CTL 2go E10 Classmate Review

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$449
Editors' rating:
The Pros

Kid-friendly design and software ; Excellent overall performance ; Good audio quality

The Cons

Poor Wi-Fi 50 feet from router ; Design isn't stylish ; Battery life slightly below average

Verdict

The update to CTL's student-minded Classmate offers plenty of durability while improving on design and performance.

CTL has updated its kid-friendly netbook with the next-generation clamshell 2go PC, otherwise known as the 2go E10. This 10.1-inch netbook preserves the successful features of previous iterations while stepping up the performance and enhancing the keyboard design. It's not the most attractive netbook on the market, but the 2go E10 is a smart choice for parents who want a long-lasting PC for their kids.

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Design

Though it lacks the cutesy designs or logos of such systems as the Disney Netpal by ASUS or the Dell Inspiron Mini Nickelodeon Edition, it's clear that the 2go E10 is made for elementary school children. CTL dropped the two-toned grey/white chassis and black keyboard for a more uniform white exterior with orange accents. While unmistakably kid-friendly, the overall look is a bit more sophisticated than the competition. The vinyl cover is still grey (you can also purchase a special-order blue cover), but we appreciated the aesthetic simplicity.

As with the CTL 2go released last year, the 2go E10's case is rubberized and durable, and comes with a vinyl cover attached to the case by Velcro. The system can withstand moderate drops, spills, and demanding everyday use, which will give parents peace of mind. At 3.5 pounds and measuring 10.0 x 8.0 x 1.5 inches, the 2go E10 is a bit heavier and larger than the typical netbook, but the removable rubber and plastic handle makes carrying the PC easy--even for those with small hands.

While the Dell Latitude 2100--another netbook designed for the education market--also has a rubberized exterior (and comes in a wider variety of colors) its large battery makes it look chunkier when closed, even though both systems are about the same size and weight. Under the lid the Latitude 2100 resembles other Dell netbooks--only the outside hints that it's made to take more of a beating than the average machine--but the 2go E10 says Made For Kids inside and out.

Kid-Friendly Software

The 2go E10 includes Intel's Blue Dolphin Quick Launcher user interface. This kid-friendly overlay replaces the Windows XP desktop (but not the taskbar), and organizes Windows utilities and applications into groups on the left side of the screen: Common Folders, Desktop, Games, and Quick Launch. A tab at the top offers easy volume control, the Help and Settings menus, and a Screen Off button for conserving power.

Though Blue Dolphin is a lot more fun on a touchscreen, as we saw on the CTL 2go Convertible Classmate PC, it was still entertaining to use on the 2go E10. We liked that the program icons in the main window jumped up and down when we moved our mouse over them, and flip when selected; we think kids will also enjoy these little touches. Users can customize which icons are displayed via the Settings menu.

The 2go thankfully has no extraneous bloatware and very little preinstalled trialware. Other than the ArcSoft WebCam Companion, there's FBReader for eBooks, Foxit PDF reader, and Microsoft Works. We were surprised that the system didn't come with any preinstalled parental control software, as on the Latitude 2100. Parents familiar with Windows will be able to apply user controls or install third-party software to provide some security and boundaries. However, having a software solution for this in place is much more desirable, especially as the 2go is aimed at the education market.

Keyboard & Touchpad

The 90-percent full-sized keyboard on the 2go E10 is an improvement over the tiny, cramped keys on the 9-inch CTL 2go PC. As we typed, we noticed that the keyboard is a bit shorter than we're used to--about one centimeter shorter than the Samsung NC10. Our thumb instinctively sought the area just below the spacebar, but often ended up hitting the track pad, instead. Though this isn't ideal for adult touch typists, it's perfect for the target audience; smaller hands will have an easier time reaching the keys from the proper home position.

Even with the shorter keyboard, we were able to reach our standard typing speed and accuracy almost immediately. The keys aren't as responsive as we're used to, but they still offered decent tactile feedback. We appreciated that the Shift and Enter keys have the correct size and placement, though we prefer to have the Ctrl key on the far left (instead of the Fn key).

The 2go E10's keyboard is spill-resistant, a feature many parents will appreciate. However, it lacks an antimicrobial option, as offered on the Dell Latitude 2100.

We love the large touchpad, which gained half an inch in width over the previous 2go PC. The 3.0 x 1.6-inch surface has the barest of friction, resulting in very precise mouse movements. Underneath are two discrete buttons, which extend beyond the width of the touchpad, as on the previous model. While these don't provide the same snappy feedback we're used to on other netbooks, they have the advantage of being quiet, and require very little effort to click.

Display and Audio

The 10.1-inch matte LED-backlit screen offered slightly muddy colors when watching videos on Hulu. Side-to-side viewing angles are good enough for two people to sit together and watch a movie, but not three. Bright scenes looked decent, but dark ones didn't offer satisfying contrast or depth.

We were pleasantly surprised by the audio quality from the 2go E10's small, front-mounted speakers (located just under the palm rest). When streaming songs from Last.fm at 50 percent volume, the sound was loud enough to fill a small room. With an air conditioner running, we had to turn the volume up to 100 percent, but we never had to strain to hear the netbook. Though the sound quality was slightly tinny, it only took a little fiddling with Realtek's equalizer settings to round out both the bass and treble. We were also impressed with the system's ability to produce 3D audio, which deepened the listening experience.

Webcam and Ports

The 1.3-megapixel webcam didn't generate the best picture quality, even after attempting to adjust the brightness, saturation, and sharpness settings with the included software. When chatting with a friend on Skype, she noticed a bit of blurring and stuttering when we quickly waved our hand in front of the lens, but otherwise reported smooth playback and good sound from the integrated mic.

The 2go E10 gains a VGA port, an omission that disappointed us on the 9-inch model. Otherwise, the netbook has a standard spread: three USB, a 4-in-1 memory card slot, Ethernet, headphone and mic. CTL also shuffled around the ports when they updated the 2go E10's design. The added VGA port is on the left alongside the 4-in-1 card reader, which no longer has the rubber cover found on the 9-inch 2go PC. Next to that is a USB port, which sits back far enough to ensure dongles and flash drives are never in the way of a user's hands. The mic and headphone ports have been moved to the right side, just forward of the remaining two USB ports and the Ethernet jack.

Performance

The 2go E10 turned in above average scores on most of our performance tests, placing it far ahead of its predecessors and on a par with some of the best netbooks we've tested. The system runs on a standard 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270 processor with 1GB of RAM. On PCMark05 (which measures overall performance on Windows XP) the 2go E10 scored 1,612, more than 200 points above the category average. It even beat out the Toshiba mini NB205 (1,496) and Samsung N110 (1,513), but came in below the Dell Latitude 2100, which scored 1,697. Anecdotally, performance was snappy: the 2go E10 didn't stutter as we streamed video from Hulu, switched between ten tabs in Google Chrome, or multitasked while running four programs at once.

The 2go E10 scored 707 on 3DMark03, about 60 points above average. Its score of 84 on 3DMark06 is about 15 points below average, and only a few points lower than the mini NB205 (92), but far behind the Latitude 2100 (122). However, unless you're playing graphics-heavy games, these low scores shouldn't translate to a poor user experience; we were easily able to play clips from the Windows HD Content Showcase in Media Player.

The 2go E10's 5,400-rpm, 160GB hard drive booted Windows in a fast 48 seconds, beating the 55-second average; this is likely due to the absence of trialware. On the LAPTOP Transfer Test, in which we duplicate 4.97GB folder of mixed media files, the 2go E10 took 6 minutes and 26 seconds. This rate of 13.2 MBps is 2.0 MBps slower than the average netbook, and even further behind the mini NB205's score of 18.1 MBps. However, it is a vast improvement over the previous CTL 2go PC, which scored 8.5 MBps.

Using HandBrake, we transcoded a 5-minute-and-5-second MPEG-4 video clip (114MB) to the AVI format in 28 minutes and 48 seconds, which is about a minute faster than the netbook average.

Battery Life and Wi-Fi

The 2go E10's six-cell, 2200 mAh lithium-ion battery no longer sits in the front of the unit, as was the case with the original 2go PC. Instead, it is flush in the back, as with most netbooks. This design more easily allows for adding larger capacity batteries (as yet, CTL does not offer one larger than six cells). We also didn't experience the same excess heat on the palm rest or keyboard that we noted with the 9-inch 2go PC, which likely can be attributed to the battery's new location.

The 2go E10 lasted 5 hours and 37 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi). That's half an hour less than the six-cell battery average, but 50 minutes longer than the Dell Latitude 2100. While the 2go E10's battery life falls four hours short of marathoners such as the Toshiba mini NB205, its endurance is acceptable for the target age range.

Wireless

The 2go E10's wireless card performed well at 15 feet from our router, delivering 21.2 Mbps, almost 2.0 Mbps above the netbook average. When we moved 50 feet from the router, performance dropped to 15.4 Mbps, about 1.0 Mbps below average. This score is on the par with the Samsung N310, but about 3.0 Mbps below the Dell Latitude 2100.

Green Testing

When running our green tests, the 2go E10 took almost as much time to recharge--5 hours and 11 minutes--as it did to run down the battery. This meant that while the netbook had a relatively low average recharging rate of 23.4 watts, the total amount of watts used while recharging (7,277.4) was on the high side. Its LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating (total watts divided by runtime) was 21.6, which is about 3 watts higher than the average--and this is one test where a lower score is better. The 2go E10 is not currently rated by EPEAT.

Configurations

The CTL 2go E10 is available with Windows XP Pro for an extra $100 through the CTL Web site. Users can also add 2GB of RAM for $69, and preload Microsoft Office 2007 for $186 to $358 (depending on the version). The system will be available with Ubuntu Linux in early October, and will have the same hardware specs and configuration options, but cost $30 to $40 less than XP units. After October 22, consumers will be able to order the 2go E10 with Windows 7 Starter and Professional editions. Starter will add approximately $20 more, and Professional approximately $100. CTL will confirm prices closer to launch.

Warranty & Support

CTL offers a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, plus Web and phone support (Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST). An upgrade to a longer three-year warranty is also available, and includes mail-in repair for $70.

Verdict

CTL's update to the 2go netbook offers welcome performance enhancements, a better keyboard, and a kid-friendly design. The lack of stylish accents or cartoon characters may seem dull to some kids, but parents will appreciate the enhanced durability. While the Dell Latitude 2100 delivers slightly better performance for less money, it's also bulkier, and doesn't match the 2go E10's battery life. And since you'll likely be able to snag the 2go E10 at retailers for up to $100 less than the MSRP, it's a very attractive option for children.

CPU 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270
Operating System MS Windows XP Home
RAM 1GB
RAM Upgradable to 2GB
Hard Drive Size 160GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 10.1
Native Resolution 1024x600
Optical Drive
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card Intel 945 Express
Video Memory 121MB
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth
Mobile Broadband
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
USB Ports 3
Card Slots 4-1 card reader
Warranty/Support One-year parts-and-labor/Mon--Fri 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Web and toll-free phone
Size 10.0 x 8.0 x 1.5 inches
Weight 3.4 pounds
Company Website http://www.ctlcorp.com
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