Smaller is beautiful

20th June 2008 at 01:00
These days it seems that technological advancement is measured in size reduction: smaller is better
Not too high or low-tech, the miniBook is not perfect, but it could still be just right for schools, says Ben Egerton

These days it seems that technological advancement is measured in size reduction: smaller is better. The RM Asus miniBook, the Windows version of which was launched this week, is certainly small. But, how good is it for school use?

For me it has the potential to bridge that gap between adult and child-purposed IT and give pupils access to laptop technology that is neither high-end business world, nor toyshop-lite.

My miniBook had, pre-installed, most of the software applications I'd expect from a laptop ready to use in the classroom. It uses open source software for its office suite and Mozilla's Firefox web browser, which surely keeps the cost down - again ideal for use at school.

The miniBook's ability to connect wirelessly to the internet and school networks is a bonus. I am excited by the possibility of a room of children sharing their work instantly via interactive whiteboards or saving to locations on the school network.

The miniBook needs little maintenance, so IT-illiterate teachers can supervise its use confidently. Being portable means it can easily go from one classroom to the next, fitting snugly alongside pencil cases, books and homework diaries.

How easy is it to use? Well, it is small - maybe too small. The keyboard, although qwerty, does require precision from the user, but may suit smaller fingers. I have a couple of children in my class who suffer from dyspraxia, and I can anticipate the size of the miniBook's keyboard being a problem. However, a larger version of the keyboard is being introduced in September. The use of the trackpad and mouse buttons is difficult to get the hang of but it is manageable to a certain extent through the settings tab.

The miniBook is, well, mini, but the screen is even smaller, which means that displaying web pages or documents is difficult without scrolling up and down or across to read all the information - a tiresome process.

But although the miniBook has these drawbacks - very little internal memory, small keys, an irritating trackpad and buttons, a small screen and a slightly infantile interface - it does have three USB ports that can connect to a wireless network and printers, a webcam and a range of music and media players - all of which will get used at home, in the classroom and between the two.

I haven't needed to update any of the pre-installed software, so I don't know how easy that would be to do. The needs of various departments at school require different applications - music-writing software, publications, microscopesviewers and so on - and I wonder how easy it would be to install these as required?

But what's good about the miniBook is that everything is bundled into a sleek package for under pound;200, something that, when some of the other issues are ironed out, would make me and IT budget person very happy.

Ben Egerton teaches at Abingdon Preparatory School in Oxfordshire

BLUE SKY THINKING

The RM Asus miniBook is a small laptop (width 22.5cm, depth 16.5cm, height 3.5cm), designed for school and home use, complete with webcam.

It weighs less than 1kg and comes with 7 or 8.9 inch screen.

Cost: 2G storage version is pound;169 plus VAT, 4G version is pound;199 plus VAT.

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