According to research reported in the news this week, three quarters of children aged 5 use the Internet every day. Flea, as ever, is the exception.
When she was younger, my iMac was in the office at the top of the house – out of reach of curious toddlers. So Flea never actually used a computer before she started pre-school.
In the past couple of years, Flea’s seen me using a computer during the day but I have to confess that I made her cautious of technology – when she was younger she did see me upset by things that have happened online, and for a time she refused to touch computers because of ‘unkind people who tell lies’ (I’m saving the details of this story for my new, non-fiction book 500 Ways Our Children Make us Feel Evil).
The result of all this is that Flea struggles at school to use computers – she’s easily frustrated and lacks the dexterity to use a mouse or trackpad. I’m not too worried, as I tend to think she’ll catch up in her own good time – but I think it’s a shame she doesn’t see computers as being fun.
That’s really why I accepted when Dell got in touch last month and asked us to try out the new Dell Inspiron One.
The Inspiron is a 23-inch touchscreen multimedia PC that lets you control applications using your finger on the screen. It’s an all in one PC which means the hard drive is in the same box as the monitor, and there are no cables – the mouse and keyboard are both wireless, and the PC looks a lot like a TV once it’s on a counter or desk.
Getting up and running is pretty simple – you just flip out a stand on the back of the PC, turn it on and you’re good to go. The dual processor means it’s pretty fast, and once it’s started up, it’s not too noisy.
For kids like Flea, who don’t have the dexterity to use a mouse, the Dell Inspiron One is absolutely perfect. It’s brilliantly intuitive – Flea was able to open up the painting application and draw pictures almost immediately, and could work out most things independently, just by looking and touching. There was the odd frustration but once she realised there was a ‘mistake’ button (undo) she was happy to experiment with colours and different brushes and templates.
The touchscreen was reasonably accurate, although Flea did use a stylus for some things, as she found it easier to control the computer than using her fingers. But for me, that didn’t matter too much because this was the first time I’d seen Flea ask to use a computer.
We had some friends to stay last weekend and all the kids loved the games that come with the Dell – there are various simple games for kids based on touching the screen to find things that match, and so on. Meanwhile, geek friends who looked at the machine were impressed by the range of connections – apparently, you can attach games consoles, projectors and stuff to the Dell Inspiron.
Where the Dell really came into its own was when Flea fell ill with a nasty virus and was pretty much bedridden for three days. The Inspiron One we reviewed has a Blu-ray player and since the PC can stand on a table that’s only 6 or 7 inches deep, we could stand it on the bedside table and let Flea watch movies in bed.
What I will say is we found the remote control very flaky, and we had issues getting some Blu-ray disks, in particular, to play – we had to abandon two disks because the Dell told us the disk didn’t support a mouse, but the touchscreen control didn’t work on the menu either so while the disk loaded, we were unable to select ‘play’. But the in-built speakers were perfectly fine and the 1080p picture was very bright and clear.
Another issue I had was that when you turn the PC to ‘standby’ using the remote, there’s some kind of sensor that means it turns back on if it senses a movement (either that or it’s an evil Jedi thing invented just to scare the bejesus out of me). But I found turning off with the remote was a waste of time, as the PC would randomly turn itself back on in the middle of the night – and as it fires up, it is pretty noisy.
My last quibble – and it’s a small one – is that the screen is VERY reflective and it really does get marked with fingerprints. Someone like me, with slight neat-freak tendencies, would need to keep a supply of wipes next to the machine, especially if you want to use it to watch a film or TV.
The Dell Inspiron ONE costs from £578 up to around £850, which is quite expensive for a PC, but a lot cheaper than the equivalent iMac. We were sent a PC to review, but someone is coming to take it back soon, I'm sad to say.