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Kno Tablet Hands-On Plus Student Ambassador Program

by Sean P. Aune | January 23, 2011January 23, 2011 9:00 am PDT

The Kno Tablet has been one of the most talked about tablets in some circles due to its focus on academia, but does it live up to the hype?

The Kno Tablet gets talked about a lot by those who are aware of it, but it doesn’t have the consumer awareness of say the iPad or even the XOOM.  What it does have is students and their parents buzzing because it is directed at them, and could potentially end up saving them money.

During CES I had a chance to sit down with Kno’s vice president of products David Strause to talk about the Kno and spend a little time with the device myself.  I was highly interested as I have been following this product for some time now, and I wanted to see if it lived up to my expectations.  In short, “yes and no”.  (in addition, all of my opinions are based on the two-panel version, while he had a single panel with him, I was much more interested in the more expensive one.)

Let me say first that the tablet itself is very utilitarian in its design.  There are no fancy curves or shiny surfaces, it is black with a small blue “Kno” logo on its cover.  And that’s about it for exterior design, but this isn’t built for showing off, it’s built for work.  Weighing in at 5.5 lbs, the two-panel version sports dual 14.1-inch screens that come as close to replicating a text book as you can imagine.  The pages “flip” easily, and one of the biggest advantages over a print counterpart is that you can “break” the virtual binding and lock the right hand screen on say an end of the chapter review quiz, and flip back through the pages in the left to find the portion you need.

While carrying around what amounts to two tablets sounds like it could be cumbersome, thanks to the soft hinge you can fold the tablet back on itself and make it into a single panel while you walk around with it.  Although you will still be dealing with one 14.1-inch work area and 5.5 lbs of tech, but at least it won’t be like trying to carry around an open book.

In my time of holding the device, it does feel heavy compared to what you’re used to with devices such as the iPad, but it’s not annoyingly so.  It definitely feels solid, and with the tablet closed it feels like it could easily survive banging around in a backpack or shoulder bag through out the day.

One of the big selling points to the Kno is that you should feasibly recoup your expenses for it ($599 for single panel, $899 for the dual) within three to four semesters in how much you save on textbooks.  The company has signed deals with all of the major text book publishers, and they are selling digital copies of their works for 30 to 50 percent off the hardcover price.  The one downside is that you get no used book sale opportunity at the end of the semester, but to anyone who’s been to college can ell you, that isn’t ever what it’s cracked up to be.

While overall I loved the device, there were two definite areas where I think it has some hurdles to overcome: The stylus and a lack of font resizing.  One of my very first questions to Mr. Strause was about the stylus, and he said that using your finger just wouldn’t give you the same handwriting abilities.  He demonstrated by quickly jotting words on the screen, and I have to say it did look just as good as pen on paper in its accuracy.  (I also wrote on the screen, and my atrocious handwriting was reproduced perfectly)  As for the lack of a font resizing ability, he said that the company does plan to eventually add a zoom feature, but for now it would mean every textbook being reworked so they resized properly was just not a possibility for now.

As to the future of the Kno, It’s currently running on a Linux kernel, and the company does plan to eventually launch an SDK (software development kit) for people to develop new apps.  During the initial development of the current apps, they treated their developers almost like third-parties, and they essentially used an SDK, they just aren’t ready for wide release as of yet.

Currently the company is running 20 pilot programs to see how students take to the project, and just this week they launched a Student Ambassador program to help more people spread the word about the product.  And that is where this tablet is going to have it’s biggest fight.  While the stylus and price will appear to be hurdles, getting its name out amongst a sea of tablets is going to be a huge obstacle to overcome.  Since this is so student focused, they are going to have to make sure that these very customers have some sort of incentive to tell all of their friends about the wonders of the device.  This is definitely one time where just running ads isn’t going to help much.

Overall I walked away from the meeting still very interested in the device, and I can’t wait to test one out for an extended period.  I think it has a heck of a lot of potential, but its going to take wide adoption for it to live up to it.

I’ve posted some pictures I took myself below, and I would love to hear your thoughts on the concept of this particular device.


Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...

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