When we were given the Intel Convertible Classmate PC to review, we initially thought that we would go ahead and review it the way we do with all of our computers, by breaking it down bit by bit from design to features to software. But this time around we decided to take a different direction for a product review. Instead, we handed the Intel Convertible Classmate PC off to someone much better suited at reviewing this product than anyone on our staff. So we passed the PC along to someone who we felt confident that they would thoroughly put it through its paces and possibly abuse it. But most of all – we wanted someone who could really comprehend and appreciate the 2nd generation of the Convertible Classmate PC – a seven year old.
“It is so cool!” Those were Billy’s words when he received the Intel Classmate PC. But before we get into Billy’s experience with the Classmate PC, we have to disclose the fact that we aren’t talking about some average seven year old either. Billy has been playing Nintendo DS, Wii, doodling on his parents laptop, and building everything and anything out of LEGOS for sometime now. He has the energy of most little boys and the imagination and technical skills that might surpass many adults. So he was the perfect person to test out the laptop and see if it indeed met the needs of a young student. It didn’t take much for Billy to learn the ropes behind the Convertible Classmate PC. After a quick tutorial from his mother on how to turn it on and off, and how to use it in Tablet mode – he was off. He was able to operate the PC on his own. He played games, typed out words for school, and was ready to take over the world. Billy easily logged onto his school’s website and visited all his favorite sites for practicing math, reading and playing games. Most of these sites he would typically visit on his parent’s laptop or computer. He especially enjoyed the large icons that grace the computer’s desktop in Windows 7. This interface is powered by Blue Dolphin Quick Launcher which works on top of Windows XP’s interface by organizing the system’s apps into 4 different sections – Quick Launch, Games, Common Folders, and Desktop tabs. Each one of these categories are full of large icons that are super straight forward to use.
We also spied Billy playing checkers with his Nana when the Classmate was positioned as a tablet PC. However the resistive touch feature seemed to frustrate him (and us) as it required too much pressure in order for anything to function. The frustration and lack of responsiveness from the touch screen brought out the raging child in all of us. Billy also complained that the 10″ screen was not as nice as the one on his parent’s laptop. The Convertible Classmate PC’s screen has a healthy 1024 x 600 resolution which is fine for a 10″ display, however, in practice it isn’t as bright or as vibrant as many other modern day netbook displays.
The Convertible Classmate PC’s stylus also came in handy because it made operating the touchscreen display less frustrating. Billy especially enjoyed drawing on the PC. And because the 1.3 megapixel web cam can rotate 270 degrees, he enjoyed using the webcam to take images of the person in front of the computer, besides himself.
Billy never complained about the speed of the computer. He was able to navigate the system’s software without his patience ever waning. That is because the Convertible Classmate PC has now been updated with the newer and more powerful Atom N450 processor which is able to handle all of the Classmate’s software with ease. The only time where we personally felt some impatience was when twisting the screen from notebook to tablet mode (and vice versa) there was a few seconds of lag before it would change.
But that didn’t usurp Billy’s confidence when he used the Classmate PC for a week. Using the computer’s retractable handle, he brought it to school. We were a bit concerned that he might find it a bit heavy to lug around, especially since the Convertible Classmate PC’s 3.8lbs is heavier than your average netbook, but Billy had no complaints about carrying it to and from school. He didn’t even ask his mommy to help him carry it. In class, Billy showed off the Convertible Classmate PC to his buddies who all thought it was “very cool” and wanted to know where to buy one. You also don’t have to ask kids twice to test out the durability of a laptop. Boy, did they throw it around – and it survived. Fortunately, the Classmate PC has a keyboard, touchpad and screen that are all waterproof, the PC sports a touch rubberized casing and rounded edges, and finally, Intel has increased the hard drive protection in the PC over the previous generation of Classmate PCs.
We aren’t sure if all of the Classmate PCs will be bundled with the same software titles that were found in our review unit, but to name a few there was ArcSoft WebCam, MathMastery, LEGO WeDo, ArtRage, and Child Safety Control. These applications let Billy interact with the computer as any kid would by drawing, typing, and being creative while learning at the same time. LEGO WeDo was obviously a favorite but so was the huge selection of interactive games specifically meant to be played when the computer is in tablet mode. There was Chess, Chinese Checkers, Tic-Tac-Toe, Mahjong, and even Backgammon to name a few out of the 21 games in total. Each game was easy enough for him to figure out without much guidance. However using the Stylus definitely made things much easier to operate versus pressing hard on the screen.
Overall there is a lot to like about this latest version of Intel’s Classmate PC. Still, we think that this PC really is most appropriate to be used for kids ages 5 to 10. Chances are that many kids over that age will be looking for a netbook or laptop that is more like mom and dads, if not better. For example, Billy’s cousin who just turned 10, shares a laptop with his 13 year old sister. However that didn’t change Billy’s overall opinion of the Convertible Classmate PC – he thought it was still pretty cool.
Ideally, the perfect reviewer for the Intel Convertible Classmate PC wouldn’t just be a kid, but a kid using it in a classroom environment. Intel has worked hard to develop partnerships that extend the Convertible Classmate PC’s prowess in the classroom. Programs like the one they recently announced with McGraw Hill, which brings eLearning initiatives to the Convertible Classmate PC that really extend the device beyond just being a kid tough netbook – and into being the ultimate educational tool for a classroom environment. Intel is hoping that schools will buy these PCs in bulk for their classrooms, and millions of Classmate PCs have already been sold worldwide. But parents can also choose to buy individual units of the new Convertible Classmate PC for their kids. Companies like CTL Corp are selling the Intel Convertible Classmate PC for a base price of $499.
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