This week we have been covering the revolution starting in schools with the use of netbooks and the potential they offer to fundamentally change learning. In early January ASUS announced another step in that change with the production of a tablet netbook, the ASUS T91. It has been a long time coming but news filtered out in mid May that an early June release was likely and yesterday proved to be that day. I am a big fan of ASUS although the build quality of Samsung has led us down the NC20 route. At the same time I think the touch screen facility offered by the T91 may be a real game changer. Take a look at the video below- it comes with a ‘dodgy lift music’ advisory and is a little short on substance but gives a good idea of the basic functionality.
What really interests me is how students will engage with touch technology and looking forward with multi-touch offered by Windows 7. Will these changes bring the tablet machine of age through the education market? Can you meaningfully do something with touch technology that is not as easy with a standard machine? For me the real difference will come with the use of One Note and this is a topic I will round the week off with on Friday.
Just before half term I was having a look around to see where we are with netbooks and came across something a little different from normal. Dell have done the hard work and thought about how to adapt a netbook to suit the educational environment. There may be more companies that have already done this but this is the first one which stood out to me. Although I am not recommending the product yet as I haven’t see it in the flesh or put it through the ultimate testing and feedback- students- I think it is worth everyone having a look at the video below. My first thoughts follow the video.
What I really loved
The thing that really caught my attention was the charging mechanism. I loved the cart which charges with simple slotting and think this is a big gain. I have spoken to three companies recently and when I asked about charging options for their products in a school context all said ‘I will get back to you’. So far none have and it is between 4-6 weeks since we met. Charging is always going to be a top 3 issue in schools.
I like the fact that there is touch screen as an option. Although I wish the video had shown the use of touch screen in a more imaginative way I really think touch screen is the future for education netbooks. The main reason for this in a secondary school is the use of One Note which I think is a product about to come of age. If I can run a netbook which can be used in the same ways as a computer room but also switch to fill the role of an exercise book then the cost savings in a school are huge.
What I am not so sure about
Although the casing does look very robust I wonder how students will feel about them looking so different than a standard laptop or even netbook. Will they look a bit cool and different or have a more ‘second class citizen’ feel to them. If this was the case then they would be dead in the water.
Are these netbooks a little more primary? It was interesting to see the students were more primary focused in the video. Although this is not a bad thing as it would be great to move the netbook agenda forward in primary education. At the same time younger students have very different tastes- younger students we showed the fizzbook for example loved it but our secondary students did not!
What are your thoughts?
I know a lot of people read the netbook posts so it would be great to hear your thoughts. If you have a minute add a comment with your thoughts on this product or if you know of any other education focused netbooks which are better.
As many of you know I am a huge fan of netbooks and think that over the next 3 years they will have a decisive impact on the Education sphere. Some 5 weeks ago I promised a three parter on netbooks which never appeared as the fog of war which is exam season descended. I cant help but return to this topic but the blog posts will not be the same. This is largely because the netbook market changes so rapidly, perhaps more than any other technology. I would however like to focus on four areas this month. Firstly today I will cover the continued drive down of pricing we are seeing both in the UK and US. From here I want to look at education specific offerings which have started to appear in the last few months. Later in the week I will cover a new netbook on the market from Asus which I think will bring One Note into one of the most important products in education. I will then wrap up with an overview of the 10 inch market as it currently stands and examine if the Samsung NC10 is still king in this field.
The netbook above is Dell’s Mini 10v. Dell is a huge player in the laptop market and although a relatively late starter to netbooks it is now starting to make an impact. This base model is available in the US at just $299 with an Intel Atom N270, 1GB Ram, 120GB Hard drive and 3 cell battery. Of course in the UK we would expect this to be more expensive and in truth often see the same pound price as dollar price. Excitingly this is not the case with The Dell Mini 10v which is available for £199. Looking in more detail however in the UK we are delivered a lower spec with Linux and an 8GB Solid State Drive for this price. An equivalent (and indeed slightly higher spec to the US version) is available for £249 so a slight premium for living on the other side of the Atlantic.
In September I predicted that a decent yet basic spec netbook would be available in two years for less than £200. It appears that is has taken only 9 months. Whilst I would still like to see specification improve with faster processors, graphics capability and 2GB RAM this machine is a massive step in the right direction. Tomorrow I will look at a Dell netbook made specifically for education which may prove revolutionary in the move towards mobile learning.
For those of you out there looking to purchase Netbooks for you schools in the new financial year a useful resource might be the April edition of What Mobile magazine which is out now. A few weeks ago I covered Netbooks in great details so if you need to get up to speed you can with the following posts:
- The best netbook for education?
- Netbook prices falling, specs rising?
- 8 Netbooks for Education to consider
- Samsung NC20. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
- The Netbook and why it is not a UMPC but the greatest change in computing…
- The 3 coming changes in netbook technology
The post I ran on 8 netbooks for education to consider was based on US availability, prices and specs as these were more easily available online. Now that What Mobile have run an article it makes sense to quote UK prices.
One interesting observation is almost all the netbooks reviewed in this article had 3 cell batteries and every one on Amazon US had a 6 cell battery. In terms of prices and specs the numbers in £ and score in stars (out of 5) are as follows in the running order:
- Asus S101 £440 (high end model) 4 stars
- Acer Aspire One A150 £280 4 stars
- MSI Wind U100 £269 4 stars
- Advent 4213 £280 3 stars
- Toshiba NB100 £260 4 stars
- HP 2140 £379 4 stars
- Samsung NC10 £292 5 stars
- LG X110 £295 4 stars
- Dell Inspiron Mini 10 £299 4 stars
- Lenovo Ideapad S10 £260 3 stars
In all the Lenovo and Advent appear to be bringing up the field with most of the netbooks comparing fairly against each other. Yet again the Samsung NC10 stands out as the clear winner with a full 5 stars. The article spans 5 pages with quite a lot of detail on each Netbook and is well worth reading.
To wrap up this week in which we have have been talking about the use of netbooks in education I thought I would look forward over the next two years to how these machines might change. In all of this I am predicting that netbooks will start to become mainstream in education by 2010. From 2012 onwards I believe they will be in the majority of students hands in UK education. You might sniff at this suggestion as ridiculous but I would strongly disagree. When I started teaching nearly 9 years ago in September 2000 I vividly remember making an appointment to see my then Headteacher at Brookfield School in Hampshire. My meeting was to discuss using the only laptop (his!) in the school and the only data projector which was held in reprographics. This was a forward thinking school and within 5 years every room had a projector and interactive whiteboard with every teacher using a laptop. Change happens quickly in ICT education!
So over the week we have talked about all the different types of netbook and the trials we are running. We hope to roll out to a whole year group in Sept 2010 and here are the 3 main changes I think will happen by then to make netbooks a genuinely robust and powerful tool for learning in the classroom.
Change 1- Battery life and charging speed is changing very fast.
At present all laptop manufacturers are looking for the Holy Grail of a whole day working on one charge of battery. Our Samsung NC20s are currently providing 5-6 hours on one charge and we are arriving at the full day of 8 hours very quickly. Our 5-6 hours is achieved with users not restricting their settings whereas careful tuning seems to get the machines towards the full day. Given we are unlikely to get 1500 students doing this I think we need to get a full day our of them at full usage. Of course the biggest issue then is those students who haven’t turned up with a full battery- what do you do then?
Perhaps the most exciting news on this front emerged this week in the media. It appears that technology allowing laptop batteries to charge in just a few minutes is just 2 years away. This will potentially eliminate the single biggest headache for e-learning leaders when considering a roll out of netbooks.
Change 2- The move to SSD over HD
Alongside this change will be the wholesale move to Solid State Drives from Hard Drives. Whilst I have been touting this for 6 months with colleagues I am sure it will happen in the next 18 months. At present price is still the bug bear here (I am paying £200 more for a 128GB of SSD over 320GB of HD on my new DELL!) but the technology is developing so that larger drives and cheaper prices per GB are coming through. Expect SSD only netbooks as standard by the summer of 2010. If you don’t think SSDs are important in the development of faster and more efficient machines check out this great video but be warned it is geeky!
Change 3- Improved processors and Graphics
This is an area which much less certainty in terms of where the market will be in 2010. Intel have recently brought our the N280 Atom over the N270 which sees the clock speed move up from 1.6GHz to 1.66GHz. Our students will increasingly live in an HD world and the N280 has HD capability whilst at the same time graphics performance looks set to improve with NVIDIA releasing the 9400M chip. Whilst it is less clear where this market will be in 2010 you only have to look at how laptops have improved in the last 3 years through processor and graphics development to realise we will see major advances in the next 18 months.
I have had a genuinely crazy amount of discussion over the last 24 hours with loads of emails, twitters and blogs about Netbooks. It seems it really is the hot potato of the moment. I even had a tweet from Sascha Pallenberg today which was great. If you dont know who this guy is he is recognised in the industry as the authority on Netbooks. I picked up his story line in a Robert Scoble interview around the time of CES in Las Vegas. Sascha wrote a tweet today which said thx mike . Great article and spot on! I wish VIA would come out with something better then VX800. It would help a lot.
I have had some great responses from a number of people across the country and worldwide but wanted to focus my blog post for the day on one particular comment from Ian Guest of Sheffield. I really appreciate the time he has taken to write a very detailed comment and wanted to respond with some of my views. In essence Ian questions the way people are starting to see netbooks as laptop replacements and instead refers to them as UMPCs. Have a look at Ian’s very robust view here.
This comment really provoked me to think through my own view on netbooks and what they actually are as I was going through my day. It made me realise that I actually have some very strongly held views which differ from Ian’s view above. I agree that when the original 4inch screen Asus eee pc arrived on the market it was indeed a UMPC and changed everybody’s view on devices. However the argument starts to fall down as you look at where the market has developed to, is going now and where it will end up.
In the last year we have seen the movement towards 7, 8, 9 and then 10 inch machines. Asus predict that 95% of their sales of netbooks will be 10 inch machines with the other 5% coming from a niche industry using 7 inch machines. In effect some experts think Asus will leave the market in 8 and 9 inch netbooks. Why has this happened? My view is that people like the idea of very small machines but the reality of their experience has led to them wanting ‘something a little bigger’ as it would be ‘the perfect size’. As companies have responded sales have moved to the larger netbooks and the market has changed. The customer wants the good of netbooks (light and cheap) but in a bigger size. What I am therefore saying is I think it is no longer possible to describe the netbook as a UMPC. Check out this view from Michael Kwan on how we define a netbook for more.
Ian’s other major comment is that a netbook isn’t intended to replace a standard laptop. My own view is netbooks were always going to evolve upwards towards a size and power where they would fully replace laptops. Although this wasn’t seen in the market it was an inevitable driving force for a number of reasons. If you think about it from these questions it may help to see why this was inevitable. Who wouldn’t want a primary machine which costs half the price of their current one if it could be powerful enough to do what most of us do- low power tasks.Who wouldn’t want a very light primary machine which is half the weight of their current brick if one existed? Who wouldn’t want a small device which could more easily fit into a casual bag if the screen was big enough to browse the web for long periods.
When you frame the debate like this my own view is the netbook will be the most significant change in computing in the last decade. I believe this because:
- The ferocity of the competition will continue to drive price down below $200 for a good spec machine.
- The demand from customers will drive size up to 12/13 inches making them small versions of laptops.
- As the market saturates netbook makers will be forced to compete on specification as all room for cutting margins disappears.
The end product of all this will be 90% of current computer users moving away from laptops and desktops and having a netbook as a primary machine. It will of course not happen overnight but we will see this in the next 3 years. What the market is really looking for is not the gimmick that is a UMPC but their current laptops with all the power and functionality at half the weight and cost.