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 email@example.com 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.
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.