Intel-Powered Convertible Classmate PC: The Touch Netbook to Emulate

CES 2009 is undoubtedly going to be the show for touch-enabled netbooks and leading the pack will be Intel's Convertible Classmate PC. While MSI and ASUS have hinted at their respective touch-capable Winds and Eee PCs, Intel will officially release its tablet style Classmate in Las Vegas next month. Intel's OEM partner CTL expects to start shipping in mid-January.

We met today with Intel and learned that the new Convertible Classmate will live alongside its clamshell Classmate PC (also known as the CTL 2go PC). Turns out lots of kids who have used Classmates in the classroom port around their mini-notebooks (i.e. take it outside for science project) and the tablet form factor is just what the doctor or school nurse called for.

We first got a look at the Intel-powered Convertible Classmate PC at Intel's Developers Forum and then an exclusive peak at CTL's (the OEM bringing it to market) early build. Today, however, we got to go hands-on with an almost final production unit of the "net-vertible."

We are really happy to see the greenish, yellow lid gone from the design and replaced with a blue on white motif which reminds us of Duke's Basketball uniforms (Intel also told us they are working with SkinIt to create other decoration options fo the lid). Other than the color of the system, the overall build looks the same as we saw a few months ago, yet more solid.  For instance, the neat 180 degree swivel web camera isn't wobbly. The specs that we mentioned last time seem to remain the same for this netbook: it will have a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N270 processor, a 60 GB hard drive, and Windows XP.

The clearest improvements have been made to the 8.9-inch screen's touch interface. We complained last time that:

Because the Windows XP Home OS is not meant for tablet use, we had to install a few of our own freeware programs to take full advantage of the touchscreen.

Turns out Intel had some pretty interesting plans up their sleeve and now the notebook is preloaded with lots of software that takes advantage of the touchscreen including a program called Vision Objects Pen Input, which turns handwriting into editable text and contains a virtual keyboard. And that is just the start of it. Intel plans to team up with software vendors to preload the laptops with a  stack of touch-focused applications.They are also teaming up with content providers, such as McGraw Hill, to package the laptops with learning tools.

Like we found the first time around, the touchscreen is responsive to both finger and pen input. Using the tip of a finger, we were able to select icons from the Quick Launcher interface (which is a much appreciated simplified home screen for a touch navigation) and, using the included white stylus, we were able to  write on the screen without pressing too hard. Speaking of smooth writing, palm rejection technology will prevent mistakenly selecting other parts of the screen.

Beyond the software additions, the accelerometer has really been fine-tuned. Turning the netbook vertically adjusted the screen orientation in under 2 seconds.

So sure the Convertible Classmate is meant for children and isn't a netbook that adults will want to carry around, but its implementation of touch technology on a netbook is what we hope to see from the mainstream netbook vendors that plan to bring touch to the smaller screen. A simplified home screen menu (so you don't have to dig through XPs menus), preloading touch-optimized software and a speedy accelerometer are some of the Classmate's solid features that we want to see in adult touch-enabled netbooks.