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Topic: Hands on with an XO in Houston (Read 2763 times)
Hands on with an XO in Houston
January 23, 2008, 06:59:28 PM
I finally got my hands on an XO. While waiting for our last-day order, I broke down and bought one via ebay to calm our (OK, my
) desire to play with one. In a word - fantastic!
Where to start? There's so much to like about the XO. I'll try to organize my thoughts and post them similarly to my post about the
Asus EEE PC
Size and Weight
No news here -- it's small. But not unusably so. I find the Asus EEE PC too small but like the XO. Sure, it's not quite big enough for my hands (I'll say more below about the keyboard) but it's so perfectly sized for children. It's also so attractive to children. Mine had seen the photos and were eager to see a real one but all children (in my experience so far) are drawn to it. One of the neighbor children was visiting when ours arrived. She was as interested in it as the others. We had children from 4 - 11 around the house and they all wanted to use it.
And despite its diminutive size, it is usable by adults, we're just not the target audience.
It's a bit heavier than I was hoping for but not so heavy that a small child can't carry it. My four-year old carries it around the house. 10-years ago I wouldn't have let a four-year old carry a laptop. I'm not worried for this one much at all.
The screen really is "all that". When back lit it's very readable. I really like how it looks in color mode. It strikes me as the kind of screen the original Mac would have included had it been in color. The sun-light readable mode is nothing short of amazing. Mary Lou Jepsen deserves all the kudos that have been heaped on her for it.
I'm extremely happy they resisted the temptation to deliver one of those "glossy" screens all the other manufacturers are moving to in their lower cost laptops. Undoubtedly this decision was driven by the desire to make the screen sunlight viewable. Whatever the reason, I'm so happy it has the matte look I like.
Wow! I love how tough it is while at the same time being so inviting. It really is a marvel of form and function working together. At first I thought some of the forum users were a bit off their rockers for slinging them over their shoulders with nothing more than a rope tied through the two holes on either side of the handle until I saw it. That handle isn't going anywhere. It has a very solid feel in the hand. And the holes are inspired. I could see a school-aged child carrying it over their shoulder with a fabric belt or piece of rope.
I also appreciate the solid feel of the buttons on the display and the fact that everything is covered and protected when closed up. My Thinkpad and cell phone could take a few lessons from the OLPC project in that regard.
As many have noted, the wifi connectivity on the XO is great. It finds everything and it's so easy to setup, well, at least once you know about the neighborhood. I had it connected to our home network in no time.
I'll write more about this in another post, but we had the first Houston XO meeting this past weekend. The mesh network is
cool. We booted the XO and within moments of switching to the neighborhood were "meshed" with the others. It was "automagic". We shared a few activities. I'm really excited about the possibilities of sharing more activities in the future. For now we'll settle for monthly 'mesh-ups' at the Houston XO meet ups.
I was really a bit worried about the usability of the keyboard after a) I read some of the impressions of others, and b) my hands on experience with an Asus EEE PC. Originally I thought the keyboard on the EEE was near unusable. Since then I've gone back to MicroCenter and tried it again. It's not as bad as I thought. I think that's in part attributable to the XO since I've been practicing with it.
Still I find the XO keyboard a bit more usable, though. I think the major difference that accounts for that is the space between the XO keys. The EEE has the keys side-by-side just like a regular laptop. On a keyboard that small it makes it hard to feel the difference between the keys. With the XO I can slide my fingers horizontally and feel where one key ends and the next begins so that even if I type the wrong key, I can usually find the correct one after I "erase" the mistyped one.
I'll never type my full speed on the keyboard, but it's usable enough that I can work on it. I'll probably get a small usb keyboard to carry in my backpack for extended use. One improvement I'd like to see is for OLPC to raise the height of the space bar a bit. I just can't depress it far enough while typing to actuate it every time. Also, more tactile feedback for the space bar. I can tell when I've hit every other key except for that one.
I'm absolutely gaga over their decision to put the control key where it belongs, next to the left pinky, below the tab key -- right where God intended it to be. ;-) I also really like the hardware buttons for jumping to application, home, friends and neighborhood. Those are great.
Not bad. I prefer the IBM trackpoint method of controlling the pointer when I don't have a mouse, but I can live with it.
Interestingly, the first question my children asked was whether it could use an external mouse. My oldest son is OK with the trackpad, and even seems to prefer it but no one else uses it much. I think that will change in part once the stylus sections of the pad are brought online.
In my "hands-on" discussion of the EEE I noted how hot it felt, especially under the wrist rests and trackpad. The XO couldn't be more different. It's cool to the point of being as notable as the EEE was for being hot. This is in large part due to the fact the motherboard is in the display housing. What a great idea! Even the display-housing stays cool. It just plain runs cool.
The camera is good. Not great but good. Keeping in mind, though, that it's in a laptop going to rural areas where most people don't even have a film camera I should probably call it very good. What makes it really useful, though, is the software. My kids love the being able to take pictures and shoot videos. I wonder how many future directors will be able to say their first experience was making home videos with their XO?
The speakers aren't exceptionally loud but loud enough for personal or small group use (I'm think about the family of the child). The headphone jack may not get a lot of use, at least initially but who can say. The same cheap headphones that show up here in the US will undoubtedly work their way to Peru, Afghanistan and Mongolia.
I think putting audio and visual capabilities into a child's computer is inspired. Apple put cameras and microphones in all their computers. OLPC deserve applause for recognizing children will want and use the same features.
3 USB ports, headphones, microphone and an SD card slot represents a lot of expandability. I have to admit to a bit of port envy when I look at the EEE with its external monitor connector but I think I can live without it. My children certainly can and the target audience in Peru
will have to.
The USB ports work well. Having 3 is great. I can have mouse, keyboard and memory stick plugged in easily, and still put an SD card in the bottom to expand the virtual memory. If the XO had been designed for the US market, I would say they should have sacrificed one USB slot for a monitor port. I have researched and found some USB display cards. Here's hoping someone will write a driver for one.
The XO also comes with lots of built-in drivers. One of the members of the Houston XO group told me he plugged in a USB ethernet port from NetGear and it just worked. Nice!
As you can tell from my post, I like the XO -- a lot! Sure, it's slower than my four-year-old Thinkpad. Nevertheless I think it's fantastic. OLPC got so much right with it. I find it hard to fault a $188 laptop with all these features. I think that's the part the some reviewers overlook. Even if it does represent an "88% cost overrun" of the original $100 target, it still has hardware features Apple's $1799, 3 lb Airbook lacks. Of course the Airbook has processing power in spades, OS X and a svelte figure while sporting a 13" screen, but the XO makes a great showing. It shows me you can "think different" in ways that are affordable and useful to a much larger segment of the world's population.
Grammar and punctuation fixes and minor rewording of some awkward phrases.
Last Edit: January 25, 2008, 10:23:41 PM by akpoff
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