HP's me-too kid-friendly netbook

A 56k modem is standard on the new clamshell Classmate knockoff from HP - Can it succeed at home or abroad?
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

Correction: HP's press literature originally noted that the Mini 100e would not include WiFi standard. While this computer can be configured without WiFi for developing markets, 802.11b/g will be included standard in mature markets.

HP announced an education-centered netbook today that not only looks a lot like an Intel Classmate clamshell PC, but also comes standard with a modem instead of WiFi. You can get the WiFi, of course, but that will push you above the $300 target price.

I'm afraid I can't get excited about this netbook.  Sure, it's fairly cheap and has some good ruggedization features that make it kid-friendly, but this is a netbook designed for emerging markets with little relevance in mature educational markets. While HP hasn't released pricing and will be setting prices on a "per deal basis," the netbook, dubbed the Mini 100e Education Edition, will go on sale in July.

Don't get excited about fall deployments, though.  If you want Windows, you're looking at Windows XP Home or Windows 7 Starter Edition. A Linux choice gets you SUSE Linux 11 which you could at least join to a domain or set up management tools, options not available on its Windows brethren. The standard modem is clearly a nod to the emerging markets in which this has a chance of success, but WiFi is a must in other settings.

All other configuration details essentially match those of most modern netbooks: Atom N455 processor and Intel NM10 Express chipset, 1GB of DDR3 memory and three or six-cell battery options. Ruggedization features match those of the Dell Latitude 2110 and Intel Classmate. According to HP's press release,

"HP Mini 100e also features a spill-resistant keyboard helping to ensure greater protection against spills and higher reliability in the classroom as well as an easy-to-see LED that indicates when the PC is connected to a network, thereby enabling better instructor monitoring."

Sigh. I know this is directed at the K-6 market, but I can't help but feel that it's neither cheap enough nor innovative enough to add much value in most classrooms. An iPod Touch could more cheaply provide access to a wide variety of resources and course content and has a syncing mechanism for easy management. It comes with WiFi, too, and is far more kid-sized than even the Mini. Dell's Latitude 2110 incorporates an entire "Connected Classroom" ecosystem and gives you access to Windows 7 Professional and Latitude management tools. Intel's Classmate offers a compelling software stack and hardware ecosystem as well. And if you're just talking price in developing markets, the OLPC XO is still kicking around. Both the Latitude and the Classmate could easily find applications K-8 and beyond as well, where the idea of 1:1 arguably has more merit anyway.

Sorry, I'm afraid this is a me-too offering. Come on, HP - wait another few months and leverage that big handheld company you just paid too much for. Then give me something really cool, new, and cheap the young kids can literally wrap their hands around. Not a WiFi-less rubberized netbook with crippled software for the low, low price of $300. Oh, wait, that's not actually very low. Never mind.

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