With the Classmate PC - or so-called Fizzbook - Intel is exploring a new design of portable that could bring new users into the market.
The Intel Classmate PC or Fizzbook as it has been dubbed, is an attempt by the processor company to establish a new form of convertible laptop that just about anyone, and school-children in particular can both use and afford.
The Classmate is essentially a simple netbook. It can be used in tablet or traditional mode and reviews report that the handwriting recognition software included with the Classmate is very good. You can also draw onto the screen.
The swivel aspect of the tablet capability though, might prove to be more important than the handwriting. Being able to swivel the display to any angle makes it easier to share the device. One of the really cool features here is the ability of the screen to fit the display to whatever orientation it is being held in. Like the iPhone, it has a built-in accelerometer so, when used as a tablet and held p on its end, the display will flip around to portrait mode.
You can also have a touch-sensitive display and ahead of the launch of Windows 7 with its wider touch features this could be significant. There is a built-in camera that rotates 180 degrees as well and this also helps with interaction and sharing. The light, durable and water-resistant design makes them easy to move around. Some models have been drop-test certified up to 50cm - most laptops only stand about 30cm.
There is of course, a keyboard as well and it is when the Classmate is placed in this normal usage mode that grown-up users will notice just how small it is. It is not a full-sized keyboard of course and with a screen size that is quite a bit smaller than the standard 10.1-inch seen on most netbooks, it will never be ideal for business use.
At the heart of the Classmate is the Atom N270 1.6Ghz processor and the Intel 945GSE chipset - at the moment. Later this year we will see Intel launch a Dual Core Atom and updated Classmate PCs will be amongst the first to feature this new processor. The models have 512Mb or 1Gb of RAM and between 2Gb and 16Gb of Flash and 60Gb of disk - try getting anything less these days! They run either Windows XP or Linux right now - but Windows 7 is looming of course.
Displays are small - the variants are 7-inch 800x480 LCD or 8.9-inch 1024x600 standard or touch screen versions. As standard, 10/100Mbs Ethernet is included along with 802.11b/g, Mesh support (Linux only) and support for wireless protection standards. Either four- or six-cell batteries are available. There is basic integrated audio, two USB ports and an SD slot.
New kids on the block
Classmates are shipped with a set of apps designed for schools including a system for managing touch usage and a classroom management system that has file sharing and screen broadcasting video streaming, test and assessment and group management functions. There is also access control, anti-theft security and PC management software.
The Classmate is really an attempt to get more kids on the PC ladder earlier. The Blue Dolphin interface is designed to appeal to youngsters and the touch-screen models are designed to resist cursor skipping so the cursor won't always shoot off to another area of screen when someone leans or points.
Overall the Classmate is being seen as very capable and a device that could set the trend for other manufacturers. None have yet come out with a similar offering but when we get the new Intel Atom processors later this year, we are likely to see a whole new wave of smaller laptop devices and many of them could take their lead from the Fizzbook, perhaps with larger screens, but making use of the tablet format and more advanced touch features.
This article was taken from the Computer 2000 news flash - June 2009