Zoostorm's Fizzbook netbook has Chris Drage in a spin
When is a netbook not a netbook? Answer: When it’s a Fizzbook Spin. No, not a Christmas cracker joke but a comment on a seriously good touch-tablet PC from Steljes which doubles as a netbook, touch-tablet and an e-reader. And it's on the shortlist for the 2012 Digital Device category of the BETT Awards.
Offering perhaps the best of all worlds for primary pupils, the Fizzbook Spin can be used in tablet mode where pupils use their fingers or a stylus for the touch-screen, or in traditional netbook mode where they type and use the touch-pad as they would with any netbook. So how does the Fizzbook Spin shape up?
Essentially, a netbook PC is a Windows 7-based mini-laptop designed for mobility, with cabled and wifi network access and general applications. There are compromises: there’s no optical drive and the keyboard tends to be smaller than those on standard laptops. However, to compensate, most sport several USB ports, an SD card slot, built-in webcam, integrated speakers and headphone and microphone sockets. Above all, the educational netbook has to be robust, and have sufficient battery life to sustain activity over a school day. Weighing less than 2 kilos and with a 10.1-inch screen, the netbook is an obvious solution for classroom use.
'Rugged netbook that has obviously been designed with children in mind'
Why the "Spin"? When opened like a traditional netbook, the Fizzbook’s screen swivels 180 degrees and folds down on to the keyboard creating a (rather thick) tablet. However, what is more immediately apparent is that here’s a very durable, rugged netbook that has obviously been designed with children in mind. It sports a neat built-in carrying handle which combined with its compact 241mm (L) x 215mm (W) x 39mm (H) vital statistics and weighing in at just 1.64 kilos makes the Fizzbook Spin very mobile both inside and outside the classroom.
Drop tested to 50cm and possessing a rubberised case and splash-proof keyboard and touch-screen, this is one netbook that is going to survive the rigours of today’s classrooms. A particularly nice touch is the fact that it can be locked down for use only within range of your school’s wireless network. These features alone could persuade me to purchase a set for my school as longevity is virtually assured in this investment.
The Fizzbook Spin school offering that I checked out has been organised by Steljes and comes with a suite of SMART software to support collaborative class work with SMART interactive whiteboards. Stejes has long experience with SMART technology, so for schools using SMART Boards this is an additional attractive factor.
So what do you get in the most basic model? The basic system (£360 ex-VAT) has a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 processor with 1GB of memory and a 160GB hard drive. It comes with standard connectivity: wireless 802.11b.g.n, two USB ports, digital display output, SD memory card slot and an Ethernet port for cabled networking. Three standard audio ports are provided but neither Bluetooth connectivity nor any optical drive is included. I particularly like the rotatable 1.3 megapixel webcam mounted above the screen allowing both forward and behind views.
The operating system is Windows 7 Starter (this needs upgrading to "Pro" for networking). The stated battery life is four hours per single charge. In reality this is closer to three hours in normal classroom use. However, this can be extended by choosing the optional 6-cell battery.
The software bundled with the machine is really comprehensive: Microsoft Office Starter 2010; SMART Classroom Suite 2009; Microsoft Live Essentials; Acrobat Reader 9; Microsoft Security Essentials; Arcsoft WebCam Companion 3; MyScript Studio Notes; ArtRage 2; Foxit E-Reader; Quick Controller; Blue Dolphin; MyScript Stylus 3.2; System Recovery Tool.
In addition, this Fizzbook Spin includes the SMART Classroom Suite software which combines four of SMART's software products to enhance the overall digital learning environment: SMART Notebook (SMART Board interactive content creation software for teachers); SMART Notebook SE (a version for pupils); SMART Sync classroom management software (teachers can monitor, guide and control pupils' machines from their own computer, with internet and application control, file transfer etc); SMART Response CE (a version of the SMART Response interactive response system designed specifically for use on computers, including the same reporting and assessment tools as SMART Response).
Fizzbook Spins in action – engagement and enjoyment
The Fizzbook Spin is the only netbook which comes pre-loaded with SMART Classroom Suite, the advantages of which I saw for myself in late 2010 when, as a visitor to St Matthew Academy (for 3 to 16-year-olds) in Blackheath, London, I witnessed how easy it was for a teacher to work with a group of 20 or so visiting nine-year-olds with a lesson driven by the SMART interactive whiteboard and utilising the SMART Classroom Suite.
The slick and responsive manner with which the teacher was able to control the pupils’ machines was impressive. From his networked teacher Fizzbook, he could monitor and support children’s work, turn off their screens when necessary, demonstrate something on their individual screens as a group and share a particular pupil’s screen with the whole group and distribute and collect files: total management and control. Most important, the children were obviously enjoying using their Fizzbook Spins during the lesson.
There are a number of other features included which really demonstrate that the Fizzbook Spin has been designed with children in mind. For instance, when used in the tablet mode, the Fizzbook’s screen orientation recognises the user’s movements in a similar way to smartphone software. This is useful as it allows the user to flip the netbook while the image on the screen remains the right way up. Again, the touch-screen ignores the hands resting on the screen, allowing pupils to write and draw quite naturally with the stylus.
The screen rotation is smooth and feels more than robust enough to withstand sustained use by youngsters. The rotatable webcam offers more options for creativity than a static camera could ever provide.
The bundled software too is geared to young, inexperienced users: teachers will only begin to see the full advantages of Blue Dolphin when it is used in combination with the touch-screen in tablet mode. It presents the child with a selection of (teacher-provided) icons for applications and locations, all available with the touch (no tapping required) of a finger. It’s intuitive and offers quick navigation of frequently used applications and files. This ‘quick launch’ software can be made a start-up application, so it would be the first thing children see on screen after log-in and, potentially, should speed up access and prevent many errors.
The Fizzbook Spin is not a new product. It started life as the Intel Classmate II in 2009 but has since evolved into the Fizzbook Spin reviewed here. So have the schools which have invested in them found them to be a success?
'Took a lot of accidental knocks but are very robust'
David Vernon, of the Broadgreen Primary School leadership team, says: “We had 80 devices to start with and they’ve been a huge success. As you’d expect, the Fizzbook Spins took a lot of accidental knocks but are very robust. Colleagues in other schools who have standard laptops or notebooks complain that they’re always getting damaged.
"All the children’s Fizzbook Spins are connected to the teachers' laptops, so they can monitor what the children are doing and deliver personalised lessons. But more important, it means that they can also set up chats, and broadcast the children’s work on the SMART Board. It also lets the children submit their work electronically, and the teacher can save and record it centrally on their laptops.”
“The Fizzbook Spins have given us much more flexibility,” says Shaukat Ali, teacher and ICT co-ordinator at Warley Road Primary School. “We can use them any time we want and embed them in lessons. Before, most activities tended to be teacher-led – but now it’s often the children who are taking the lead in learning. Give them a Fizzbook Spin and they will be more motivated and creative because they don’t see it as work!”
Natalie Muia teacher, ICT co-ordinator at Bewsey Lodge Primary School concurs: “Like any children, the more they’re actively involved in learning, the keener they’ll be to find out things for themselves. The Fizzbook Spins really help to promote their enthusiasm for sharing information and ideas.”
The Fizzbook Spin has been built specifically for education, being designed for and approved by the toughest critics – teachers and students – and it certainly ticks all the boxes. It’s the first fully functioning, educational mini-tablet PC for 6 to 14-year-olds. It was conceived through first-hand research in actual classrooms and offers a truly versatile device for mobile and one-to-one learning. Without any doubt it is a more durable netbook/tablet than others purporting to be ideal for school use.
As long as an effective wireless infrastructure is in place in the school, its bundled SMART Classroom Suite management software can enable pupils and the teacher to share files, programs and activities, resulting in more interactive lessons. Although the battery life may be an area of concern for schools, this issue could be addressed with an appropriate charging solution like moving between classes within a portable secure charging trolley.
The Fizzbook Spin’s education focus and durable design means it is ideally suited as a personal device on a one-per-pupil basis. Thoroughly recommended.
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 5
Ease of use 5
Value for money 5
Fizzbook Spin 10.1
Netbook designed for schoolchildren and produced by Zoostorm Computers. This implementation for schools comes from Steljes Ltd and includes a software suite designed to support use with SMART interactive whiteboards.
Prices for Fizzbook Spin 10.1 with Windows 7 starter: with 1-year return-to-base warranty, £360; with 2-year CAR (collect and return) warranty £385; with 3-year CAR, £415.
Prices for Fizzbook Spin 10.1 with Windows 7 Professional: with 1-year return-to-base, £429; with 2-year CAR, £464; with 3-year CAR £495.
You can find Steljes on the SMART Technologies stand at BETT 2012