Intel launches new 7, 10-inch Education Tablets With Optional Sensors, Android OS

Ever since it unveiled the Classmate PC several years ago, Intel has taken an interest in providing educational technology to students in the developing and developed world. The company has just announced the next phase of its efforts -- a pair of tablets that are designed to interface with sensor packages, include educational software, and are based on Android rather than Microsoft Windows.

The two tablets have similar, though not exact, hardware specs. The 7-inch design has a 1024x600 touch screen, runs Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean), and offers 8GB of storage while the 10-inch tablet has a 1280x800 display and 16GB of RAM. Oddly, the 10-inch tablet is actually listed as running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) rather than Jelly Bean. The 10-inch tablet's screen is listed as a "Capacitive multi-touch" model with an included stylus, implying that the 7-inch model might use an older, resistive touch-screen. The integrated CPU is also different; the smaller device uses the Intel Atom Z2420 CPU (single-core Atom, Hyper-Threading enabled), while the 10-inch design has a Medfield chip at 1.6GHz (HT-enabled). Both have front and rear-facing cameras, 1GB of RAM, integrated WiFi, optional Bluetooth, and between 6.5 - 8 hours of battery life (the 7-inch tablet at the lower end, the 10-inch tablet at the higher). The 7-inch system has a GPS and eCompass as well, while the 10-inch lacks these options.

Most of these features, however, are par for the course. What's more interesting is that Intel is shipping the Education Tablets with a snap-on magnification lens for close-up viewing on objects (exactly how close isn't specified) and the tablets come with a thermal probe that plugs into a port on the tablet. Granted, that's not sufficient to turn the devices into tricorders, but it hints at interesting expandability and capability that a conventional lower-end tablet doesn't match.

Intel also ships the devices with a full set of online textbooks from Kno, drawing software ArtRage, Pasco's SPARKVue "probeware" (their term, not ours), and additional resources for students and teachers. While they aren't as spiffy as iPads are far as multimedia capability, expanded options for sensors and even the camera magnifier are potentially far more useful. Technology can be used to enhance education, but doing so takes the right kind of tool for the job. Simply throwing high-end iPads at students is unlikely to do the trick, and Intel's efforts in the education sector may be more practical for countries where Apple's products are priced out of reach.

No word on whether Intel plans to build a Windows 8 version of its education tablets, but the operating system's tablet uptake has been minimal in this space. For now, Android may be the better bet.