CTL 2go Convertible Classmate PC Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Hassle-free tablet experience; Attractive touch interface; Built-in accelerometer; Durable design; Good battery life

The Cons

Keyboard not big enough for adults; Sluggish hard drive; Underside gets very warm

Verdict

While it's designed for kids, the excellent touch experience this netbook offers will leave parents envious.

From its durable chassis down to its kid-friendly lunch box handle, the CTL 2go Convertible Classmate PC looks the part of a child's laptop, but its has appeal beyond the target market. The $499 system (also called the Intel Convertible Classmate PC) boasts a rotatable 8.9-inch resistive touchscreen that has been optimized for a number of different software applications, including a slick software shell for Windows XP. Sporting the typical netbook specs, including an Intel Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, and a 60GB hard drive, the 2go's polished touch interface, smooth accelerometer, and solid battery life make it stand out not only on the playground but in the grown-up netbook market, too.

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More Mature Design

The 2go is more toned down in child-centric aesthetics than theoriginal Classmate. While the built-in carrying handle (detachable by removing the screws under the battery)--complete with a spot for writing in a child's name--gives the system some elementary school flair, its silver painted lid is more subtle than the original royal blue covering (CTL says they are also working with SkinIt.com for customized skins for this netbook by the end of the month). Also gone is the Velcro strap that kept the lid sealed. The rest of the netbook is two-tone with a white outer perimeter and a dark gray keyboard, bezel, and underside.

Measuring 9.5 x 7.5 x 1.5 inches, the 2go is larger and heavier than other 8.9-inch netbooks, including theDell Inspiron Mini 9andAcer Aspire one. And while its 3-pound weight (with its six-cell battery) it isn't going to weigh down an adult bag or arm when held in tablet mode, it may be a bit cumbersome for a younger student. Nevertheless, this machine's drop-resistant plastic case makes it more durable than its competitors.

On the right side of the system is an Ethernet port, USB, and headphone and microphone jacks. On the left is a second USB port, 2-in-1 card reader, and a VGA port, which was missing from the prior edition.

Cramped Keyboard, Spacious Touchpad

As we found with the original 2go PC, the keyboard on the 2go Convertible is too small for adult touch typists but should be just the right size for kids, and it's spill-resistant. While we were able to type at a decent clip after some practice, we wish the keyboard extended to the outer peripheries of the system; the layout is more cramped than those on other 8.9-inch systems, such as theAcer Aspire oneand theDell Inspiron Mini 9.

The touchpad and mouse buttons, on the other hand, are spacious and comfortable even for adult users. The dedicated right and left mouse buttons were a bit mushy but void of any loud clicking sounds. Cursor control was responsive when navigating the desktop, and the dedicated scrolling strip was helpful for scanning long Web pages.

Display and Webcam

Like on many tablets, the 8.9-inch, 1024 x 600-pixel resolution matte screen on the 2go Convertible was a bit dull; boosting the brightness to 100 percent helped. In a side-by-side comparison with theGigabyte M912, a similar convertible netbook with the same size display, the 2go Convertible appeared brighter and offered more contrast.

Horizontal viewing angles were decent, though a slight glare appeared when the screen was tilted back to a 145-degree angle. Vertical viewing angles were solid; watching a streaming episode of American Dad with a neighbor was a pleasant experience.

The 180-degree, bidirectional hinge that turns the screen into tablet mode felt very sturdy. The screen didn't wobble in either the normal laptop mode or in the tablet position, and it clips down securely to the keyboard.

The 1.3-megapixel webcam, located at the top of the screen on the 2go Convertible, also rotates 180 degrees along the long axis of the display, which lets users film themselves in front of the screen, or others in a room. In a Skype video call, the webcam produced bright images, and our caller didn't complain of any grayness or blurriness. When we flipped the camera around, the image instantly readjusted and flipped the image right side up. Giving our caller a tour of our apartment was a cinch.

Attractive Windows XP Shell

Instead of being greeted by the all-too-familiar Windows XP rolling mountain and blue sky desktop wallpaper, the 2go Convertible launches an attractive, full-screen user interface called Blue Dolphin Quick Launcher that's reminiscent of the Linux shell on the Dell Inspiron Mini 9.

The Blue Dolphin software organizes Windows utilities and the various preloaded applications into four buckets located on the left side of the screen: Quick Launch, Games, Common Folders, and Desktop tabs. Selecting a category brings up related shortcut icons in the center of the screen that are large and easy to tap with a finger or the stylus. When an application is selected, the icon does a neat animated flip and a small translucent dolphin appears, letting you know it has successfully registered your input. Customizing what icons are displayed is a simple process, too. In the Settings menu we were able to add Firefox and Skype icons to the Quick Launch screen.

We were impressed with the look and feel, and the animations, of the Blue Dolphin interface. While this type of shell is commonly found on top of Linux operating systems to make them easier to navigate, it went a long way in sprucing up the somewhat boring Windows XP--and it makes excellent use of the touchscreen. Blue Dolphin will undoubtedly be helpful to both children and adults who can't or don't want to dig through menus.

Tablet Performance, Smooth Accelerometer

Blue Dolphin notwithstanding, the standout feature of the 2go Convertible is its resistive touchscreen, which supports both stylus and finger inputs. A thin plastic stylus is tucked into the right edge of the system, but much of the time we preferred using our fingers; we had no problem launching programs in the Blue Dolphin menu by just using our fingertip or the edge of our nail.

While the 2go Convertible uses a standard Windows XP Home operating system, which doesn't support Microsoft's Tablet PC feature set, Intel bundles the machine with a number of software applications that make using the touchscreen a seamless experience. The MyScript Stylus program pops up when a cursor appears and can convert handwriting into digital text. Additionally, it contains a virtual keyboard for tapping text. Other touch-friendly programs include Evernote for taking notes and ArtRage for doodling and drawing on the screen.

Beyond the easy icon selection in the Blue Dolphin shell, tablet use was hiccup-free. Scribbling in Microsoft Paint and ArtRage using the stylus didn't require us to press down too hard, and drawing and writing was smooth. The tablet's palm rejection software worked well; we didn't notice our palm inadvertently painting for us. Similarly, writing in various text fields using the MyScript Stylus application was fairly accurate. When we went to visit a Web page in Firefox 3, MyScript's handwriting box popped up as soon as we selected the address bar and it converted our handwritten "NYTimes.com" into digital text.

Changing the screen orientation isn't a daunting task either. Thanks to the 2go Convertible's accelerometer, simply turning the screen adjusts the orientation. When we went to hold the tablet in the crook of our arm it switched to portrait mode in less than 2 seconds; no need to press a button.

2go Convertible Performance

Like many other mini-notebooks, the 2go Convertible uses a 1.6-GHz Intel Atom processor and 1GB of RAM. While the PCMark05 benchmarking program was unable to run, the system performed day-to-day tasks well. We were able to listen to streaming music over Slacker, surf the Web in Firefox 3, and scribble in ArtRage simultaneously with no hang-ups.

The 2go Convertible's integrated graphics scored 594 on 3DMark03 (which tests DirectX 9 performance), 208 points below the category average. Nevertheless, watching a streaming episode of American Dad didn't tax the 2go Convertible enough to slow down other programs' response times.

During testing, the underside of the 2go Convertible heated up, measuring 105 degrees. When we held the unit in the crook of our arm, our skin got slightly warm, though not uncomfortably so. The rest of the system, including the keyboard and touchpad, were not noticeably warm.

The 2go Convertible's 60GB, 4,200-rpm hard drive booted Windows XP Home in 58 seconds (just a second faster than the netbook average). However, the LAPTOP Transfer Test (copying a 4.97GB folder of mixed media) took 9 minutes and 56 seconds, a rate of 8.5 MBps. This is relatively slow for a netbook and 4.9 MBps lower than the category average.

Battery Life, Wireless

Compared with its predecessor, the 2go Convertible lasted an hour longer, enduring for 4 hours and 55 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi). This is about an hour more than the netbook average, and should last at least from the start of the school day until lunchtime.

The netbook's 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi card delivered throughput of 19.6 Mbps and 15.9 Mbps at 15 and 50 feet, respectively, from our access point. These scores aren't as strong as theHP Mini 2140's (24.5/20.4 Mbps), but the 2go Convertible maintained a strong connection during our day-to-day Web activities; streaming music over Slacker was fluid, and video clips on Hulu.com were void of any pauses.

Software Selection and Warranty

Beyond Windows XP Home and Intel's Blue Dolphin quick-launch shell, CTL bundles the 2go Convertible with a handful of software, all part of Intel's Retail Software Stack. Included is FoxitReader, MyScript Stylus 3.0, EverNote, ArtRage 2, ArcSoft Webcam Companion, and FBReader. Intel plans to open development of this platform to additional software vendors in the hopes of creating more useful, touch-enabled education software for the platform. CTL covers this netbook with a one-year warranty and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) toll-free technical support.

Verdict

The CTL 2go Convertible Classmate PC is one of the first netbooks to employ touchscreen technology successfully. Its sleek skin over Windows XP simplifies program launching, and preloaded applications allow kids to take full advantage of the tablet's functionality. When you put aside its sluggish hard drive and cramped keyboard, this is a setup that we would love to see emulated in netbooks aimed at adults. While its $499 price is slightly higher than most 8.9-inch systems (a similarly configured Acer Aspire one costs $379), its smooth tablet implementation and durable chassis make the 2go Convertible a great educational tool.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270
Operating System MS Windows XP Home
RAM 1GB
RAM Upgradable to 2GB
Hard Drive Size 60GB
Hard Drive Speed 4,200rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 8.9
Native Resolution 1024x600
Graphics Card Intel 945 Express
Video Memory 512MB
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.0
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
USB Ports 2
Card Slots 2-1 card reader
Warranty/Support Warranty/Support: One-year limited/11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) toll-free phone
Size 9.5 x 7.5 x 1.5 inches
Weight 3.0 pounds
Company Website http://www.ctlcorp.com