Tuesday morning, I had the opportunity to get my hands on the new classmate, the computer for kids, designed by Intel. To increase the demand for computing devices more rapidly, nothing is better than acquiring new customers right after they left their cradles.
Improved Performance and Features
The new classmate is now a convertible tablet with a 10.1-inch touchscreen supporting handwriting recognition, the previous “clamshell” version features a 8.9-inch display with no touchscreen capability. The larger display allows the user interface to get larger icons, so younger kids can easily use their fingers instead of the stylus (might avert some eye-poking too). Powered by the latest Intel Atom processor, the N450 (1.66 Ghz), the new classmate provides slightly better performance for a lower power consumption, offering 8.5 hours of juice(with the 6-cell option), and now featuring an increased storage capacity of 250GB, instead of 60Gb in the previous version. The connectivity has been extended as well, the convertible classmate has the option to support 3G, Wimax and GPS in addition to WiFi.
Photo: handwriting recognition
Photo: clamshell classmate on the left, convertible classmate on the right > Photo: convertible classmate PC gray version with 4-cell battery on the left, convertible classmate PC blue version with 6-cell battery on the right.
Build quality – Rugged
Photo: keyboard and touchpad closeup
The overall design has been improved with a new ruggedized body that looks way better than the predecessor. The hard drive is protected against shocks thanks to a rubberized shell and soft connectors. The computer accelerometer is used to detect drops and vibrations or to rotate the display’s content, the case is scratch and bump resistant and the keyboard’s water resistant feature has been extended to the touchpad and the screen.
The new handle is more comfortable to hold and well hidden in the device’s shape, conveying a sleeker look.
The rugged design aims to lower the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership): although Intel did not design the classmate to be the cheapest computer, costs are an important concern, knowing that it will be widely distributed in emerging markets.
Nowadays, E-readers are becoming increasingly popular, thanks to Sony (who pioneered it), the Amazon Kindle, the B&N Nook and the Aple iPad. Intel jumped on the trend train, adding an e-reading application and two buttons on the edge of the display for easy access to page up/down (see photo). The application allows kids to highlight sentences and take notes directly on the page they are reading, either with the stylus (photos) or their fingers (video). The device supports ePub and pdf format with access to millions of online eBooks.
Photo: page up and page down button
Photo: swivel camera
Promoting multimedia content creation is a top priority for technology vendors, allowing them to sell more computing power, more bandwidth and more storage. To achieve this goal, nothing is more efficient than leveraging kids’ natural creativity and teach them at a very early age how to express it using a computer. On the hardware side, the convertible classmate offers a rotating camera (photo above), built-in audio and microphone and a camera easy access button on the edge of the display (photo below).
Photo: home and camera buttons
On the software side, the integrated ArtRage application offers user friendly art creation capabilities, kids can use photos as a start for various brush and color effects, simply by painting with the stylus or the fingers on top of the picture.
Collaboration in the classroom is an important part of the learning process and Intel designed the classmate to be a piece of a larger system. On the hardware side the two audio jack allo
w kids to listen to audio files on the same computer, and Intel is developing a server solution that enables file sharing and distribution to all the classmates in the school (second image below), additionally, the network deployment is described as easy and cost effective by the company. A new technology that was showcased last summer at Intel Research Day enables each classmate to detect the nearest classmates and to dynamically share their clipboard and storage for collaborative learning (see picture below).
Intel shipped 2 million of the previous versions of the Classmate in over 60 countries and in 20 languages. Using a global network of local OEMs and manufacturers, Intel counts now over 300 companies involved in the program, and the Classmate’s manufacturing strategy helped to create local jobs in many countries such as Portugal. This country’s example is highlighted by the chip manufacturer as a success, the Portuguese government subsidize the classmates for the third graders, and parents have just to pay a low fee per computer which price varies according to their salaries. Intel ensure that the classmate is designed to meet local needs. The convertible classmate PC is a reference design, a number of manufacturers are working on the final product(s), no word on the pricing or the makers’ names yet, we will get an update in a couple of months.