When Intel unveiled its Classmate PC in the summer of 2007, Intel said the PCs purpose was to provide a basic, inexpensive computer to students in developing countries inside a moderately rugged, smaller-than-ultraportable case. Along with the One Laptop Per Child XO, the original Classmate was on the leading edge of a new trend toward mininotebooks, and the basic concepts behind the Classmate have trickled down to consumer products such as the Asus Eee PC and the HP 2133 Mini-Note PC.
Perhaps seeing the mainstream appeal of low-cost mininotebooks, Intel has gone back to the drawing board and redesigned the Classmate to appeal to what the company calls "mature" markets, which means the U.S. and other Western countries. The new version adds a more traditional touch pad and keyboard, a 30GB 1.8-inch hard drive, and it increases the screen size from 7 inches to 9 inches, while keeping the same compact footprint--made possible because Intel designed the original computer with copious plastic padding between the components and the outer edge of the machine.
Intel is creating the basic reference design, while OEMS in different regions will manufacture the systems--which should sell the computers for about $400 each, depending on the software and hardware configuration. We'll most likely see it first as the 2go PC when Computer Technology Link, a laptop vendor, releases it later this spring.
While Intel designed it for children between the ages of 6 years to 12 years old, the new, significantly slicker looking Classmate wouldn't look out of place in a coffee shop or airplane. We'd be happy to use one as a secondary or travel computer, although a Windows-powered Eee PC might be even more attractive.
|Processor||900MHz Intel Celeron M353|
|Hard drive||30GB 3,600rpm|
|Operating System||Windows XP Pro|
|Dimensions (WDH)||9.4x10.1x1.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||9.0 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.3 / 3.9 pounds|
Compared with the original, this Classmate PC looks less like a toy and more like a traditional laptop computer, even as it keeps a somewhat thick, plastic chassis with slightly rounded corners. The new Classmate also keeps the removable snap on leather cover, which doubles as a convenient carry handle. The rugged design makes it more than a pound heavier than the Eee PC, but it also feels significantly sturdier.
The keyboard is about the same size as on the original Classmate and is designed for those with smaller fingers. However, the keys have been rearranged into a more traditional layout, correcting a few niggling problems with the older version, such as a missing right-shift key. The touch pad is now a traditional rectangular surface, instead of the visually interesting, but hard-to-use round version on the older Classmate. Intel added a Webcam, positioned above the screen, in this revision, which is a cool extra for such an inexpensive system.
The Classmate comes with preloaded education software, which is essentially identical to the versions we saw last year. The students run the client software, while a teacher with a full-size laptop runs the host software. From the host laptop, the teacher can monitor the students' work, send text messages directly to the Classmate PCs, transfer work on one student's screen to all the other systems on the local network, or even remotely "silence" the Classmates by turning off their screens.
A new 9-inch display replaces the original 7-inch one, but we were disappointed to find the same low 800x480 resolution. Text was readable, but there's little spare screen real estate and Web pages can easily expand past the edge of the screen. We would have really liked to see higher screen resolution to go along with the bigger screen.
|Intel Classmate PC||Average for ultraportable category|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0||4 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||SD card slot||PC Card slot|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||None||DVD burner|
The Classmate's ports and connections are understandably sparse, but you still get multiple USB ports, an SD card slot, Ethernet, and headphone and mic jacks--more than Apple managed to work into the MacBook Air, for example. Intel replaced the previous model's solid-state hard drive (2GB in the sample unit we reviewed) with a more practical 30GB 1.8-inch hard drive, which trades storage space for some battery life and ruggedness.