Saturday, August 08, 2009
A couple of weeks ago, I got the chance to try out Intel's new Classmate PC. Actually, to be more precise, I was just the observer. My kids test drove it, which is as it should be, because as the name implies, the Classmate PC is a great classroom learning tool. The Pea, 3Po and Jammy, along with their cousins Angelkins and Belliboo, spent a morning at the California Academy of Sciences courtesy of Intel on a fun scavenger hunt. A docent from the Academy gave them a list of exotic fish, and led them around the Academy looking for the fish. Each child was lent a Classmate PC and to complete a number of tasks, like drawing the fish, taking photos of them and filming them. So we had a lot of time to check out all of the laptop's cool features.
The Intel Classmate PC rocks! There are so many cool features I don't even know where to start! How about the fact that the screen is actually a touch screen, so clumsy little fingers don't need to work the mouse or the keyboard. Or that it comes with a touch pen that slides into a little slot at the front of the computer. I thought I had hit upon a weak spot when I pointed out that my kids would lose that touch pen in five minutes, but they had already thought of that -- you can tether the pen to the laptop with a little cord that loops onto the pen.
I'm impressed with all the other ways they've made the Classmate PC kid-friendly. For one thing, it has a handle, so kids can tote it around like a briefcase instead of like a tray. It's light enough so that even Belliboo was able to tote around the Academy of Sciences without suffering from aching arms. Of course, 3Po had to drop it three times -- Yikes!! -- but instead of reaching into my purse and grabbing my credit card, the Intel folk merely smiled indulgently and said it was ok, because it was rated for falls of up to 50 cm (Fortunately the kids didn't take that as permission to bonk each other on the head with the PCs).
Best of all, the top half of the Classmate PC swivels around and closes back onto the bottom half so that the screen is on top and it becomes a writing tablet. So now kids can use their laptops while standing up (on field trips or nature walks) just like a paper pad. Let me tell you, it's so much easier to use the screen as a touch pad (with the touch pen or their fingers) when it's in tablet mode.
Have I drooled over the Classmate PC enough? Not nearly enough. The laptop has a built in camera that swivels to face the user so kids can easily take photos of themselves while staring at the screen so they know what the shot is going to look like. And it comes bundled with some really cool educational software that the kids started using right away, without much help from the grownups. The Pea and Angelkins were off and vlogging like pros even before the Intel people had reached the front of the room to begin their presentation! All the kids got into it, and we have tons (and I mean, TONS) of photos and video from the California Academy of Sciences. I think we must have photos of every fish they have there.
Since this PC is meant for schoolkids, I can't finish off this section without mentioning the security features built into the software. Teachers and parents can configure it so that kids only get access to the internet at certain times, for certain durations, and certain websites. And there's anti-theft software that renders the laptop completely useless if it stays away from the main server for a specified length of time. What more could you ask for?
The only problem with the Classmate PC is that it's hard to find. Right now, it's only available from 3 OEM's in the US (there are different OEM's in other countries with local software and local customizations) at 2GoPC, Equus, and MA Technology. And at $350, the Classmate PC is a tad pricier than some of the netbooks out there (although with the swivel screen and touchpad and rugged features, I think you get what you pay for).
The Bottom Line
The Intel Classmate PC looks like it could a wonderful tool in the classroom. I just hope educators -- and politicians -- around the country realize this and somehow get it together to make it happen.
I did not receive a product sample or monetary compensation for this post. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.