Monday, April 21, 2008

tt4t_034 New choices for affordable small laptops for on-the-go teachers and students

It’s Monday, April 21st, 2008 and welcome to Episode 34 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. As the end of another school year approaches schools across the country are finalizing budgets as well as planning for next years budget needs. One thing that I am currently investigating is a new category of small laptop computers that have begun to get a lot of attention in the tech circles. The small laptops go by different names from subnotebook, mini-laptop, Ultra Mobile PC’s also known as UMPCs, and ultralight laptops among others.

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One thing that has recently caught my attention and the attention of technology coordinators and others responsible for budgeting decisions is the decline in price for many of these devices. The UMPC’s have been around for a number of years now but most UMPC’s were above the $1000 price point, at least the ones I wanted. The UMPC’s offer a small form factor and a high cool factor but justifying costs is difficult for the average school budget. This year the ASUS eee PC has generated a lot of buzz in the industry with a mini laptop that weighs less than three pounds and has a starting price of $399.00 for the 4G model. The eee PC by definition is an ultralight laptop. The keyboard is small but not so small as some of the smart phone devices that require a stylus to type with or the tiny thumb keyboards that I find difficult to operate.

The ASUS eee PC may fit a nice niche for schools. First the small keyboard is not a problem and may actually be better for children who have small fingers. Secondly with a price of $399 for the Linux version and $499 for a laptop configured with XP the eee PC is getting the attention of K-12 schools and universities alike. Linux offers users the basic functionality but the XP compatible version now allows the use Microsoft Office that nearly everyone is familiar with. The eee PC features 4GB and 8GB flash-based hard drives, 802.11 wireless networking, USB ports, built in web camera, a 7 inch screen with 800x 480 resolution, and a SD card slot. The other downside of the flash drive is a small amount of storage space but if users have Internet connection you can take advantage of Microsoft’s Skydrive for additional online storage space or purchase an external USB hard drive, or use a regular USB flash drive. This subnotebook space is also not standing still, a new model ASUS 900 will be coming out next month according to ASUS and will have a larger screen display. It is also expected that ASUS will be releasing the Intel ATOM based processor models later this summer. The ASUS eee PC’s have a lot going for them but there is also some new competition.

The other subnotebook that has caught my attention is the HP 2133 manufactured by Hewlett Packard. The 2133 features a 92% full size keyboard and is slightly larger than the ASUS eee PC form factor. The 2133 features a 120GB hard drive with prices beginning at $499 and a well configured model starting at $749 including a built in web camera. It is a little larger form factor than the eee PC but some of the things that attract me to this model is the larger sized keyboard, the higher resolution screen (1200x800) that reduces the amount of scrolling required when viewing web pages. The 2133 is available in Linux, XP, or Vista. Microsoft has recently stated that the XP operating system will be available until 2010 for the subnotebook category of computers such as the eee PC and 2133. If however you buy a full-size laptop or desktop Microsoft has stated that it will require users to buy Vista beginning June 30, 2008.
There are other smaller form factor devices on my radar screen including the Nokia 810n that is a small pocket sized device with a small pullout keyboard and uses 802.11 wireless networking to connect to the Internet. The Nokia 810n, like its sibling the Nokia 800, are Linux based devices that are meant for keeping in contact with the office while in the field. The keyboard on the 810n is so tiny that it is not practical for me to type letters easily for longer emails but it is an attractive choice for slipping into your pocket and taking it with you on the road where 802.11 wireless is available.

So there you have it three small form factor devices with a price of less than $500 for the basic models. This space is heating up and I am sure we will be seeing additional choices with more functionality going into the next school year. The new ATOM processors by Intel will also give manufactures the ability to increase battery life and experiment with smaller form factors. This is an interesting time in this market and the affordability along with portability and connectivity will be changing the way teachers and students are using these devices inside and outside of the classroom.

The ASUS eee PC, HP 2133, and Nokia 810n serve different niches in the small laptop line of products, there are tradeoffs between pocket-sized 810n and mini laptops but there are beginning to be some economical choices for educators. The form versus function debate continues to be challenge as the smaller devices lack the power that desktop users have come to expect. Links are available in the show notes for more information about the eee PC, the HP 2133, and the Nokia 810n.

ASUS eee PC (4G and 8G)

New ASUS eee PC Model 900 coming in May 2008 to USA

HP 2133 subnotebook:

Nokia 810n,n810

Tom’s Technology Pick of the Week
My technology pick of the week this week is inspired once again from the Twitter service that I have recently reactivated. Please listen to episode 32 and 33 of TechTalk4Teachers if you would like to learn more about Twitter. Twitter allows users to send short messages that are less than 140 characters throughout the day to keep the people in your network updated on what you are doing. Because 140 characters is such a small amount of characters you need to be very brief and to the point when posting messages to the twitter service. Many users also want to post web addresses as part of their twitter message but many web addresses seem like they are a mile long and often take up too many characters for a twitter message, enter TinyURL. is a service that allows users to copy and past a long web address into the TinyURL website and the TinyURL will shorten the web address to a shorter address that users can use to share with others. This is great for Twitter users where space is at a premium.

TinyURL can also be useful to teachers that want to share URL’s with others or their students. To use the service just copy the web address of the webpage that you would like to have converted to a shorter format. Go to and paste the web link into the box that says Make TinyURL and click on the button. Wait a few seconds and in a moment a new smaller web address will be created to share with others. Now all you have to do is copy and paste this new TinyURL as the address and share with others. This is definitely helpful for Twitter users who are concerned about the number of characters used to post in their tweets. To give you a sense of the number of characters saved I just did an example where the original URL was 85 characters and the new converted URL was only 25 characters when I used Tiny URL, a savings of 60 characters! The next time you are in need of a shortened web address be sure to checkout

That wraps it up for episode 34 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode along with archived versions of previous shows are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you would like to send your comments or suggestions please send an email to Until next time this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning


Anonymous said...

Thanks for all of the useful information & commentary. In one of your recent podcasts, you were musing about using video and asked about where & how people were receiving your podcasts. I was listening on an ipod while cycling to school at the time, so your comment about video made me chuckle.

I have been listening to an increasing number of podcasts. It allows me to listen to some of my favourite radio programs that I otherwise would have missed and makes absorbing information of interest to me a more reasonable undertaking. I still appreciate being able to return to a blog, find links & references, and read, but listening to podcasts is becoming a part of my routine and is a good way for any busy teacher to keep on learning.

D Milloy
Burnaby, BC, Canada

TechTalk4Teachers said...

Thank you for your feedback, you know it really is exciting hearing from listeners all over the world.

I am leaning on keeping TechTalk4Teachers as an audio podcast. I am going to create a separate video podcast, any ideas for a show title? I am dreading this a little bit as I already know how much work a video podcast is, audio is time-consuming enough.

I do know that some podcasters do both audio and video and separate the feed in the RSS but as you said there is something about audio that allows you to safely multitask.

Thank you also for noticing the transcript. You are the first person to comment on this. We as teachers try to model best practices and when you listen to the experts they say to have a transcript, yet less than 1 percent do. I do this so others have a choice on how to consume the information, reading or listening. Keep on cycling!

Tom Grissom