It wasn’t that long ago that everyone in the edtech world was talking about cheap netbooks and how they would revolutionise learning and change education forever.
Where are those netbooks now?
Back in the autumn of 2007, Asus launched their Asus EeePC. I managed to get my hands on one in February 2008; a small form factor PC running Xandros (Linux) with a 7″ screen. There had been small laptops before, but they were usually around £2000, the Asus EeePC was less than £200!
In 2008 everyone was talking about how wonderful the netbooks were and that finally here was a device that would revolutionise the use of learning technologies in the classroom.
It wasn’t long though before the “issues” started to arise. Screen size and keyboard size meant that before long the 7” netbook started to grow and today when we look at netbooks in most computer retailers, they have 10” screens and almost full size keboards. In a similar manner, the “free” operating system wasn’t liked by users or consumers and now virtually all netbooks come with Windows 7. The Linux revolution touted by some never happened. Also the storage limitations, the original EeePC only came with 2GB of storage, meant that the robust flash memory was replaced by more delicate hard drives so that users could have the storage needed to do what they wanted on the device. Another big issue was battery life, for some netbooks, 90 minutes was the norm, this meant that the portability of the device was sacrificed as you needed to be connected to the wall by the power cable.
The final nail in the coffin though has to be the MacBook Air and the Ultrabooks, which take us full circle back to the £1000 sub-notebooks that the netbooks were suppose to replace. These devices with their solid state drives, full size(ish) keyboards and high res screens.
Perhaps another nail in the coffin came from the release of the iPad in 2010, we suddenly realised that we didn’t want a cheap netbook, what we actually wanted was a tablet.
Market research firm ABI Research reports that Q2 2011 global tablet shipments rose to 13.6 million units, compared to just 7.3 million netbooks. (Pinola 2011)
It’s not to say that netbooks are dead just yet, they are still for sale but we’re not talking about them in the same way that we are talking about iPads and tablets.
Are people using netbooks? Yes they are, people I know who have one, really like it.
Are they embedded into our educational institutions? No.
Have they revolutionised education as predicted in 2008? No.
Before long, lots of other companies had jumped on the bandwagon, Dell, HP, even Sony started offering a cheap netbook. Notably Apple didn’t!
In November 2008 we recorded a podcast on the impact of the Asus EeePC and other netbooks; this was at the height of their popularity.
However it wasn’t long before the honeymoon was over. Only in March I was writing about some of the issues I had had with the very small netbooks.
Though I liked the Asus EeePC the keyboard was rather too small for me and I know others found it difficult to type large amounts of text on it. The HP 2133 was well suited to those who found the smaller micro-laptops too much of a microscopic size.
It was also back then we started to see the feature creep and added functionality with newer netbooks, in the same blog post I wrote.
However no point in recommending the HP 2133 as HP have decided to withdraw that model. Their replacement, the HP 2140 has a similar form factor to the 2133, included the nice keyboard, but now has a10.1″ screen. You have to ask is it a micro-laptop or is really no longer that form factor and more a subnotebook now?
We also started to see rising prices too. But the devices were popular with learners and practitioners. At most e-learning events too they were awash with netbooks.
However here we are two years after the launch of the Asus EeePC and the netbook is effectively dead, or will be dead soon!
Rising prices and better alternatives may mean curtains for netbooks.
The small portable computers were popular in 2009, but some industry watchers are convinced that their popularity is already waning.
“The days of the netbook are over,” said Stuart Miles, founder and editor of technology blog Pocket Lint.
There are now no netbooks with 7″ screens, very few with 8.9″ screens, most are now coming with bigger screens, at least 10.1″ and sometimes larger. The original netbooks came with small flash based drives, often 2, 4 or 8 GB. This was fine for browsing or word processing, but not sufficient for video or audio. So manufacturers started putting in large traditional hard drives. HP pulled Linux from their netbooks back in February, and that was down to consumer demand, consumers wanted Windows and couldn’t handle or like the Linux OS. In my experience, though I did like Xandros, I found the SUSE on the HP netbooks difficult to use and (bizarrely) unreliable. One of the big issues with the netbook was that it was underpowered which meant it was unsuitable for internet video; as a result manufacturers started putting in more memory and more powerful chips.
The netbook as envisgaed by Asus and imitated by others, is now effectively dead. Most netbooks you buy now are effectively normal laptops, maybe a little smaller…
So what does this mean for learners and learning?
A fair few learners did buy netbooks, but many more bought traditional laptops, as they preferred the “better” user experience over the netbook. Netbooks for most users were as a second computer; learners were more likely to have a single computer and needed something more powerful. Netbooks often did not have the power to deal with media-rich learning content. However the death of the netbook means that there is not the choice that learners did have.
Or is there?
Newer technologies can result in more choice. For a lot of people I know the iPhone has replaced their netbook, and with the introduction of a large iPhone-esque Tablet device by both Apple and Microsoft in 2010 we may have a new style of netbook, a tabletnetbook!
One of the things I have always liked about the Asus EeePC is the Xandros interface.
The simple icons and easy access to the web and applications, mean that users who aren’t use to Linux can start using the EeePC without worry.
Having recently used the Suse desktop on the HP 2133 it was fine but not as simple to use as Xandros. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have the Xandros interface on devices such as the HP 2133, Samsung Q1, etc…
We have decided to deploy some Asus EeePCs in our college Libraries as short term loan computers to provide extra access to computing when we are busy and for those learners who want a smaller computer footprint when working on their learning.
One thing that learners may want to do is remove their browsing history from the EeePC to ensure that all cookies and password are removed.
This simple guide shows how to remove the browsing history from an Asus EeePC.
One of the nice things about my job and working on the MoLeNET programme is the fact that I can try out new pieces of equipment and wonder about their impact on our learners and learning.
I have written (and spoken) about the new breed of micro-laptops that surfaced last year starting wirth the Asus EeePC. Since then the number and type of micro-laptops have blossomed. So much so that the original 7″ Asus EeePC is now no longer available. Asus have improved upon their original concept and others have copied them. The Asus 901 for example has the same form factor as the first model, but now has a 8.9″ screen which does make a difference in how usable it is.
One micro-laptop which I did like was the HP 2133 which came with the bigger 8.9″ screen and importantly a 90% size keyboard. Though I liked the Asus EeePC the keybvoard was rather too small for me and I know others found it difficult to type large amounts of text on it. The HP 2133 was well suited to those who found the smaller micro-laptops too much of a microscopic size. However no point in recommending the HP 2133 as HP have decided to withdraw that model. Their replacement, the HP 2140 has a similar form factor to the 2133, included the nice keyboard, but now has a10.1″ screen. You have to ask is it a micro-laptop or is really no longer that form factor and more a subnotebook now?
One factor common to both of these was the linux operating system used instead of Windows. The Xandros on the Asus is very easy and simple to use, whilst the Suse Desktop OS used on the HP 2133 allowed more flexibiloity in installing software, not impossible on the Asus, just easier.
More recently I have been using a totallt different type of micro-laptop, the Sony VAIO P Series. In many ways this couldn’t be more different. It runs WIndows Vista. It has an 8″ (20.3cm) widescreen screen with a 1600×768 screen resolution. One aspect I do like about it is that it has a Apple’esque nearly full size keyboard which works for typiing for me. This blog entry for example was written on it.
As well as wireless and Bluetooth it also supports HDSPA. remove the battery insert your 3G SIM card and using a simple application, adjust the setrtings use the VAIO with a 3G connection without having to worry about plugging in a dongle or tethering to a phone as a modem.
It also looks like Sony have been listening to their customers and as well as a Memory Stick slot the VAIO also has a SD card slot. Considering how much use I now make of SD cards with cameras, mp3 recorders and sharing files, the SD card slot is very welcome.
The one thing which everyone comments on is the size and weight, it weighs very little and is only 24.5 by 12 cm.
Such a small device has to make compromises and the screen resolution and size means that some people may have difficulty with the Vista interface.
Battery life is pretty good and you can purchase an extended battery which will last twice as long. I am currently getting about 2 hours out of the standard battery.
So why wouldn’t everyone get one?
Well the price of course!
The VAIO UX1XN UMPC which came out in 2007 cost nerly £2000. The TX series of micro-laptops from Sony cost about £1400.
The P series is about £850 though you can spend more and get the model with the SSD drive. So for the price of one P series you could get three Auss EeePCs.
Last week Apple released a new version of their Mac Pro with the eight core model available from £2,499 which if you add a few options as I did can be as expensive as £8,259!!! This would be one fast machine, with 16GB of RAM, 4TB of raw storage and two 30″ screens!
So if you were going to buy one what would you use it for? Such a beasty would be perfect for graphic manipulation, video editing, video encoding.
How often do you do that?
Not that often?
Wouldn’t an iMac be a better choice? You can get a 20″ iMac for £949.
Do you do any video or audio editing? Do you manipulate images much on your computer?
What do you use your computer for?
A bit of word processing, checking e-mail, Twitter, Facebook and Jaiku…
A simple netbook would probably be the answer, spending £199 rather than £8000!
Of course I am not alone thinking like this, Wired has a wonderful article on the rise of the netbook.
The Wired article reminds us:
When Asustek launched the Eee PC in fall 2007, it sold out the entire 350,000-unit inventory in a few months. Eee PCs weren’t bought by people in poor countries but by middle-class consumers in western Europe and the US, people who wanted a second laptop to carry in a handbag for peeking at YouTube or Facebook wherever they were. Soon the major PC brands—Dell, HP, Lenovo—were scrambling to catch up.
The article goes on…
Most of the time, we do almost nothing. Our most common tasks—email, Web surfing, watching streamed videos—require very little processing power. Only a few people, like graphic designers and hardcore gamers, actually need heavy-duty hardware.
At the end of the day most of us, most of our learners do not need a powerful computer, we need something that allows us to do word processing (or blogging), e-mail, social networking, watching a web video, and general web surfing.
Though I suspect most e-learning people have a netbook as their second (or third) computer.
Thanks to Andy Black for blogging about the Wired article.
Last November we recorded a podcast on the impact of the Asus EeePC and other netbooks and you might want to listen to that.
Though the battery life was slammed by many the operating system was praised as very innovative.
It would appear that Android was not just developed for mobile phones according to Venture Beat, who have installed Android on an Asus EeePC.
The image above shows a netbook Asus EEEPC 1000H running on Google’s mobile operating system Android. Huh? You thought Android was for mobile phones, right? Well, as we’ve written before, Google is planning to use Android for any device — not just the mobile phones.
The article shows how the development team installed and could run Android on the EeePC and speculate that we will see Google Netbooks running Android in 2010!
This is a list of technologies which I have used extensively over the last twelve months. The reason for the list was partly down to the lists Steve Wheeler has been posting on his blog, and a prompt from him on Twitter. This is not an exact copy of Steve’s format I have also worked on a list of web tools as well. I do quite like this format which gives an opportunity to review and share the tools which have made a difference to the way I work and have enhanced what I do.
Here are my top ten technologies in reverse order.
So it’s not the best selling portable gaming machine of 2008, that goes to the Ninetendo DS, and yes the text entry is awful. However from an e-learning perspective, the most successful device I have demonstrated, used, and also used by learners has to be the PlayStation Portable, the PSP. Unlike the iPod touch, the PSP does not require iTunes and can be connected to a PC via a simple USB cable. With extras you can use Skype, record video and audio, and use GPS. The PSP also has built in speakers which means you don’t always have to use headphones. However it comes with no onboard storage, so you will also need to buy a Memory Stick Duo for it. The wireless browser is okay, but nowhere near the level of usability or sophistication of the iPod touch browser. If you do have a PSP or get a PSP, make sure you get the camera. The camera which as digital cameras go is pretty poor quality at 1.3MP and a poor lens, does capture images and video. The key why it works (and works well with learners) is that reviewing the images and video is easy on the big screen (well for a mobile device) and certainly much easier than small pocket digital cameras.
9. Asus EeePC
It was announced in 2007, but didn’t really start shipping until 2008. I got an early 2GB model and was impressed as were lots of other people. We did go out and buy a bundle of 4GB models with webcams and were impressed even more. Yes the screen is small at 7″, the keyboard is small, the onboard storage is small, the battery life is low. However the smallness is one of the EeePC’s strengths and the price, well you couldn’t grumble about the price. For the price you get a machine which is entirely suitable for surfing the web, e-mail and the odd bit of creating documents, presentations, audio and video recordings. Probably the biggest impact of the Asus EeePC has been on the market and we have seen every major manufacturer jump on the bandwagon and produce their own versions. Some are bigger, most are more expensive, but the market now has a wide choice of small netbooks (as we are calling them) to choose from.
8. iMovie ’08
I didn’t like iMovie ’08 when it first came out in July 2007, so much so that I didn’t go out and buy iLife ’08 for my home Macs. At work when I got my new 24″ iMac it came with iMovie ’08 so I asked for iMovie HD ’06 to also be installed. However due to using some HD cameras (see below) I was “forced” to use iMovie ’08. The more I used iMovie ’08 the more I grew to like it. I like it so much now that it is my movie editor of choice. It does take some getting use to, and the desktop layout is totally different to the ’06 version. Once you get pass that (and on the basis you don’t need special effects) iMovie ’08 is a very sophisticated program which allows me to create quite complex videos, such as this one I created for the JISC Online Conference.
7. Sony HDR-SR8
So you want to shoot HD footage? To be honest there are a plethora of HD video cameras out there at a range of prices. This is at the high end of the consumer market, though you do get a lot of features. Key ones for me are, a decent lens, full 1080i resolution, a 100GB on board hard drive, and I also had a selection of microphones as well. I used it a lot for taking video this year and very pleased with the end results. Easy to import the video into iMovie ’08, edit and export.
This bloopers tape from the JISC Online Conference uses a lot of footage take by the HDR-SR8.
The HDR-SR8 is also quite good at taking still photographs too. The SR8 model is now no longer available, but other Sony HDR Cameras are.
6. Panasonic HDC-SD5
There are two HD cameras on my list, the Panasonic HDC-SD5 is cheaper than the Sony HDR-SR8, it does not have the capability for external microphones and only has an SD slot for capturing video and images. However it is a lot lighter and smaller than the HDR-SR8 and this was it’s main strength, I could drop it in my pocket and then be able to take footage very quickly and easily. As the footage was on an SD card, cards could be swapped over, so as footage was imported and edited, the camera with another card could be used to shoot new footage – a real asset in a college with limited resources. The classic ALT-C videos I did, the Digital Divide Slam and the Dinner video were both recorded using the HDC-SD5 and I was impressed with the quality of the footage and even the audio capture on the Slam video.
Like most HD cameras, it has been replaced by a newer model, the Panasonic HDC-SD9 but you can still buy the SD5 if you want.
5. Edirol R09
So my phone can record audio, as can my PDA; however when it comes to recording audio quickly and easily but at a quality that is good enough to listen to, the Edirol R-09 is for a me a must have device. Recording as either WAV or MP3 direct to an SD card, the audio quality is excellent. Very easy after recording to connect a USB cable and copy the recordings over to edit in Audacity or Garageband. It is very portable and the fact it uses AA batteries means if they run out, they are easy to replace. Main downside is cost, but in this case I do believe it is very much you get what you pay for.
4. 3G USB Stick
I have been using 3G for years, but my Vodafone 3G USB Stick has been fantastic this year. In metropolitan areas I have been getting very fast download speeds, almost as much as the advertised 7.2Mbps! When there is no wifi, or the wifi is patchy, or the wifi costs too much, the 3G has provided access to the internet quickly and easily. It works well across most of the country (well where I have travelled to) and has enabled me to stay in touch via the web and e-mail.
A simple idea which just works. Basically it turns my Nokia N95 into a wireless hotspot, allowing me to connect multiple wireless devices to my phone’s 3G internet connection. I start JoikuSpot and once started I can then join the wireless and surf the internet. Usually I am using my iPod touch or my MacBook Pro. The Light version only really does internet, it doesn’t allow e-mail or https for example, whereas the Premium version does; this is the reason I upgraded to the Premium version and very pleased I am with it. The main downside is the impact it has on the battery life on the Nokia N95, down to less than four hours, often less!
2. iPod touch
So it’s not an iPhone, but the iPod touch can pretty well do a lot of what the iPhone can do. It is cheaper and there is no monthly charge. Yes there is not SMS, no phone capability, no GPS, no camera and no 3G; however pretty much it can do everything else an iPhone can do. Of all the mobile devices I have used (and as you might expect I have used a lot) the iPod touch has provided for me, through its wifi connection, the best mobile browsing experience. Whereas on the Nokia N95 I will use the browser to find traffic or train information, on the iPod touch I will use the browser to browse the web and browse for some time. It makes browsing on a mobile device not only a usable experience but a pleasurable experience. The screen on the iPod touch is really nice and as a result video looks great. The touch interface is the best I have ever used, very intuitive and easy to pick up, oh and it works. You will need to consider that the touch interface does mean the screen gets grubby pretty quickly and the included cloth will need to be used on a regular basis. Another key advantage for me is the wealth of applications available and there are some really good ones out there. I have found that I am using the ones which interact with Web 2.0 services the most such as Evernote, Twitterfon and Facebook. One feature which works really for me is the ActivSync integration with Exchange, this means for work e-mail and calendars I can access them anywhere with a wifi connection. As it is a live connection, there is no need to sync and that is what sets the device apart from Windows PDAs I have used in the past. I do find typing on the iPod touch very simple and much nicer than using a phone keypad, but I know for some it’s not their cup of tea. Overall I really like the iPod touch, it exceeded my expectations, I use it on a daily basis and I can’t even really imagine what the next generation version will be like.
1. Nokia N95
My number one device for 2008 is the Nokia N95 8GB
mobile phone. For me the Nokia N95 is much more than a phone, it is a device which allows me to create upload and connect. Like the iPod touch I use it on a daily basis, though to be honest rarely as a phone or for SMS. The 5MP camera has an excellent lens and can be used to take some nice photographs. I use Shozu to automatically upload my photographs to Flickr or Facebook over the phone’s 3G connection or if in the right place over wifi. The phone also takes some nice video as well and I can use Shozu to upload that as well automatically. The Nokia N95 does come with a web browser, which is usable, but nowhere near as nice as Safari on the iPod touch. However all is not lost, using JokiuSpot (see above) I can turn the N95 into a wifi hotspot and use the N95’s 3G connection and the iPod touch for browsing, job done. Video works well on the N95 and simple MP4 files work well, though the screen is small, the phone comes with a composite video cable which allows you to show what is on the phone on a video screen or through a projector. The onboard speaker is okay, though the one on the Nokia smaller N73 seems louder! The s60 operating system does allow you to install third party applications and I do like the Jaiku application over the mobile Jaiku interface and there is also an s60 Twitter application too. Qik on the N95 turns it into a broadcast device, Qik is a service which allows you to stream live video from your phone to the internet and it can be very effective. I also use the phone to read QR codes which it does quite well. The N95 also has built in GPS and though routing software is extra, for checking where you are using Nokia Maps the phone works great. I also like how Shozu geo-tags the photographs I upload to Flickr too. It’s not all perfect, the device is very chunky and very thick, if you like thin phones, then you won’t like the N95. I am not a great fan of the keypad, but it’s better than some I have used, and to be honest I don’t like phone keypads anyhow!
Overall though, on the basis of how I use the N95, how often I use the N95 and how annoyed I get when it runs out of battery, the Nokia N95 is my number one technology of 2008.
Ars Technica reports on how the sales of small netbooks (like the Asus EeePC) are larger than the iPhone.
It appears as if netbooks are now “more popular” than the iPhone, according to data from Gartner and Display Search. This is not hugely surprising news because netbooks are cheap and handy, while iPhones remain a niche (albeit popular) item. According to the data, 5.6 million netbooks were shipped during the third quarter of 2008, which reflects a nice public interest in the item (compared to 4.7 million iPhones in the same quarter), but we’re not exactly talking overwhelming sales numbers. Rather, it’s a nice, steady market.
Not sure why they are comparing two very different products, but they are!
Key thing to remember is that a year ago, we didn’t have netbooks! The Asus EeePC had been announced, but wasn’t generally available and no other laptop manufacturer was going down that road.
The iPhone was only available on EDGE and lacked applications, now we have 3G and 10,000 applications to choose from.
Makes you wonder what is going to happen over the next twelve months.
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