Spurred in part by the "One Laptop per Child" (OLPC) movement, a new class of computer—some call them netbooks, some mini-notebooks, and still others ultra-mobile PCs—are being marketed for the classroom.
BUT BE WARNED: Just because they are all small doesn't mean they are alike. For example, although Ethernet network connectivity is standard on most laptops, you won't find it on the OLPC XO, which was developed primarily for use in developing countries, which are not wired for networking. Likewise for CD or DVD drives—usually absent, to save space and money. Also, look for the open source Linux operating system included on many of the netbooks, although versions of Windows may be available on some models. Here are some features you can expect in these laptops.
SIZE AND WEIGHT
These laptops are all both small and light. Each one is about the size of a large paperback book, with screens of 7-to-9 inches wide and an inch thick, weighing about 2 to 3 pounds (usually depending on choice of battery).
Expect wireless Internet connectivity in these computers. Some include wireless mesh networking, allowing communications directly with other machines. (Wired Ethernet, though, is another story. They may or may not include it.)
OPERATING SYSTEMS AND HARD DRIVES
To provide lower cost options, the open source Linux operating system and flash memory drives are frequently found on these computers. Some also offer standard hard drives and the Windows operating system (usually XP, sometimes CE or Vista) either as options or on their higher end models.
You may find USB ports and card readers on these small laptops, facilitating the transfer of files and data to them— especially useful if the laptop lacks a CD drive.
The HP Mini-Notebook (opens in new tab) line offers 5 models, priced from $499 to $849, weighing about 2.5 pounds, and a bit over an inch thick. Available with either Windows Vista or Linux OS, they each have a 9" screen (with 1280 x 768 resolution), a keyboard close to standard size, WiFi, two USB ports, and an optional integrated VGA camera. All but the lowest price model sport a standard hard drive; the $499 model uses flash memory. The price difference in models is accounted for by differences in the processor, the hard drive, and memory.
The Intel Classmate is targeted specifically toward students up to age 14. Available with either Windows XP or Linux, the screen size is either 7 or 9 inches (with 800 x 600 resolution). WiFi, a water resistant keyboard, and a built in microphone are included, with an optional digital camera and digital pen. Similar to the OLPC XO, it offers mesh networking (to enable Classmates to directly connect to other Classmates for collaboration if located close by, usually about 300 feet). About $350.
The Asus Eee PC (opens in new tab) is currently available in 4 different models; prices range from about $300 (for the Model 2G Surf) to about $500 (Model 8G). A fifth model, the 900, is scheduled for sale in the US mid-May for about $550. Screen size for currently available models is 7", with 800 x 480 resolution. All are preloaded with the Linux OS, weigh about 2 pounds, include WiFi, 3 USB ports, and have a built-in card reader, speakers, and microphone. Some models include a camera.
The OLPC XO Laptop (www.laptop.org; previously reviewed in T&L; is targeted at undeveloped nations. It has preinstalled applications to promote creativity and collaboration, a built-in digital still/video camera, automatic mesh networking; built-in WiFi; and a long battery life. It is available only in bulk (100 XO laptops/$299 each; 1,000 units/$249 each; 10,000 units/$199 each).
The Everex Cloudbook, which utilizes the gOS Rocket operating system, has a 7-inch screen (800 x 480 resolution), weighs 2 pounds, and has a 5-hour battery life. It comes with Open Office installed (Microsoft Office compatible), as well as other open source software, WiFi, and a webcam. Being very Internet oriented, the Cloudbook comes with preinstalled or linked web-based applications, such as FireFox, Gmail, and Skype. It is priced at $399.
Fourier Systems calls their Nova5000 a "learning appliance" designed for students. Although optimized for science, it is also targeted toward general student computing. It has a 7-inch, 480 x 800 screen; runs the Windows CE.NET 5.0 OS; has built in WiFi and Ethernet; includes USB and VGA ports, and weighs under 3 pounds. It includes three "office-like" applications for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. Pricing ranges from $379 to $599 depending on quantity and configuration.
ULTRA LOW-COST NOTEBOOK PCS ON THE RISE
IDC forecasts worldwide shipments of the ultra low cost notebook PC will grow from less than 500,000 units in 2007 to more than 9 million in 2012. But with low average selling prices (ASPs), worldwide revenues will be less than $3 billion in 2012. As a percentage of the total consumer PC market, these devices will remain under 5% throughout the forecast period. However, ultra low-cost notebooks could eventually capture more than one third of the education market by 2012.
Source: The IDC report, Worldwide Ultra-Low-Cost Notebook 2008â€“2012 Forecast: The Disposable Notebook Opportunity