The Kno, is it the form factor for students?

I have to say, the Kno looks appealing for those of us wanting to move education further into the digital arena. The Kno is another tablet  device  directly aimed at the digital textbook market. The Kno comes in two form factors, a 14.1 inch slate to sell for $599 and a clamshell at $899. The clamshell version uses two 14.1 inch screens. A number of accessories will be available for the device, such as a cover and stand. Features include capacitive touch screen (1,440 x 900 pixels), input  with a stylus, touch,  and keyboard,  multi-tasking, Web browsing and content sharing. In the Kno’s favor, I suppose, is its support for Flash. But flash on a mobile device is still a bit tricky depending on the operating system.

Though I’ve done some searching, detailed hardware specs at the company site are far and few between. Their FAQ indicates that the Kno contains two batteries which should last a “full day on campus”) according to the company. Another interesting feature is that the Kno will back itself up to the cloud at regular intervals. In the unfortunate case of breakage, the student can access their books and notes from the cloud with a normal web browser. Their SDK supports JavaScript, HTML5, and CSS. One review indicated that the dual screen weighed in at nearly 5.5 pounds, with each “slab” more than a half an inch thick. Pretty hefty when compared to other current laptops and tablets. I suspect that holding the dual screen version it like a book would become quite tiresome, much more that with a other tablets. Assuming that the slate version will weigh about half that of the dual-screen, it still weighs significantly more than the 1.5 pound iPad.

Most major textbook publishers have signed on to deliver content to the device. A Kno bookstore will bring textbooks and apps to the device. Students can view textbooks “as authors intended”, access apps like digital flash cards, collaborative whiteboards, and citation checkers. Students can email a passage with question to an instructor for clarification.

On the surface the Kno looks interesting, especially the way it is portrayed in their promotional video (see below).  The major selling point of the Kno is reducing the cost of education through eBooks and exploring new ways to effectively learn.But there is something that continues to nag at me. Is this, like the Nook and Kindle a feature-limited device. Feature-limited in the sense that it will not have access to some of the more common applications used in higher education, notably Microsoft Office products. Though not a huge fan of Microsoft, I recognize that students need access to the applications their universities support and primarily use. The company has indicated that its software would be available on laptops and possibly other tablets. If the software can be ported to a laptop, it will obviously lose some functionality, like touch input. A number of eBook formats are already available, have the same feature sets, and are available for devices that students already own. Will buying the Kno yet again require students to have two digital devices to get their work done, the Kno and a laptop or desktop? Will the Kno be able to compete? Only time and testing will address these questions. Inquiring minds want to “Kno”.

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About Michael Ritter PhD
Professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, science textbook author, educational technology blogger, podcaster, and freelance media consultant.

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