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Netbooks or laptops?

Recently there have been several people asking about the pros and cons of netbooks compared to laptops on the Hampshire ICT co-ordinators mailing list. Individual opinions on this vary and there is unlikely to be a right or wrong answer. Like anything it is mostly about deciding what is best for your learners at any given time. I shared my opinions on this topic on the list and was then encouraged to share them through this forum, which I have done below.

I have had netbook size machines as my personal computers for over 7 years (until recently these were very expensive machines as they were non standard size - Sony Vaio, a great JVC that was netbook size but also managed to pack in a CD drive which sadly they no longer market an equivalent of in the UK and more recently a great little Samsung NC10 which I really rate.

The good thing about all my mini notebooks is they had equivalent processing power and storage to the larger machines available at the time. This is key if you intend to run lots of educational software on them rather than just using them to access your learning platform and other Internet resources. My batteries have always lasted all day (in the past this usually meant paying more for the bigger battery but many come now with a reasonable battery as standard - battery life is a key consideration for school use).

I love the portability of a netbook (they fit in a large handbag and carrying them round does less damage to your back than a giant laptop - a key consideration when you are getting on like me). This also means they are easier for the children to carry. I have always got on well with the smaller keyboard and mouse. However some adults find this a barrier. In my class we have a touch screen netbook we are trialling and a netbook used by a child with SEN. My year 2 children seem quite happy swapping between the two.

There are some issues to be aware of. One of the main issues is that some software simply won't run properly on a computer with the screen resolution of a netbook. For example I found I couldn't run I Can Animate on the netbook the other day. Some of the key buttons were off the bottom of the screen and there was no scroll bar making it fairly unusable. Admittedly I didn't spend hours calling the company and seeing if there is any work around or adjustments I can make. The point is there may well be pieces of software that you have issues with. There are also several websites that don't work brilliantly on a smaller screen resolution. The great iboard site works fine for the children but as a teacher setting up links to it etc the download thumbnail button is off the bottom of my screen and inaccessible on my netbook.

All this is unlikely to be a problem if they are additional machines, there to extend and support things you are doing on desktops or full sized laptops but if they are to be your only computers it may be worth inquiring whether the key pieces of software you rely on to facilitate children's learning are compatible with smaller screens.

One last point, my father is a programmer and he was using mini notebook computers long before me. Both of us experienced issues with netbook sized machine overheating and then failing completely as their cooling systems were less developed than their larger equivalents. This issue may be something that has been rectified in the newer generation netbooks but as it is something that significantly shortened the life of 4 machines (just under half of the netbook sized machines we had between us) over the years. I felt this was worth mentioning as something that may or may not be found to be an issue in the long term given the heavy use computers get in schools.