Imagine a monitor that could double as a Web machine, able to do everything from online searches to email. HP’s Passport 1912nm can do all that and at $260 it is one of the best bargains today for schools.
The Passport is modestly sized at 10.8- by 17.5 by 2.1-inches but comes with a stand that raises the screen by about 7-inches. The whole thing weighs 8 pounds and the stand lets you tilt the display forward by 15- or backwards by 5-degrees. On the downside the screen can’t be adjusted up and down to accommodate different sized students and teachers, but it has the mounting screws for attaching it to a wall bracket.
From the bezel to the stand, everything about Passport is black, with the exception of a lone LED light that shows its asleep (amber) or operating (blue). At the center of attention is the 18.5-inch display that can show 1,366 by 768 resolution, but uses older fluorescent backlighting, not the latest LED illumination. In other words, as a monitor it doesn’t distinguish itself.
Passport, however, comes into its own as an Internet kiosk. Inside is a 1GHz Texas Instruments dual-core OMAP 4430 processor that uses ARM’s capable Cortex A-9 technology. There’s 2GB of flash storage, 1GB of memory chips and it connects with the outside world via 5 USB ports and a flash card reader that can work with SD, MMC, MS and xD cards. While it has built-in wired networking, it lacks WiFi wireless networking, which can limit where it is deployed to areas that have LAN support.
The Web screen comes with a basic keyboard and mouse as well as integrated 2-watt stereo speakers that sound remarkably rich and bright. Unfortunately, the volume adjustment buttons are awkwardly under an annoying lip under the screen, making them tough to use; there’s no mute button.
Setting up Passport is like a dream come true. All you need to do is connect it to an Ethernet port and plug in its power cord. Finally, turn it on and fill in the language, time zone and password you want to use. That’s it, you’re set. From sealed box to operating Web machine, it took all of three minutes and doesn’t require any special skills.
Based on a customized version of Ubuntu’s Linux software, Passport is a self-contained system with nothing to attach and no software to load. It is minimalist to say the least with large icons for music, video Web browsing and photos on its home page. There’s no file browser, multi-tasking and you can’t add software to it, which will likely elicit a huge sigh of relief among IT administrators tasked with keeping public-access computers working.
There’s also a password-protected Settings section for doing basic maintenance, including setting the time and whether you want to set up the system’s networking manually or automatically. On the downside, it can’t grab anything from a network drive.
It worked well with CNN, BBC and NASA Web sites, played YouTube videos and could handle creating documents with Google Docs and Office 365. While it worked with most everything we threw at it, the included FireFox 4.0 browser was slow to load sites, taking 2.1 seconds longer than a Windows 7 notebook to load the same site using Chrome’s browser.
The system automatically updates its software as needed and HP engineers think it is impervious to virus attack because its storage is protected. Only time will tell. It, however, draws the line when it comes to loading specialized software. For example, it balked at working with the University of Colorado’s PHET science and math simulations, which requires the loading of Java apps.
It also can only do one thing at a time, which limits its usefulness. Things like listening to a podcast while looking over a Web site, something that even the cheapest netbook can do, is off limits.
Passport can fit right into a school’s library, computer lab and faculty lounge, but is a winner as a public online kiosk in common spaces. It excels as a public terminal for kids and adults to catch up on email, grab assignments and watch an online video or two. The system can also print using HP’s ePrint protocol, but only with HP printers and lacks a Web cam and a video conferencing app.
All told, it uses just 21 watts when it’s on and 4.3-watts while in standby, which adds up to an annual power bill of just $7.50 if it’s used for 8 hours a day during the school year and electricity costs the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s a lot less than recycling an old PC and CRT monitor for this task and there will be fewer set up and maintenance hassles. It comes with a 3-year warranty.
While it’s not perfect, Passport 1912nm is the ideal computer for such a wide variety of school uses it’s a wonder that nobody thought of this sooner.
+ Low operating costs
+ Simple, quick set up
+ Self contained
+ Adjustable stand
- Can’t add software
- Screen can’t move up or down
- No WiFi