GBM InkShow: New Convertible Classmate PC

Intel’s Kapil Wadhera was kind enough to get on camera and walk me through the second generation convertible  Classmate PC. There are some significant improvements that will hopefully move more schools away from the clamshell Classmate PC and towards the convertible.  Having the inking and touch capabilities in the classroom makes a heck of a lot of sense.

According to Intel, approximately two million Classmate PCs have been distributed to schools and students worldwide so far. About 500,000 of the devices are being used in Portugal, with every student in the first through fourth grades have one. Portuguese parents pay 0%, 20% or 50% of the cost of the Classmate PC depending on their income, with the government picking up the rest of the tab.

GBM InkShows are sponsored by MobileDemand, a company that builds Rugged Tablet PCs.

Admittedly, the vast majority of Classmate PCs in circulation are of the clamshell variety. The convertible Classmate PC that was introduced in 2009 had a few limitations that kept some from opting for it. The screen (8.9″) and keyboard were too small, making classmate PCs difficult for older children to use. Schools also complained that it wasn’t as rugged as needed.

The new convertible classmate PC has a 10.1″ resistive touch display.  The display has a slight texture to it, which makes inking feel a little more natural. The texture is designed to emulate paper- it makes noise and slows down inking so that letters are the same size as what students’ are used to writing with pen and paper.The keyboard is now larger and should be fine for middle-school students.

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The new convertible classmate PC will ship with Intel’s latest atom processors. They can be configured with a six-cell battery that can keep it running for up to 8.5 hours on a single charge. The standard display has a resolution of 1024 x 600, the optional high-resolution display comes in at 1368 x 768. The exact specs will vary depending on what vendors and schools determine to be the best fit for local students.

The clamshell classmate PC costs between $200 and $400 depending on configuration and where it’s built. The convertible tablet is approximately $30 more expensive than the standard version. That might not sound like a lot, but it can really add up if you’re buying hundreds of thousands of them at a time. Of course, a computer’s sticker price is only one component of what it costs to set up a school district (or entire country) with computers.

I spoke with Jeff Galinovsky, Intel’s regional manager for classmate PC, by phone.

“It’s not the cheapest netbook on the market. We don’t want it to be,” Galinovsky said. If you have the cheapest netbook you don’t have a lot of features. There’s a move from ‘what’s the cheapest hardware’ to ‘what’s the right solution.’ What does this enable my students to do?”

According to Galiovsky, school IT departments need to repair far fewer classmate PCs than the consumer netbooks and laptops they previously distributed to students. He attributes much of this to the rugged classmate PC’s rugged exterior.

When I was a child I’d get in big trouble when I used page margins to take notes. With this device, students will be encouraged to mark up their eBooks. The classmate PC reader software supports both PDF and ePub formats.

One really cool thing that’s happening with classmate PCs is that some students view the device as a tool rather than a toy. A lot of kids only use their PCs to play video games, watch videos or chat with friends. But the folks from Intel cited several cases of children are using their classmate PCs as a tool to improve their lives and parents’ businesses. In the U.S. it’s not common for a child to have his/her own PC, but in many countries it’s relatively rare to have a computer at home. One girl in India is apparently using a classmate PC to help her parents grow and sell their crops more effectively.

The second generation classmate PCs will begin shipping within the next couple of months. Most units will be sold directly to educators, but you can pick up one for your child via one of Intel’s partners. For more info visit ClassmatePC.com.

Comments

  1. SteveNYC says

    Nice device. But it still has the same problems with inking that we’ve seen in past. It’s using a soft touch digitizer which means you have to keep you hand off the screen or you get the same old vectoring problem. No child is going to accept that limitation in order to write. Heck, most adults would not.

    If you watch the video carefully, you’ll see the vectoring as Kapil Wadhera is writing on the device. He takes great care in keeping his writing hand OFF the screen. It’s only in two instances where he touches the screen while he writes and that’s when the vectoring shows up.

    Still though, nice device.

    • ninetynine says

      No it does not have a soft resistive touch screen, it still has the same hard touch one that the old classmate has. The kind of touch screen that only responds to touches from objects of small diameter (a pen, or fingertip). One of the main selling points of the original Classmate was it’s great palm rejection and they didn’t change that for this one.

      Ironically the reason he was vectoring was actually because he didn’t rest his palm on the screen, so when ever the tips of his fingers or knuckles tapped the screen at the same time as he was writing, it vectored. If he had pad of hand on the screen like regular writing, he would not of registered the touch screen.

      Side note: seems sluggish, accelerometers are overrated and wish they had kept the old battery design.

  2. oli says

    I have the old Classmate Convertible right next to me and in my opinion, it’s a pretty unique device. I searched for a “netbookish” convertible for the university to take notes and have a keyboard to fall back to if need be. Since the main purpose was taking notes, I needed something with very good palm rejection which the CC provides. Sure, a hard resistive screen is not as cool as one on which you can toy around with your fingers and maybe even use an active digitizer, but it has a great price-performance-ratio. It does its job well with no big gimmicks or fancy stuff (no offense meant, I love fancy toys ;) ) And that’s what that thing is about.

    The improvements in the new one seem well reasoned to me. The small screen and keyboard are indeed the main points of criticism I would express regarding the old CC. If the screen is as good as the old one (matte, very readable and quite bright) it’s great. I think 10″ is about the best size there is for a device like that.

    What I also like is the pen. The old one was good in length but the diameter and ergonomics were not very good. For someone like me, an university student it is alright, but for a kid who may just be learning or trainig to write it is essentialy crap. The new one looks *much* better suited to the task.

    Performance-wise… Well, more performance is always nice to have but it doesn’t get me too excited in a device like that. The old Atom 1,6 does its job and I don’t think you need much more power than that. Of course, that is no reason not to implement new stuff like the Pinetrail if it’s available and reasonably priced. I just wanted to mention that it wouldn’t be my main focus when buying such a device.

    @ninetynine: I don’t see change in the battery design. That looks like my 6-cell battery to me, but maybe I’m overlooking something?

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