After playing with a prototype of Intel's Convertible Classmate, it more or less confirmed what I had suspected: there are some neat ideas at play, but there's a reason why it's aimed at schools.
From the outset, Intel's goal with the Classmate line was to create a cheap, durable laptop that could be useful in a classroom. As such, Intel gave the Classmate tablet an 8.9-inch touchpanel, 1.6 GHz Atom processor, 802.11n wi-fi, 1 GB RAM, a 60 GB HDD (or up to 8 GB of flash storage), a days worth of battery life and a weight under three pounds.
The computer itself is on par with most other netbooks in terms of build quality. Nothing feels super flimsy, the 1024x600 resolution screen is sharp, and when using it as a tablet, it sits comfortably in the hand. The keyboard and trackpad are pretty decent sized, going toe to toe with the HP Mini or the MSI Wind in that regard. And it even has a webcam that can rotate to either face the user or look out in the other direction.
Messing around with some of the apps, it's clear Intel did more than slap a touchscreen on a XP laptop and call it a tablet—they went one step further, adding the necessary hardware and software enhancements to make it as simple to use as possible.
For example, the Convertible Classmate has a quick launch panel that's been optimized for use with the touchscreen, with big icons, and other touch friendly elements. And when the Classmate is folded into tablet mode, there's a dedicated button that brings up the quick launch screen.
And not only will they be making the hardware as capable as possible for the educational arena, but they'll be working with developers and OEM's directly to make sure everything is optimized for the Classmate. One specific company they're working with is Lego, whose Mindstorms kits are popular with educators.
Intel also put some thought into how kids would be using the Convertible Classmate specifically, and calibrated the touchscreen so that it wouldn't recognize palm contact when kids are writing with the stylus. They found that most kids write with the palm down on the table, and if they didn't adjust for that with the tablet, it would have caused many input problems.
But that also involved a trade off. Because they didn't want to increase the price and have to use a capacitive/multitouch panel to enable palm detection, they had to lower the sensitivity of the resistive touchscreen in addition to using software fixes. As a result, the screen requires a bit of a heavier press to get it to recognize your input, which from what I could tell, doesn't make it the most finger friendly.
Touchscreen issues aside, the presumable lack of consumer-centric touch app support, missing features like bluetooth and a pretty generic design will likely keep it entrenched in its educational niche. But considering that's exactly what they're gunning for, you can't exactly call that a bad thing. [Classmate on Giz]