Intel announced their newest version of the education-focused budget laptop (netbook, really) called the Classmate. It’s not the cheapest netbook around, but it’s packing some features that definitely endear it to the education market more than your bog-standard Atom-based machine.
The Classmate line is designed mostly as a low-cost, durable, functional machine for primary schools, but the first generation’s paltry storage and surprisingly mid-range price kept it from really catching on (though it wasn’t a failure by any stretch). The new version swaps the previous generation’s clamshell design for an 10-inch swiveling tablet of the same sort as made (in higher-end versions) by HP and Lenovo. That means it’s packing a touchscreen and software that can be used to read ebooks and digital textbooks, take notes, highlight passages, and create visual art–a godsend for students.
The internals have also seen a significant bump, with the addition of the new 1.6Ghz Intel Atom N450 processor, 60GB hard drive (or 8GB flash), 1GB memory, 1.3MP camera, and an alleged full-day battery life. Basically, it’s got the guts of a humdrum netbook circa early 2009, but that’s plenty of capability for its target audience. It also has a nice, curved, extremely rugged design, coated in thick rubber that’s both spill-proof and able to withstand a fall from a desk to the floor. Even better, the keyboard is anti-microbial and the hard drive has shock protection in case of a fall. It’s also got some custom-made educational software built right in, like an ebook reader and basic math, science, and art apps, and will come standard with Windows 7 (though Linux will be an option as well).
The problem with the Classmate is price–it’s available for $550, and despite its charms and education-specific advantages, that’s an awful lot to ask for what’s basically an outdated convertible netbook. The Classmate isn’t necessarily a philanthropic exercise aimed at third-world countries, like the OLPC project, but schools are on a budget the world over, and $550 is pretty expensive. But it certainly does have its charms, and hopefully schools do find the money for it–it’ll make a lot of kids very happy.