Ok so I have gone a bit netbook mad this week but I do tend to run in themes and so I hope you are all still awake? The blog is doing well and heading over 20k readers a month so I am guessing you are all comfortable in your seats?! It made me think, are there topics you would like us to cover relating to education which we aren’t talking about yet? If so add a comment request or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will make sure we are covering the things which interest you. Thinking ahead in terms of themes, from here I plan to move back to SharePoint and education, specifically talking about pod-casting and an application we are excitedly looking at within SharePoint. Following this I want to return to the topic of Parental Engagment (again in SharePoint) and how we have rolled out our Parent Gateway at Twynham School.
So to today’s topic- Samsung NC20. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. I thought it might be useful to drill in to the Samsung NC20 and put together a bit of robust feedback from our 9 testers. What better way to do this than identifying the categories based around my childhood film watching-with a Clint Eastwood theme. For those of you with little time to spare jump past the You Tube clip to the review. If you wish to relive this 60′s moment (I will add that my childhood was the 80′s) or havent a clue what I am talking about and are curious behold a classic western scene.
Samsung NC20- The Good
The NC20 is the first netbook machine which has led to all my touch typing testers being happy. The keyboard is as close to full size as you need and all testers have commented on the ease with which they have switched to the Samsung. The other area which has received favourable comment is the battery life with all testers quoting 5-6 hours as typical times for real life activities. The screen, which concerned me a little due to the reflective nature of its glossy finish has returned no complaints and in fact all have commented on the crisp and bright colours. I have had no reported crashes or freezing of the machines reported.
Samsung NC20- The Bad
One very small niggle for the touch typists is the shift key which is not a standard size. This is such a constant theme on many netbooks and as many have commented. Of course netbooks were not planned as full scale machines and so to some extent this is a little unfair. At the same time this machine is now 12 inches and surely they could fit a full size keyboard in it? Perhaps a bigger issue will be the lack of grunt in the netbook with a slightly underpowered processor and more importantly a distinct lack of decent graphics card. Again there is a fine line here between our expectations of a netbook and reality but I feel this gap will be filled in the next 18 months.
Samsung NC20- The Ugly
I am perhaps playing a little poetic license with the title here. One of the interesting things I watched during our unboxing last week was a distinctly underwhelmed Chris Mckinley, our SQL/SharePoint developer. When I asked him what the issue was he said that the product we had just opened was no longer a netbook- it was in fact a laptop! When we took receipt of 9 and 10 inch netbooks earlier in the year they had a distinct novelty in their size which set them apart. For Chris the 12 inch model looked distinctly ordinary and without a high quality laptop feel, perhaps a little ugly.
Samsung NC20- Overall View
During the first 8 days of our trial I have yet to hear one significant negative placed against the Samsung NC20. It has met with a really positive response and has the potential to have a major impact on our school as we move to a more flexible mobile learning experience. Even Chris has been won over and on my return from Holland he commented that he really liked the machine and felt it was more than up for the job. The real test of course will be next week when we unleash the machines in the classroom.
Something very exciting arrived last Monday morning at Twynham School. When I arrived in our office there were 9 parcels on the floor waiting for me. These were 9 Samsung NC20 netbooks which we have purchased to continue our research in this area. As you may remember from my previous blogs I first became excited by the potential of netbooks in August whilst on a trip to New York. For the first time I could see a product which we might be able to use as a tool to support learning in the classroom and beyond.
At Twynham we have had a serious look at the Asus 1000H and Dell mini 9 in the Autumn Term and the Samsung NC10 in January and February. Our preference was for the Samsung NC10 but my wish list for a netbook with a 12 inch screen has remained throughout. We have done a lot of testing with students using the 9 and 10 inch machines for a number of hours at a time and they feel that a larger screen, keyboard and track pad are essential for regular use.
I checked in today with our 9 members of the Leadership Team who are testing the Samsung NC20s and they have met with universal approval. They all like the screen size and clarity and the trackpad is much improved over the NC20. Several members of the Leadership Team are running the full test and using the machine as their primary laptop and a few have already asked if they can trade in theif full size, full power Dell for the Samsung!
Why give these machines to the Leadership Team? My thinking here was that we should get the senior leaders in the school genuinely experiencing the types of technology the students will be using before making significant purchasing decisions. All in all it has proved a real hit with this group and from next week we will be handing them over to classroom teachers and finally to students to test. If we have similarly positvive results we will roll out these machines as 4 mobile classrooms in September. The final aim is for a full roll out to the whole of year 7 in September 2010.
As we are on the topic of netbooks at the moment I thought I would share some quick research I did this week. I have been looking at a suitable product for our students to use in mobile classrooms around the site. If you remember I set out a list of basic specs at the beginning of the year which I thought were essential for a netbook before we consider a significant purchase. These were a minimum 10 inch screen, 1GB ram and a good sized solid state drive. With these three basic criteria the SSD is the only area which will take more time to become standard and is taking longer than I imagined to become mainstream. Clearly processing and graphics are key development factors but it is not yet possible to put some specific requirements on this area, only to note that things will and need to improve.
With all this in mind I have identified 8 netbooks to show you today if you are in a similar position and looking at a significant purchase for your school. This is not a review but more a list to identify from and a means to keep up with current prices which I will show in $ and also £ where possible. I am using Amazon to show the price as my initial benchmark price of $650 came from Amazon in August when the Asus 1000H was launched. The only major machine I am missing in the 10 inch category that I know about is the Dell Mini 10.
8 Comparable Netbooks to consider for use in education
Acer Aspire One AOD150-1165 10.1-Inch Netbook – $349.99
ARCHOS 10 10.2-Inch Netbook – $349.99
ASUS Eee PC 1000HA 10-Inch Netbook $349.99 (£314)
HP Mini 1035NR 10.2-Inch Netbook $399.99
Lenovo Ideapad S10 10.2-Inch Netbook $349.99
MSI Wind U120-024US 10-Inch Netbook £329.99
Samsung NC10 10.2-inch Netbook $435 (£352)
Sylvania GNET31201XS 10-Inch Magni Elite Slate G-Netbook $349.99
The first observation is that the machines are almost all identically priced at $349.99. MSI Wind might be the company driving price down at the moment with HP and especially Samsung perhaps trying to differentiate themselves on build quality. The machines have almost all the same specifications with the exception of Archos having a 3 cell battery and HP only a 60GB hard drive compared to 160GB in all the other devices. Also interesting to note that on Amazon UK only 2 of the 8 machines are available for sale!
It will be interesting to see how far (if at all) price falls in the next year and what improvement in specification we will see. Two major changes are already evident in the market with Asus bring out a 1000HE containing the Intel Atom N280 processor and Samsung moving up to 12 inch screens with the NC20. This move is also interesting as Samsung have switched to VIA for their processor instead of Intel. I will run an update of this post in 3 months and we can see what the market looks like then.
One of the things I am most addicted to in technology at the moment are netbooks. In my previous post on this topic in February I outlined Twynham School’s move towards mobile computing for students and I plan to update you on our latest thoughts this week. One thing I thought might be useful is to have a quick look at the state of the market now. This is the most rapidly changing technology market I know and having followed it heavily since August we have already seen considerable change.
But what specifically are the changes and are they beneficial? Well my first observation on netbooks is the enormous fall in price we have witnessed. When I was in New York in August I tried to get my hands on what was then the hot property in the market. This was then then newly arrived Asus 1000H. What was interesting is the price on Amazon at the time of launch was $650! Within 10 days the price was $550 and a quick check on Amazon this morning showed the price is now just $350, an almost 50% drop over 6 months.
What else has changed? Well perhaps the other most noticeable feature has been the increasing screen size. In August the move to a 10 inch screen by Asus was seen as a definite game changer with most netbooks on the market being 8-9 inches. The drive to bigger screens is clear with Asus seemingly planning to ditch the 8-9 inch arena and concentrate on 10 inch models whilst almost every netbook manufacturer has a model in this size now. In fact in our work in education we see students loving the look and size of the smaller machines until they have spend a few hours working on them.
The compromise in keyboard size and screen makes them good at occasional short use but for me the screen size will rise further to 12 inch as norm. In fact we have seen this with the arrival of two new machines since the turn of the year. Both Dell with their Inspiron Mini 12 and Samsung with their big brother Samsung NC20 promise to blur the line between netbook and small laptop to the extreme.
For one of my colleagues, Chris Mckinley, the move to bigger models is a step to far and if he had the choice he would purchase a 13.3 inch laptop every time over a 12 inch netbook. His view is they have lost their USP as they blur the line and most importantly lack the power in terms of processing and graphic computing that a low end laptop like a Dell Vostro has. For me the netbook remains a winner and I believe the next 18 months will see a sharp increase in power and capability with further significant price falls. By this time I think we will see a sufficiently powerful machine priced at $200 (and frustratingly £200) which will threaten a genuine revolution in education.
So it took me a while longer to get back to you on my thoughts about netbooks for students. Heavy flu, presenting all week at The BETT Show and life crept in to play havoc with my schedule! Returning to the topic- If I was rolling out netbooks to a sizeable group in my school which would I use? In the last post I suggested we had looked at two big players in the market- Asus with its eee pc 100H and Dell with its Inspiron Mini 9. Whilst I think that these two models have a number of really good features the Mini 9 keyboard is just too small and the Asus doesn’t feel rugged enough and I am worried about the graphics card. So is the answer I wouldn’t chose any netbook on the market?
Two weeks has brought a new contender into the reckoning and I genuinely think it could be a machine which meets all criteria so well we could have a genuine candidate. The netbook I am referring to is the Samsung NC10 and this week my school purchased 6 to try a small scale trial over the next few weeks. In case you have missed it the Samsung NC10 has been getting rave reviews from so many areas. I had spotted this online just before I went to BETT and was pleased when at our first Microsoft staff meeting they announced they had set up a ‘Wall of Cool’ to display around a dozen of the latest netbooks. I wont plagiarise Ray Fleming’s story on the night out we had and the review completed by a group of teachers- you can find it here. It is however fair to say that most people went for the NC10.
What did amaze me is what hot property this product has become in such a short space of time. Every school I talked to about netbooks was already getting or planned a purchase of Samsung NC10s for their students! Now I hate getting suckered into following the crowd which is why we have purchased 6 to play with and form our own judgements. I took one home from work last Wednesday and have had a few days to play with it so what do I think? I really like the machine and think it hits so many criteria which I mentioned in my last post. In short the Samsung NC10 has the following: great looks; feels very sturdy; excellent keyboard; brilliant screen; plenty of power; long battery life (I managed over 5 hours). In short I love it and cant wait to get it into the hands of students for a thorough test drive.
Is there anything I didn’t like? Well the track pad is poor which initially annoyed me but you can definitely live with it and for me it is the one thing I am happy to compromise with. My only other concern is the wifi as I could not get on to my network at home and this is the first machine of over a dozen which has failed with my Linksys router. I assumed it was my usual incompetence with technology but was relieved and frustrated when our Lead Developer Chris McKinley reported the same issue at home (yes we have all stolen one). Alas he showed his credentials and fixed the issue on his (and mine- as we are currently calling them) so hopefully it isn’t a major problem. From what I have seen overall I think they are the best current candidate and we will keep you all informed on the trial. The reality is however, by the time we go for a larger roll out this September or next so much development will have taken place leading to many more options which are likely to be much cheaper and more powerful.
At the start of the week we were talking about the use of remote applications and rolling out laptops to students at Twynham School. As yet we haven’t gone beyond trialling laptops due to a number of key factors. Firstly price is the greatest issue as I would like to create a sustainable system where parental contribution and pump priming by the school can create a self financing system.
Looking at the state of the market in August while on holiday in New York, I was excited to see the maturation of netbooks with much greater range due to the arrival of big players such as Dell. In addition size and spec has increased significantly with many models now offering a 10 inch laptop, full or near full keyboard size and 1GB RAM. For me this development has been essential and makes a netbook a viable first machine for students. Any smaller and screen size, keyboard and power become an issue for many of the applications we want to use with students who will be using the devices for many hours a day.
What about the OS? Well we would prefer to use Windows and this has been a real issue. Most machined come with XP loaded if you want to go the windows route. This is a two pronged issue as XP is now 7 years old and the home version prevents connection to a domain. In truth the real issue has been the difficulty of loading Vista on the netbooks we have, For us the compromise in performance was too great and in November we took the decision that we needed to wait and see what happens with Windows 7 and notebook launches at CES.
I am pleased to say that on both counts we have good news. Already a number of people have loaded Windows 7 Beta onto their netbooks and they are impressed with the stability and performance. With less than half of the RAM used by the OS and a much smaller footprint in terms of hard drive all the signs are that Windows 7 will be our roll out point for netbooks. Take a look at this video
As for netbooks, there have been quite a few launched at CES and I am really interested in the new ASUS T101H. With a touch screen and tablet functionality this could well be the answer to schools that want pc access everywhere but still want to see regular hand writing alongside this.
My own opinion is that we will see both a maturation and convergence between low end laptops and netbooks to create a perfect solution for education in the next three years. I think that this ideal machine will have the following specs:
12 inch screen
Full size keyboard
Windows 7 OS
8 hour battery life
£200 price point
Of course there are more elements to this but these 7 features are likely to produce a cost effective powerful machine that is mobile enough for students. I think this development will take 18 months-3 years but what would I choose if I was rolling our netbooks to students this year? I will discuss this tomorrow.