Microreview: OLPC XO

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A pair of OLPC XO laptops arrived at our lab today. Given the hype and drama surrounding their debut, esophagitis I decided to give them a small run through to see how usable the machine was. As the box was opened, urticaria I was very surprised at the tiny size of the device. Since this was designed for children, the size seemed fairly appropriate. The trouble started when I tried to use the device. The keyboard was about 30% smaller than a laptop keyboard and was covered with a single piece of rubber. This made the key unresponsive and made it fairly hard to type quickly. Furthermore, the mouse track pad had very poor response and was a total pain to use at points. Finally, the machine seemed very underpowered and took about ten seconds to start up a terminal without anything else running.

From a positive perspective, the laptop’s user interface was fairly intuitive and well labeled. The included video capture software worked on par with a typical 1.3MP camera phone and seemed to capture video smoothly. The device had no problem associating with our wireless network, however, there was some difficulty getting it on the VPN. The number of ports is pretty good (~3USB, audio, etc) and the battery life seems to be on par with typical portable machine. The $180 price tag was a bit higher than the $100 original, however, I foresee that the price will gradually drop as components get cheaper. Eventually adding a touchscreen would not be a bad idea.

To conclude, this laptop seems to be very appropriate for young kids. The keyboard seems like it could resist liquids and debris and the device looks durable. I didn’t see if there are any parental controls available as I doubt any parent would want to let their 5 year old sit behind a computer all day long. As for adult use, it is better to spend a little bit more money and get a subcompact laptop from ASUS or a budget laptop from Dell. The size of the machine and lack of ports (ethernet, parallel, serial) make it less attractive from a hacking perspective.

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