Samsung NC-10: just not tough enough for school

So far, we have 40 Samsung NC-10 netbooks deployed in the school; some running Vista, and some running the Windows 7 RC. They’ve all been upgraded to 2GB of RAM and are joined to the domain. They are running pretty well, but in the last week we’ve been finding some problems.

Basically, these machines are just not bloody tough enough. We’ve previously used nothing but Dell laptops, and despite our relatively well-behaved students, they do take a bit of a bashing. After only a month, the Samsungs are not faring well, and 3 are already out of action.

Casualty #1: a keyboard. The NC-10 gets a lot of press for it’s “silver nano” coated keyboard that is supposedly bacteria-resistant. It also features one of the largest key sizes of any netbook, which is an advantage. The thing with keyboards is that that, in our school at least, kids love picking the keys off. I suppose I should be thankful that it’s the only deliberate vandalism our kit suffers; many schools have to put up with worse. On our Dell machines, the keys pop right back on. On the Samsungs, the flimsy key hinges break almost immediately, so the keys can’t be refitted. That means it’s new keyboard time.

Casualty #2: one of the newer NC-10s has developed an LCD fault after only two weeks. Here’s a video of what happens:

In addition to the flicker you can see, the whole screen image shakes, but you can’t see that here due to the piss-poor camerawork of yours truly.

Casualty #3: the power button on one has become permanently depressed.  I can understand being depressed if you are stuck in a school 24-7, but the button being stuck down makes it inconvenient to use. As far as we can tell it hasn’t been bashed, as there’s no denting or scuffing. I’ve never been impressed with the power buttons on the NC-10; they just never felt solid, and now I’ve been proved right.

To Samsung’s credit, they are fixing #2 and #3 under warranty, though it means we’ll be without those machines for the best part of a week while the shipping boxes are sent to us, and we then wait for the 3-business-day repair turnaround. #1 is likely to prove expensive for us once it happens to more of them, and teachers never have the time to check the machines at the end of their lessons (most don’t even leave enough time to shut them down).

Overall, this week has left me unimpressed. Netbooks are not the toughest laptops out there, but this is a machine that is designed to be mobile and portable. It’s expected that you carry it around with a lot. Most of ours only travel between the science prep rooms and the classrooms next door, while the rest move around the site in foam-padded flight cases (of which Bond is particularly proud). That the NC-10 is not up to the challenge even for a month is frankly disappointing. I’ll be thinking very hard before buying them again.

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About The Angry Technician

The Angry Technician is an experienced IT professional in the UK education sector. Normally found in various states of annoyance on his blog. All views are those of his imaginary pet dog, Howard.

8 responses to “Samsung NC-10: just not tough enough for school”

  1. mavhc says :

    Not found the dells that easy to put keys back on, but I did find some old non dell laptops with the same key pieces.

    Anyone know who sells child proof laptops? Or at least child proof laptop keyboards.

    Any suggestions of netbooks to buy for school? Seems to me the real advantage of a netbook is the SSD, then you can treat it more like a phone, shake it about. But I’d need at least 32GBs, and that’s not that cheap yet.

    I don’t want much :-), just cheap and child proof, sane keyboard layout, as large keys as possible, and long battery life. Want to buy about 4 different models to test.

  2. Markbezza says :

    We have exactly the same problems as do all the other schools I know which use laptops.

    I’m also looking for a child proof laptop. Surely there must be a manufacturer that makes something suitable. All I want is a laptop, be it thin client, netbook or standard laptop, with a tough membrane keyboard and some kind of perspex sheet over the screen to stop them being smashed.

    Perhaps I should go buy one of the military grade laptops but I fear even these wouldn’t stand up to the effects of being used in a classroom.

  3. AngryTechnician says :

    Maybe I’ve become adept at key refitting, but the Dells always pop right back on for me, along with other manufacturers. The Samsungs were having none of it. I’ll be looking very seriously in future at the Dell L2100 that I highlighted a couple of weeks ago.

    There are some toughened laptops on the market for schools by smaller manufacturers such as the Fizzbook, though I can’t comment personally on it as I’ve never used one.

  4. AngryTechnician says :

    We’ve already had another one go wrong. This one is even worse.

  5. TheRealist says :

    Are you kidding? You have ONE machine faulty out of a batch of 40, which is being repaired under warranty, and machines damaged by cack-handed kids that aren’t controlled properly and don’t know how to look after machines, and you moan that this is somehow Samsung’s fault?

    • AngryTechnician says :

      Two machines now, actually (see the comment immediately above yours); three if you include the power button which broke under normal use. My point is that our Dell machines suffer the same levels of use/misuse and don’t break even nearly this often. One of the Samsung’s packed up 10 minutes after we got it out of the box. That is most definitely Samsung’s fault.

  6. TheRealist says :

    Yes it is, but they’re repairing it, right? Which is all you can ask, really. You’ll get faulty equipment with any kind of electronic equipment, it’s what the suppliers do in those instances that really counts, and in my experience I would much, much rather deal with a Samsung repair than a Dell one.

    It’s not Samsung’s fault, however, that the kids are picking off keys and jamming power buttons in (and they do, because I’ve had to deal with it too), and I think it’s unfair to imply that it is. If you wanted childproof machines, then simply put, you made the wrong choice with netbooks – and that’s not just Samsung netbooks, but netbooks of any kind – they’re just too small and fragile for that kind of punishment.

    • AngryTechnician says :

      Yes, you do get faulty equipment with any brand, but the fact is that the Samsungs are going wrong at a much higher rate. Yes, they are repairing it, but it’s a week turnaround during which we’re without the machine, while Dell have their machines fixed for us next-day – and they don’t go wrong as often in the first place. Not only are Samsung slower, but I’ve had actual arguments over the phone with Samsung’s support agents – something I’ve never had with Dell.

      Netbooks do exist that are tougher than the Samsungs. I wasn’t after childproof, I was just after something with comparable toughness to the other machines we have. Netbooks are marketed as ultra-portable machines that you can lug around with you in a bag while out and about. If a machine that is marketed that way isn’t supposed to be at least as tough as a regular laptop, then Samsung are mis-selling them.

      Personally I don’t think the kids did jam the power button in, and even if they did, then they succeeded only because it is flimsy. The NC-10 has the flimsiest-feeling power button of all the netbooks we’ve tried. This fault has never occurred with our Dell laptops in 4 years of me being at the school. My point about the keytops is not that they come off, because that happens on all laptops, but that when they come off, they break. The plastic is more brittle than on other brands. That’s Samsung’s fault. When the Dell keys come off, they don’t break, and can be refitted – and I’m talking about the Dell netbooks now, not their laptops.

      The simple fact is that a school environment is a demanding environment. Some brand can cut it. In my opinion, the Samsung’s don’t. A lot of people are raving about how great they are for education, and I wanted to make a counterpoint. If you were looking for a balanced article, scroll up and read the title of the blog – I’m afraid you’re in the wrong place.

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