The Intel convertible Classmate - 1:1 and beyond

The Intel convertible Classmate - 1:1 and beyond

Summary: I was surprised to see a FedEx truck pull up in front of our snowbound driveway Saturday. I had heard from Intel that they were sending out my test unit on Friday so that I could finally get my grubby paws on one of their convertible Classmates, but we're so far out in the boonies that even FedEx isn't terribly prompt about coming to see us.

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I was surprised to see a FedEx truck pull up in front of our snowbound driveway Saturday. I had heard from Intel that they were sending out my test unit on Friday so that I could finally get my grubby paws on one of their convertible Classmates, but we're so far out in the boonies that even FedEx isn't terribly prompt about coming to see us. But there it was, begging to be opened and played with as soon as possible.

However, my wife and I were headed out on a date, so all I could do was yank it out of the packaging for a quick inspection. My first thought? Holy cow, a thin, light tablet that feels light years ahead of the second-generation "clamshell" Classmate I tested a while back. My second thought? I need to get these into our schools. This could be a game changer. I reserved judgment, though, until I could get my hands dirty with it on Sunday.

I'm actually typing on it right now. I'll be giving lots more details this week, especially after I talk with the good folks at Intel Monday to get a run-down on some of the new features and touch-specific software. However, I wanted to write a post of my first impressions, just playing with the little machine. In terms of typing, the keyboard is still quite small, but has great tactile feedback, making adapting to the small keys fairly easy. As with other netbooks, kids won't have any problems. However, as you'll see, this iteration of the Classmate has the potential to serve purposes for older students and adults looking for a cheap, light tablet.

Full specs are available here, but the new Classmate is really light. While it doesn't feel as bulletproof as the clamshell, I certainly wouldn't worry about tossing into a backpack or handing it to a Kindergartner. While the latches that hold the screen closed and keep the netbook in tablet mode are magnetic, they did not hold things closed as snugly as I might have liked. However, this particular tablet has seen duty at CES and with a lot of journalists, so I'll cut it some slack.

Of course I was grumpy about the choice of OS: Windows XP Home. Ubuntu Netbook Remix is ready to roll on the Classmate, but a few moments with the software stack made it clear why Intel was circulating the XP model. A lot of really compelling software is running very well on XP and the whole system was quite snappy. We'll see how the "Intel Learning Series Ecosystem" evolves, but this might actually give me a reason to look forward to Windows 7. If Microsoft can pull off an OS with a small enough footprint to run well on netbooks, then a whole lot of software is coming together around the Classmate. We'll also see how snappy the system stays when I install the needed anti-malware software, though, and I'll see where the Linux software stack stands during my call with Intel Monday afternoon.

A few more early thoughts: the art program, ArtRage 2, is probably the coolest piece of software I've used in a very long time. It is completely intuitive to use the touch input to mix oil paints on the screen and then paint with them. I'll post video of this sometime this week; it has to be seen to be believed, especially on such a low-power machine.

The handwriting recognition is also quite good. I type everything for a reason: my handwriting is horrific. After about 10 minutes of training/calibration, the software was recognizing my chickenscratch better than anything else I've ever used.

The real problem with the Classmates is probably going to be their price. There is no doubt in my mind that they are worth $500. In fact, I'm thinking very seriously about getting one for myself. In an age of budget cuts and $200 netbooks, though, can they be justified? It's going to take a little more time with the touch interface and software designed around the new tablets to know for sure, but I have the distinct feeling that these will genuinely be able to add value in the classroom, making the price premium over ultra-cheap netbooks a small price to pay.

Topics: Intel, CXO, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Software, Tablets, IT Employment

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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9 comments
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  • Tablets and Touch

    <a href=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTrvfD0WYYU&feature=related>Here</a> is a video on the Convertible Classmate PC. The <a href=http://blogs.msdn.com/surface/>MS Surface Blog</a> as some nice videos on surface / touch computing. The blog includes <a href=http://blogs.msdn.com/surface/archive/2009/01/13/nsquared-educational-apps-demo-on-microsoft-surface.aspx>this video</a> and <a href=http://blogs.msdn.com/surface/archive/2009/01/20/education-with-nsquared-part-two.aspx>this video</a>, which shows just how dramatically and fundamentally, touch / tablet computing can change education.
    P. Douglas
  • Show me a $200 Netbook.

    Your way off on that one!
    ShadeTree
    • OK...here you go

      http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/26/technology/26spend.html?_r=2&hp
      mrdatahs
    • wrong

      They're coming this year. Do a google search on Freescale ARM Ubuntu.

      Besides, the olpc XO is already $188 for educational systems.
      Eduardo_z
  • Antimalware????

    Hey Chris, with you insisting on installing a non resident antimalware - Clamwin, you wont feel any difference even after installing it. Really. But if you keep it on for a few days, you will definetly feel the difference - with the malware creeping in, and then all of us will feel the weight of your non-sensical comments about Windows being responsible for it.
    iravgupta
  • An introduction was necessary

    It wasn't until the 3rd paragraph that I knew what the heck you were reviewing. I'm pretty up on new tech, but I'd never heard of an "Intel Classmate". Reading your article, I thought it was some type of new chip, until you got to the third paragraph and finally, off handedly, referenced it as a notebook... but then there was more text beyond that that made me think maybe this is a handheld or possibly even something else. I finally gave up reading your article and went and Google'd "intel classmate" to finally find it on the Intel site. Now, I finally know what it is. I may go back and reread your article, now that I know I'm reading a review of a flip around screen, small notebook.
    Software Architect 1982
  • 1.6 GHz

    All that engineering and so slow.
    BALTHOR
  • Finally he gets it

    It's the applications, not the OS. Of course you are going to get more options, more apps, cheaper software (and yes just because it's free doesn't mean it won't cost you) and a whole world of support on Windows.

    Welcome back from the dark side.
    tonymcs@...
  • RE: The Intel convertible Classmate - 1:1 and beyond

    oops, wrong place.
    Eduardo_z