E-Lead Electronics will be showcasing its entry into the inexpensive UMPC market at CES this month. While pricing is expected to be near the $500 mark (still too pricey in my mind for any sort of widespread adoption in education), it brings some incredibly innovative features to the table and more competition. The latter, as has been pointed out frequently in this blog, is never a bad thing.
Both Engadget and Pocketables have run features on the so-called Noahpad. It appears to address some of the compromises often associated with ultramobiles (especially keyboard and screen size). Billed by E-Lead Electronics (best-known in Taiwan for manufacturing car electronics) as "Classmate , Roommate , Travelmate," the Noahpad forgoes a traditional keyboard in favor of two large touchpads that can accept keyboard-style input:
These same touchpads can be flipped over underneath the semitransparent screen, allowing for new input methods images from the 7" LCD panel are superimposed over the pads.
The touchpads also function as traditional cursor controls and allow users to pan across a virtual screen (approximating a 10" image) in the same manner as the Classmate.
The Noahpad comes preloaded with Ubuntu 7.10. It's not hard to envision quite a few educational applications that could exploit these new features. Ebooks, easy notetaking, third-party applications for the large trackpads, etc., can be developed as fast as our OSS-wielding friends can code. I'll be very curious to see some more detailed reviews after CES. Every new introduction like this further underscores my predictions, however, that 2008 will be the year of ultraportables that educators just might be able to afford.