They might be small but they’re looming large in the thinking of many schools. Are they for you? INTERFACE investigates the rise of the ‘mini’ laptop.
Even just a year ago they were something of a novelty from companies you’d never heard of; now it seems like everyone wants a piece of the ultraportable action. HP, Intel and MSI have recently made their moves. Toshiba is the latest to signal its entry into the fray, showing off its new NB100 at last month’s ULearn conference. Lenovo is scheduled to launch its IdeaPad this month.
They join a growing list of small, compact, low-cost, low-power mini laptops (aka mini notebooks, sub notebooks, netbooks and Mids) available to schools. Among those likely to be in your thinking are:
• Acer Aspire One
• ASUS EeePC
• HP 2133
• Intel Classmate PC
• MSI Wind U100
• Toshiba NB100
But it doesn’t end there. A quick Google shows plenty of other machines you may be able to get your hands on, including the Dell Inspiron Mini 9, Everex Cloudbook Mini-PC, and even the OLPC XO. You could also argue a case for adding the Macbook Air.
Clearly, there’s ample supply … but what about demand?
Well, industry analyst Gartner has identified mini laptops as a key segment in the global PC market, describing growth worldwide as “strong and robust” – and basically going so far as suggesting the bottom-line for manufacturers would look far bleaker without them.
Easy to handle
So, what’s the attraction of minis? Two factors where they definitely catch the eye are size and price.
Roughly the dimensions and weight of an average text book, they’re incredibly easy to handle and carry around. While not an issue if you’re sat at a desk all day, if you require mobility and portability – for travelling or regularly moving location or multiple users – they obviously come into their own. Of the two, however, it’s probably the low-cost of these machines that will be of most interest. We’re only talking three figures, somewhere in the $400 to $800 range, depending on the specs – that’s two (or more) for the price of a regular PC. When you’re on a budget and/or need many machines, it’s hard not to
argue with that.
Also of interest may be their power consumption, which is less than traditional PCs.
Does size matter?
By definition, the keyboard and screen are generally a reduced size. Even a 90 per cent keyboard takes some getting used to, especially for those of us with larger fingers. Touch typists, too, report difficulties. Although kids, who, after all, are a target for these things, have no such problems. Likewise the smaller screen, usually between seven and 10 inches, can present some challenges. From a practical point of view, using applications that require some space to operate – like spreadsheets and even websites – can have its frustrations.
True minis generally aren’t grunty enough for serious users of processing power – 3D modelling, designing, animation, gaming, that sort of thing. But, then again, they aren’t meant to be. They’re designed for the simple stuff: Web surfing, emailing and word processing – and they do that very well. So, it’s horses for courses, really.
Simple, portable, affordable
This ‘mini’ success may have taken some by surprise, given that manufacturers have tried and failed to kick-start the concept before. Perhaps it was substandard performance or bad design or price ($2,000+) that held it back. Just as likely, we simply weren’t ready. However, be it improving technology, tightening budgets, increasing acceptance of the use of wireless connectivity and mobility, or even the freedoms that Web 2.0 software brings, arguably now we’re crying out for them. For general use, you probably wouldn’t want one as your main computer. But if you want simplicity, mobility, portability, a back-up, one for everyone, or something basic for students to use, and for a reasonable price, it’s easy to see the attraction of minis.
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