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Chips with the lot for classrooms

Chic met chip this week when Apple Computer unveiled a sleek students' computer, thought to be the first laptop designed specifically for education. The eMate 300, designed by the Italian designer who sculpted the interior of the latest Porsche, is likely to be the most desirable designer technology yet seen in a classroom.

At its preview in London last week, educational consultant Roger Broady described it as "a revolutionary product" that could have significant effects on pupil:computer ratios and home-school links.

The eMate opens in the usual "clamshell" laptop style but, with its rounded, shock-proofed contours, it resembles a bulging mini attache case. It is a sturdy set-up in green translucent plastic, although bulk orders allow customised colours and livery. The modular design means that damaged parts can easily be replaced by non-nerds. It is relatively light and the batteries give power for up to 28 hours before it needs a recharge. The infrared technology allows teachers to "beam" worksheets into students' machines.

For those wondering whether it is a Macintosh or a Windows machine, it is neither - it uses Apple's Newton technology, marrying typical computer keyboard functions with a touch-screen and stylus that enable students to add drawings and handwritten notes to their work.

Schools using Windows and Mac computers can link the eMate to their machines to transfer information. Xemplar, the joint AcornMac schools supplier, is expected to provide a link for Acorn computers.

The eMate has built-in software to do the things that students are expected to do for IT in the curriculum.

The concept has been proven by the success in schools of the Psion Series 3aAcorn Pocket Book, a palmtop computer that can also tranfer data to and from most of the computers in classrooms.

On sale for US schools in January (at $800), it should reach Britain by spring.

* Apple Computer, 6 Roundwood Avenue, Stockley Park, Uxbridge UB11 1BB. Tel: 0181 569 1199

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