Kids Are Tougher than Military on Laptops

Today we’re sitting down with Sam Morris, Lenovo’s education expert, and Jarrett York, North American product manager for the new ThinkPad X130e, to talk about the laptop and how its design has been heavily influenced by Lenovo’s broad experience in education.

Lenovo Files: Can you describe the motivators in focusing so much energy and resources on developing this new product?

Sam: As more and more schools are deploying PCs to students, it’s clear the day-to-day activities for students are vastly different than those of the mobile workforce. This has led to many situations where the wear and tear on the laptops has resulted in an overload of repairs and replacements, and as a result decreased learning outcomes and operational efficiencies.

LF: How did you assess the impact of the wear and tear?

Sam: In addition to industry metrics about repair rates, we also examined our internal data for service and warranty claims. We found that laptops in education were four times more likely to need service than the laptops deployed with our military. In addition, through our advisory councils and our annual ThinkTank conference, we surveyed our education customers about the importance of “ruggedness.” The responses indicated that this was universally critical.

LF: Can you elaborate more on the work you did to ensure that the X130e met the needs of education?

Jarrett: We’ve analyzed the warranty and service claims over the past four years to identify the most common issues for education customers. We also conducted extensive marketing research and facilitated numerous focus groups for feedback and ideas. The data, as Sam mentioned, indicated that laptops used in education, especially K-12, had four times the warranty and service claims than any of our business and military customers.  In response, we went to our engineering team and improved upon our “Eight Military Specifications Test” by adding extra ruggedness around these common claims issues.

LF: Can you share some of those specific differences?

Jarrett: Kids are always on the move and generally fascinated with things that open and close.  Excessive and rough use of hinges from frequently opening and closing laptops can accelerate wear and tear, so we tested and strengthened our hinges by rating them at a 30,000 cycle hinge life. While children are constantly in motion, like when packing up in between classes, it’s inevitable that they will drop their laptops. Hard drops can cause a lot of damage to spinning hard drives, especially when they’re in the process of saving data. That’s why we have our Active Protection System that acts as an airbag for the hard drive, automatically detecting the difference between a damaging bump/drop and normal day-to-day movement.

Sam: It’s important to understand how the education world is different and why these changes are important. For example, as Jarrett mentioned with the hinges, the reality is that kids move around much more during the day.  Every 45 minutes, they need to pack up their stuff and change classes. Before school and after school, there are even more events, so it’s not surprising that students will have more repairs in areas where mobility increases the wear and tear.

LF: I wonder though - aren’t kids just harder on the machines because of carelessness or neglect?  Are there some other enhancements that are not specifically related to “normal” activities?

Jarrett: We know children like to experiment and “see what happens.”  They’re curious because that’s how they learn.  Kids like to be hands-on and unfortunately their innocent curiosity can sometimes be interpreted as carelessness and neglect, especially when it comes to laptops.  Some of the most common service and warranty claim issues include pens and pencils being pushed into ports and twisted, breaking and damaging internal connections and wires. In response to these claims, we’ve recessed all the ports to make it harder to place foreign objects in them while strengthening each port to help prevent wire and connection breaks in the case foreign objects are still placed in them.  We also put a rubber bumper around the edges of the top cover to absorb shocks, as most of the time when laptops are dropped, they fall on the corners and edges first.  We have also strengthened the top bezel by thickening the plastic by 1.2mm and making it a dome lid to better protect the LED panel.  This means that if children put the weight on or place heavy objects on the top of the lid, it’s less likely to damage or crack the LCD panel.

LF: With all these improvements to the ruggedness, did you need to make sacrifices in the performance or capabilities of the X130e?

Jarrett: No, we haven’t sacrificed the performance or capabilities by ruggedizing it.  We’ve actually increased its performance and capabilities.  As we have successfully moved from X100e, X120e on into our latest X130e, we’ve increased battery life, processor speed and performance, and multi-media functionality and connectivity. For the first time, consumers have a choice of Intel and AMD in an 11.6” offering.  We have upgraded the webcam from 0.3 megapixels to a 720p HD low light sensitive webcam and have HDMI and VGA outputs with more hard drive options, that include 320GB HDD, 500GB HDD, and 128GB SSD.  X130e is not a netbook; it’s a full-powered, full-function and full-size laptop.  Most other 11.6” laptops do not have a 100% full size keyboard. The X130e does.

Sam: It’s important for people to understand that education now has significant demands for the computing power.  Students are creating videos, working with large sets of data, and other high performance tasks.  Netbooks just aren’t sufficient for their needs.  The technology should not be slowing them down; it should be lifting them up.

LF:  Now, because this product has been so heavily influenced by education, is it an education only model?

Jarrett: No, certainly not.  We think this device is an excellent solution for many users out there.  We know it’s already appealing to fire and police and many industries where there is a need for more ruggedness in a small form factor, as well as extremely mobile professionals in specialized fields.