The dream of bringing laptops to children in emerging countries is about to come true. Alternatively called OLPC (One Laptop per Child) or XO, the machines have gone into mass production and should be reaching children soon. The
XO is compact and sturdy. With its nice handle perfectly adapted to a child’s hand, it is nicely designed for the job of going back and forth to school, being used at home and looking like something a child would enjoy.
Opening up the laptop took a little fumbling around. It turns out that one needs to lift up the two little “ears” on the side (they serve as the Internet antennas) before opening up the screen. The screen does swivel around and flattens back down so that it can be used to read or watch a video.
In order to keep cost down and to allow students and teachers more freedom to customize the applications, the choice was made to go with an open source, Linux environment. Applications loaded on the laptop include a word processor, some chat software, an Internet browser, some games, a calculator, a music capture and editing software and more. As you click on the application icons at the bottom of the screen, they open and are placed in a circle in the middle of the screen around a child symbolized by an X and an O.
The model we tested seemed a bit slow after we opened three or four programs. Another drawback was that some features did not seem intuitive. For example, trying to save a word processing document seemed to create several versions of it in a place called “Journal”. It is hard to say after spending only a few hours with the machine. Someone used to electronic gadgets does bring different expectations to the experience, expectations which might be very different from those of a child receiving his or her first computer.
The XO comes equipped with three USB ports, a SD slot and a webcam which performed quite well to capture either still shots or video. However, we were unable to print and inserting a USB key in one of the slots did not seem conclusive. The laptop did not seem to recognize the device.
We connected to Internet on a secured network in a public place and the connexion worked quite well and was fast. Thanks to its Mesh networking technology, the XO can be turned into a sort of router connecting several laptops together.
Battery life was quite impressive, with more than 80% battery charge remaining after over two hours on. Another strong advantage is the screen’s dual technology which allows the screen to remain quite functional even in full daylight. That’s better than most laptops we have ever seen.
The XO is a strong laptop which should prove a great tool for hundred of thousands of children in the world, once they have tamed it and learned its ways. The good thing is that you can help.
You can donate a laptop by going to the web site and buying as many laptops as you wish for a donation of $200 per machine (that includes delivery to the child). Starting on November 12, those living in North America will also be able to participate in the “Give 1 Get 1” program for a short time: for $399, you will be able to buy one XO for a child and one for yourself or your own child. $200 is more than the OLPC folks were shooting for originally – the machine was billed the “$100 laptop”. But it is still a hell of a deal for the children who will get one.
By Isabelle Boucq, L’Atelier
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