Lockdowns should be easier to manage and use.
      bobiroc
      • apple lockdown

        you mean they have to buy an office license for $139 instead of $5-$10
        education apps through the apple app store. oh, the lockdown!
        banned from zdnet again and again
        • Shows how much you know

          Educational Licensing is much cheaper than that. If the school volume licensing covers it then it is more like $15 but if they want to buy their own copy for home you can cut that price in half or less.

          What I mean is they do not have to go through the Apple Approved App store to get an app. Also there are many educational programs that rely on plug ins like flash and java too. We have many older applications for science and math that do just that. All those apps will run under Windows 98 through Windows 7. Sounds a bit more flexible to me.
          bobiroc
      • I agree. I was being a bit sarcastic.

        I think each will have a place in education, but at this level, it's much smarter to go with a more versitale, rugged unit like the classmate as opposed to the iPad, where all the learning tools are availabe only thru the Appstore, whether Apple has those tools or not.
        John Zern
      • Too late. 3 Catholic High Schools purchased 120 each.

        In the Bay Area, CA. The intel devices are not touch pads but may do well for K-6. Certainly not for HS students. They would cringe at the thought of using a baby computer.
        The Danger is Microsoft
      • So Windows 7 isn't lockdown...

        ...just ask the Fortune 500 companies about IE6 lock-down, which has stopped most of them from "upgrading" to Windows 7.

        BTW. All computers are restricted to Apps, call them "exes", "Apps", "Widgets", etc.

        It's the App Store and Apple approval process that could make a difference. The problem's the Windows paradigm as itself doesn't lend to a controlled environment one would want on a Classroom. The moment users are able to download Live Messenger and are subjected to "fly-by" virus vectors, that moment the system requires a IT department most grade schools can't afford.

        Contrast that to the controlled "safe" (no porn apps have ever been approved by Apple) environment and its easy to do the math.
        cosuna
        • "just ask the Fortune 500 companies about IE6 lock-down"

          I think you mean just ask the Fortune 500 companies who have spent the last 10 years with their heads up their collective asses steadfastly refusing to adequately maintain their internal sites to adapt to the changing technology landscape so that their sites can be easily viewed using any browser that support the necessary enterprise identity & security features.

          Most schools (and businesses for that matter) do not allow their PC users to install anything on their machines nor are they permitted to make system-wide changes that could affect other users who share machines.

          And if the school (or business) wanted, it could easily create an internal "app store" from which users could select to install and/or run approved apps.

          The beauty of the Windows ecosystem is that it gives you a choice - you can have either extreme or any point between the two.
          de-void-21165590650301806002836337787023
          • Choice

            While I agree, kind of, there is a lot of complexity in there. If you're
            doing this with Windows you're either locking down the boxes; "box by
            box" (hard work) or using ActiveDirectory, which needs another class
            of budget (for the skills, never mind the software cost).

            Apple's iPad is a sort of "middle ground" (though it can scale up to the
            enterprise level) you can lock it quite well, and not give yourself a
            huge workload.

            Enterprise software is hard, it's easy to criticise - but Microsoft have
            thrown some nasty curve balls. Anybody remember the hell of moving
            from NT Domains (big deployments - the small stuff was easy) to
            ActiveDirectory? Or written anything significant in Microsoft Office
            VBA then had it break when a new version came down the pipe? Or
            followed Microsoft's advice with web application development then
            found you were trapped in IE6? Microsoft have given enterprises some
            great tools, but they have also pitched some very nasty balls.

            Apple's iPhone OS is a potent proposition, it has great security (let's
            face it, Microsoft Windows Phone 7 is a copy of that security model -
            which is no bad thing; Steve Jobs tells us "Good artists copy, great
            artists steal") it has a huge number of applications, it has a fantastic
            "touch" UI, it has well evolved enterprise deployment tools. It has
            legions of users who know it "inside out".
            Jeremy-UK
      • What choice?

        @Jeremy-UK

        If you're using an iPhone or iPad, you're already under a lockdown. You aren't locking them down yourself.

        Apple is under increasing PUBLIC malware attacks, before they were patched out fast enough it wasn't a big deal. Which puts it on par with a MSFT environment.

        Except MSFT allows you to set your system up how you want it. Not quite as anarchist as *nix, but really.. I don't want my little siblings touching my keyboard let alone my kernel. :P

        MSFT Windows is a good middleground, the choice between extremes.

        I would go on further, but lets just leave it at this.

        "Apple's iPhone OS is a potent proposition, it has great security"

        Yes, the OS that automatically ran any .exe it recieved in a text message, silently and with full admin rights. The OS that didn't even include SSL to start with, yet was being hyped as the perfect business phone.

        And WP7 isn't even out yet, to say it's copying iPhone is a bit premature.

        In my head which relies very much on logic and fact, it may not be the case for everyone.
        Cyberjester
    • Looks liked...

      Bear skins and stone knives compared to the iPad. There's already a few
      thousand apps for the iPad not to mention the close to 200,000 iPhone/iPod
      apps that can run on it. I bet it can't come close to the iPads battery life. I'll take
      my iPad every time.
      gtdworak
    • He didn't say it was...

      Listen nobody is more excited about the iPad than I am, when it is
      available in the UK; I'm there. But Apple didn't design the iPad just for
      education, this was:

      This is more suited to working at a desk, the iPad was specifically
      designed for being used in a chair with no desk. This can be a
      substitute for a Netbook - and while I'm not a Netbook fan (probably
      think about the same about them as Steve Jobs) I have adult hands -
      for kids the small keyboard is preferable to a "proper keyboard".
      There is plenty of educational software that will run just fine. We use
      some software that needs Flash (in school) on my own machine, I can
      live without Flash, in school some of the educational software be run
      (on the web) needs it (Crystal Rainforest). The classmate can run
      Scratch, the iPad can't. It has a camera.

      Now the iPad has a few tricks of its own. Its closed nature make it
      ideal for "not getting messed up". It is speedy (not because the
      hardware has serious chops - it doesn't - but because the OS is lean
      and mean). It is touch through and through, not some "hack" on top of
      a mouse/keyboard UI. It can be locked down by the school and
      provisioned with tools more normally associated with the enterprise. It
      has no camera (the issues that solves!) - yeah, I know you thought
      that was a ding against it, well I'll call it on both sides.

      Children love digital cameras, but we have children who's parents
      won't allow digital photography of their children. Cameras are a
      double edged sword.

      So do I want one of these things? No. Do I think they have a place with
      children? Yes. Do I think the iPad doesn't? Maybe.
      Jeremy-UK
    • It shouldn't be and iPod

      I'm glad it's not an iPod. Any time there is a new device it works out better in the long run if there are alternatives. Watch what the other guy did better and which features the users like and make your changes for the next iteration.

      I also like the choice of Windows or Linux. Schools should be as flexible as possible.
      One of our local districts was telling parents that they Had to use Microsoft products because that was the only format the teachers computers would understand. That lasted until a parent, who was also a prof at the local technical college, got up at a school board meeting and demanded that the districts IT staff show him EXACTLY what the problem was. The tech college had been accepting MS, Apple and Linux generated work for several years. They couldn't do it.

      The final straw was the student that submitted work in an older MS-Works format that the teacher couldn't read. He submitted the next day and it worked. He used Open Office to convert to a newer Word format.
      lars626
    • True that

      @John Zern


      For one thing it's actually useful.

      For another thing... Actually I think that about covers it.

      If MSFT hadn't been classified as evil for the last 10 years, then Apple would have died from lawsuits. They run a complete monopoly on ALL their products. My housemate is currently having issues authorising her iTunes account, since she's got a new computer. Means she can't hook her iPhone up and put new music on it. Which kind of kills the point of having a music player with your phone, no?

      iPad is a bigger iPhone, and is just as locked down. Apps from Apple only, for example. And at a premium cost.

      I can do more with my TI-83+ calculator than you can with an iPad. Simply because I can put apps not sold by Texas Instruments on it. I can also code my own "apps" if I want something that isn't on the internet.

      Any netbook/tablet will be more useful than an iPad, and in quite a few cases more stylish too. :P
      Cyberjester
  • RE: Intel's latest Classmate: Who needs an iPad?

    It seems to be a nice little geek's computer, but what
    consumer would want to buy something like that. Haven't
    these people ever heard of "ease of use" or "simplified user
    interface". This computer seems like something Dr.
    Frankenstein would have built. The ruggedized features
    seem rather good. Again, this would made a nice niche
    computer for a small segment of the industry. However,
    no consumer is going to walk around carrying that load.
    This is not an iPad killer because it's not in the same class.
    This is more like a convertible netbook killer.
    ConstableOdo
    • i agree

      these heavy and clunky fullblown devices with a desktop os that
      obviously has to be used with a stylus and doesn't even adjust its
      screen right when flipped appeals to geeks and nerds like the author,
      who for some reason (that i really can't understand) has a say in what
      schools and their teachers and students should use as their learning
      tech.

      do you really think any teacher or student would choose this over an
      ipad?

      p.s. with a bigger screen than the old version it will probably be more
      expensive than $499.
      banned from zdnet again and again
      • Sounds like you're talking about

        the MacBook
        [i]these heavy and clunky fullblown devices with a desktop os.[/i]

        So then you're saying that a MacBook is not anywhere near as good as the iPad in education?
        John Zern