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Innovation

The best netbook ever?

Netbooks, in a variety of applications, are certainly among my favorite tools in education. After all, they're cheap, they do most of what we need them to do, they fit well in backpacks (whether you're a third-grader or running across the quad in college), they're cheap, and, oh yeah, they're cheap. For older kids, their teachers, and the off-to-college, some netbooks start to be less attractive, though.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

Regular readers know quite a bit about my likes and dislikes, as well as solutions that I tend to advocate at various levels. Netbooks, in a variety of applications, are certainly among my favorites. After all, they're cheap, they do most of what we need them to do, they fit well in backpacks (whether you're a third-grader or running across the quad in college), they're cheap, and, oh yeah, they're cheap.

Intel's Classmates aren't quite as cheap, but offer huge value in terms of their software stack and as entry-level rugged tablets. In the K-8 space, they can be a real asset in moving towards 1:1, exploiting other classroom technology like SMART Boards and science probes, and surviving the spills and drops common with the younger kids. Even older kids can make solid use of the tablet features, accelerometer, video camera, etc.

It's for these older kids, their teachers, and the off-to-college set that some netbooks start to be less attractive, though. The cheapest of the cheap, as well as those really designed for younger kids, simply don't meet their needs and can make typing and regular use more of chore than it's worth. While the inner workings of most netbooks are identical, the form factors and quality can differ significantly. Enter the Lenovo Ideapad S10e. We just picked up several for a small lab with a special education program and as meeting/presentation machines for staff.

Lenovo offers a few S10 netbooks; the S10e is simply targeted at educational deployments. Like every other netbook on the market, it's no speed demon. With a 3-cell battery, it won't win any battery-life awards either. I'm pushing 3 hours under moderate usage. However, that same 3-cell battery puts the sleek little netbook at 2.6 pounds with the lightweight power adapter.

Where this netbook absolutely shines is in its keyboard and touchpad placement. The 10.1" form factor gives room for a generous keyboard that feels wonderful and begs for touch-typing. The small shift key takes some getting used to, but the keyboard feel is all Lenovo/IBM/Thinkpad (anyone who has used a Thinkpad knows that's a good thing). No flex, great tactile response, and no chiclets.

I won't bother with a full review. How many netbook reviews can you read? This particular netbook though is quite inexpensive ($300), very light, has a great keyboard, and all components work out of the box with Ubuntu Netbook Remix (of course I immediately shrank the Windows XP Home partition down to 20 gigs and installed NBR in the remaining 140; I don't think I'll be booting Windows very often, although I will install 7 on it to test when it's available).

If you are looking at 1:1 programs for older students or want to send your kids off to school with an inexpensive, but really usable netbook to supplement a more expensive computer (or just want something cheap and useful to send with your high-schooler), don't overlook the S10. This little guy has already become my constant companion.

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