I am Hilaire Fernandes, I am both an educator -- mathematics teacher -- and a computer sciences person. I am involved in the Ofset organisaton and I initiated several projects as freeduc-cd, DrGeo, iStoa.net, some of these projects are ported to the XO machine.
But I will not discuss about these projects but about the eBook use in the OLPC XO machine which I think is fundamental.
Since the beginning of its design, the OLPC XO was design to be both a laptop and an eBook reader. Indeed it fills some criteria to be such a dual machine. The OLPC solution for eBook comes in the sole form of a PDF reader, it is the 'Reader' activity. It is a small and nice activity, particularly simple to use and to operate but sadly it still misses a few important features to be a prefect eBook reader.
The Little Prince
To evaluate the quality of the XO as an eBook reader we need to analyse how it fills a few requirements.
SCREENThis is the strongest point. The display has two modes: a colour mode with a back light and a black&white mode. The bw mode show up when the display light is turn off or when it is under the direct exposure of sun light. When in bw mode, the resolution is of 200dpi, it really improves the readability of the characters, the shapes are very clear and it is very comfortable to read. The down side is you really need good luminosity. So I am not even sure the kids while in the classroom could benefit of it. It really needs serious usability test.
To illustrate my words, bellow are two screen shots of the same picture in colour and black and white
This illustration comes from the "Le Petit Prince" Antoine de Saint-Exupéry book. It is the school book my son was reading. Sadly, he can not bring it at home. Fortunately, it is now in the public domain and it is available in the great "eBooks libres et gratuits" repository.
The Little Prince - In color
These two screen shots show the great gain in resolution when switching to the bw mode. In the last shot, the pixels are not visible any more. These shots were taken in the same conditions of distance and zoom. Keep in mind the sharpness of these pictures is constrained by the sharpness of the camera used for the shot.
To read a book, turning the display in portrait mode is really a bonus. In that mode, the page rendering of the eBook is very close to the one you get with a real book on paper. Moreover, the XO notebook screen can be completely turned and folded on the keyboard, then the electronic book can be carried with its white handle.This video shows the manipulation to completely switch the XO from the notebook to the eBook configuration.
The Little Prince - In B & W
(The video is on the Ogg/Theora format. In case of doubt you can install the excellent VideoLan free media player to read it)
NAVIGATION IN THE BOOK
To navigate in a page book there is a big four-positions button, at the left of the display. To navigate from one page to another one, there are fours small buttons at the right of the display. Here there are two serious usability problems:
- There is no obvious way to switch full screen the page view
- Navigating from one page to the previous or next one is far to be perfect. Indeed, when asking for the next page of the book with the appropriate button, it is sort of buggy as the user found itself in the middle of two pages, and not at the next one as expected.
There are other concern regarding eBook as power saving, user annotations, page bookmarks. But XO does not come any close to these ones.
I hope OLPC will set the appropriate attention to the eBook function of the XO machine. After all, last week Mr Negroponte himself recalled it is one of the most important dimensions of the XO. Until now I do not see it happening.
Mr Negroponte, do you know the XO machine is not up to the task regarding eBook mode?
Other eBook Links on OLPC News