Intel brings e-reader features to new netbook design

Intel on Tuesday introduced its new Convertible Classmate netbook design, which includes slate-like features for users to read electronic books, surf the Web or take notes.

The chip maker has added more functionality so users can take advantage of a larger 10.1-inch touchscreen, said Agnes Kwan, an Intel spokeswoman. The screen will be able to swivel around and fold over the keyboard, transforming the device into a slate, which is a handheld device similar to a tablet PC, with on-screen keyboards that allow users to play games, read e-books or surf the Web.

This isn't the first swivel screen on a Classmate PC for Intel. In 2008, the company put a swivel screen design on the product. The difference this time is the added emphasis on the e-reader and other functions.

The new Convertible Classmate includes an e-reader application for e-book reading, said Kwan. Users can place a finger on the screen to switch pages, or press buttons next to the screen to move pages. Users will also be able to use a stylus to highlight notes on e-book pages. The e-book reader will support e-book file formats like PDF and ePub, she added.

"It has the full PC functionality, but it can also function as an e-reader," Kwan said. "In a classroom you don't expect a student to have a PC and e-reader [separately]. You want one unit to do everything."

The device is targeted at students in developing countries, and as a reference design for PC makers to make low-cost laptops.

For example, the student may use the keyboard for homework or classwork, and use the tablet function to read e-books or collaborate with other students, Kwan said.

Intel's primary competition in the area is One Laptop Per Child, which developed the low-cost XO laptop. But while Intel has retained the keyboard, OLPC's latest XO-3 slate, which was announced in December, sheds the keyboard in favor of virtual keyboard, similar to the on-screen keyboard found on Apple's upcoming iPad slate.

Intel has also made hardware improvements to make the Convertible Classmate faster and more power efficient. A new Atom processor -- the Atom N450 running at 1.66GHz -- increases the netbook's battery life, Kwan said. The processor is 60% smaller than its predecessor, and consumes 20% less power. Intel is offering a six-cell battery option for longer battery life.

Additionally, Intel has added rubber to the edges so the netbook can withstand scratches and bumps. But the material and larger screen have made the netbook a bit bulkier, Kwan said. With a four-cell battery the device will weigh about three pounds (1.36 kilograms), while the six-cell option will weigh 3.5 pounds.

Intel is also adding more wireless connectivity options, including 3G mobile broadband and WiMax capabilities, Kwan said. The laptop will be made by PC makers and shipped in the second quarter of this year. Intel doesn't make the PCs, so pricing will depend on the PC makers who assemble the netbook.

Intel has changed the Classmate PC multiple times since the first design was announced in 2007. The last laptop had a 9-inch screen, and was among the first netbooks to include a touchscreen.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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