2Go Convertible NL4 Classmate PC review

The 2go Convertible NL4 Classmate PC is a good laptop if you need its specific mix of educational features.
Photo of 2Go Convertible NL4 Classmate PC

If you need a laptop for your child in grades K-8, the 2go Convertible NL4 Classmate PC might be just the thing for you. One of the last holdouts for the nearly defunct netbook category, which has largely been replaced by inexpensive laptop tablet hybrids and Web-centric Chromebooks, the elementary and middle school classroom is one of the few places where the middling performance and smaller size of a 10-inch netbook poses no problem. The NL4 Classmate PC is also made to withstand the unique rigors that only small children can provide, while also offering an array of educational features you won’t find anywhere else.

Design
The Classmate NL4 is built for the classroom, an environment filled with unique demands and challenges. This small convertible laptop is made for children, for use in the classroom, out on a field trip, and after school for homework. Accordingly, the design is kid-friendly, with a keyboard that is slightly smaller than full-size, but just right for smaller hands. The NL4 is also ruggedized, with a scratch-resistant touch screen, a spill resistant keyboard, and optional anti-microbial protection, with a plastic chassis that can be wiped down without worry.

The NL4 has a convertible design, with a rotating touch screen that can be used in either laptop or tablet mode. The chunky plastic exterior has a textured finish for easier gripping, and a built in handle on the back side for easy carrying. The capacitive touch screen can be used with either fingers or a stylus, and the included stylus can be tethered to the laptop and stowed in a built in storage slot, making it far less likely that the stylus will be lost, misplaced, or otherwise disappear.

The 10.1-inch capacitive touchscreen—an upgrade from the resistive touch screen found on the previous 2go Convertible NL3 Classmate PC—which offers a standard 1,366-by-768 resolution, and can track up to five touch inputs at once. The speakers are middling at best, with no bass (The Knife’s Silent Shout lost its bass-heavy intro entirely) and quiet but buzzy speakers.

On the left edge of the rotating display or three physical buttons: Rotation Lock, and Volume Up and Down. On the front of the display, on the lower bezel, is a Power Button and a Windows Button, both protected behind a layer of flexible plastic.

Measuring 1.7 by 10.6 by 8.5 inches (HWD) and weighing 3.6 pounds, the NL4 Classmate PC is quite portable, but it’s on the chunky side. A built-in handle makes it easy to tote along, and the ruggedized kid-proof design also means you can throw it in a book bag without worry.

The keyboard, with its kid-sized chiclet keys, is actually one of the most disappointing aspects of the device. In testing, the keyboard frequently failed to register deliberate keystrokes, and the individual keys require a fair amount of force while typing. The result is a keyboard that may frustrate students who type quickly, and may actually hinder students just learning to type.

Features
Built in to the bezel above the screen is built in webcam, but this is far more than your standard camera for Skype or the occasional selfie. The NL4 webcam offers 1 megapixel resolution and 720p video recording, and can be re-positioned, rotated for use in both laptop and tablet modes. The webcam also comes with a microscope attachment, which is sort of like a jeweler’s loupe that snaps onto a raised ridge around the webcam lens. Experimenting with the magnifier, I examined details of a business card and a dollar bill, picking out individual paper fibers in the card stock, and inspecting the fine details of Washington’s portrait.

Tools like Intel Education’s Lab Camera app use the webcam to great benefit, with a variety of functions offered for budding scientists, such as time lapse, and microscope modes, a universal logger which reads, interprets and records the gauges and readouts of all kinds of analog lab equipment, a motion activated camera mode for capturing a specific moment, and a pathfinder mode, which tracks an objects course of motion over time, and kinematics, which not only track objects, but can then plot the course of motion and graph out the speed and other relevant data.

Another accessory, a thermal probe, lets you use the small laptop to gather data about temperature, be it outdoor weather conditions or the temperature of an object as it heats up or cools down. The thermal probe plugs into the microphone jack, and data can be recorded and examined in SPARKvue and SPARK Experiments.

In addition to the microphone jack and webcam mentioned above, the NL4 Classmate PC is equipped with two USB 2.0 ports, VGA and HDMI video outputs, an SD card slot, and not one, but two headphone jacks. An Ethernet port is available for wired networking, but you’ll probably make more use of the 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity and Bluetooth 4.0. Designed as part of Intel’s education program, the NL4 Classmate PC is outfitted with Trusted Platform Module (TPM 1.2) and is made to integrate with Intel’s Classroom Management software.

The NL4 Classmate PC came outfitted with a 64GB solid-state drive, which offers enough space for the preinstalled copy of Windows 8 and a handful of apps, but only leaves a few gigabytes of storage space for actual local storage.

Among the installed apps on the NL4 Classmate PC are Intel Education Lab Camera and Spark Experiments, which were mentioned above, along with Kno Textbook ereader, and drawing app ArtRage Studio 3. The laptop is protected with a complimentary five-year subscription of the Intel Learning Series Edition of McAfee Anti-Virus Plus, and 2go PC covers the NL4 Classmate with a one-year warranty on parts and labor.

Performance

The Classmate PC NL4 is equipped with a 1.10GHz Intel Celeron 847 processor, the same low-powered dual-core processor found in the Acer C7 Chromebook (C710-2055). Paired with 4GB of RAM, this CPU provides enough processing power for moderate Web browsing and running one or two apps at a time, but it quickly bogs down when multitasking, and the system slows noticeably in processor intensive applications. The small PC scored 2,377 points in PCMark 7, and 0.67 points in Cinebench, falling behind the Asus Transformer Book T100TA (64GB), which scored 2,485 points in PCMark 7 and 1.24 points in Cinebench.

Despite this, the Celeron 847 processor is a step up from the older Atom processor found in the previous NL3 Classmate, which scored 1,138 points in PCMark 7 and 0.51 points in Cinebench. Even with the improved performance, however, the NL4 Classmate PC isn’t well suited to more intensive applications, such as those for multimedia editing. The NL4 Classmate PC crawled through our Handbrake and Photoshop tests, completing Handbrake in 4 minutes 45 seconds and taking 15:41 to complete Photoshop.

Intel’s integrated graphics also leave something to be desired. While you’ll be able to enjoy browser based games and stream videos through sites like YouTube, that’s about it, as the NL4 Classmate PC was unable to run either 3DMark 11 or Alien vs. Predator, two of our three graphics benchmark tests. In Heaven, our third graphics test, it never produced more than three frames per second, even at low resolution and low detail settings.

Last but not least, we tested battery life. In our battery rundown test, the NL4 Classmate PC lasted 5 hours 41 minutes with the included 6-cell, 56Wh battery. While this is a far cry from the previous iteration, which lasted over nine hours, it is nearly an hour and half longer than the comparable Acer C7 Chromebook (C710-2055), which lasted 4:12 with a similar 6-cell battery. While this battery life should be enough to take a student through a full school day (assuming breaks for lunch and recess), it falls far short of the battery life offered by the two-battery solution found in the Asus Transformer Book T100TA (64GB), which lasted 11:20.

Conclusion
The 2go Convertible NL4 Classmate PC is a special blend of genuinely compelling features and purpose-built design and performance that unfortunately is held back by mediocre performance. The NL4 Classmate PC does offer a number of unique features, like sensor attachments, educational apps, and integration with classroom management software, making it an excellent purchase if your student is already in a class that will take advantage of these features. If not, or if you’re simply looking to set up a student with an inexpensive system for general use, you might be better of considering the less expensive Asus Transformer Book T100TA (64GB), our Editors’ Choice for entry-level Windows tablet hybrids, or even the Acer C7 Chromebook (C710-2055), our top pick for Chromebooks.

Specifications
Touchscreen Yes
Processor Name Intel Celeron 847
Operating System Microsoft Windows 8
Weight 3.6 lb
Graphics Card Intel HD Graphics
Screen Type Widescreen
Type Netbook
RAM 4 GB
Networking Options 802.11n
Processor Speed 1.1 GHz
Screen Size 10.1 inches
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 64 GB
Storage Type SSD

Verdict
The 2go Convertible NL4 Classmate PC is a good laptop if you need its specific mix of educational features, but isn't the best choice for everyone.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc