Before the Netbook even existed, there was the Intel Classmate. A rugged, child-oriented notebook intended for worldwide educational use, the Classmate was and is Intel's global initiative paralleling what One Laptop Per Child and other programs have promised in terms of getting computers and the Internet into the hands of children.
The new Intel Convertible Classmate PC is a tablet Netbook with an Atom N450 processor, and it's also a touch-screen tablet, like its predecessor in 2009. Though the overall look is similar, the new Classmate adds a rubberized outer shell, spill-resistant keyboard and screen, a more impact-resistant body with shock-absorbing corners, and a shock-detecting hard drive.
Intel chose to introduce and demo the new Classmates at the Central Park Zoo in New York City, along with hardware peripherals and software from some of their multitude of partners (McGraw-Hill was just announced as yet another). Wisely, Intel has realized that the product itself is only half the story; good software for both students and school administrators is equally critical. We watched a few dozen children using them for math quizzes, to test weather conditions with an attached Pasco climate-detecting peripheral, and to take photos and sketch birds in the rain forest exhibit. Lego also has robot kits that work via USB, which looked like clever systems for teaching mechanical principles.
We received one of the new Convertible Classmate PCs from Intel to try for ourselves, in a plain white box with a simple instruction manual aimed at teachers and parents. We saw the Classmate used with various educational peripherals, but those weren't included. The Classmate is, however, preloaded with some useful software, at least on our test system. A label indicates it's made by Royaltek, but Intel is planning to manufacture these Classmates around the world with a variety of local OEMs.
The Convertible Classmate is, basically, a Netbook: an Atom N450 processor, 160GB hard drive, and a higher-res 1,366x768-pixel 10.1-inch screen are nothing new. Our Classmate also had VGA out, two USB ports, two headphone jacks, a microphone jack, and an SD card slot. An optional GPS input is blocked off in our unit.
Covered in gray silicone-type rubberized surfaces, the Classmate retains an institutional feel, but it's comfortable and easy to hold. A pull-out handle in the back is a welcoming touch. In tablet mode, the Classmate is comfortably grippable, too. The matte 10.1-inch screen uses a resistive touch interface that's meant to be used with the thick, penlike stylus tucked into the left side of the Classmate. We tried an included painting program and navigated Web pages, and found the touch to work pretty well. It's not gesture/multitouch enabled, but it works fine for basic functions. … Read more