The Brightest Nighttime Lights in the House


My XO and I love the iLite

I'm Mike Lee and I'm starting a series of posts here on OLPC News about accessories for the XO-1. I have also been asked by Wayan to help run the OLPC Learning Club - DC blog and meetings, which I am looking forward to doing.

Because I've had a couple B4 machines since August, I've had some time to look into accessories such as carrying cases, AC/DC adapters and alternative power sources such as solar panels. I still have a lot to discover--and learn from you all--but for this first post, I'm going to tell you about the perfect little LED keyboard light for the XO.

As you may recall from Wayan's earlier post here, there were two LEDs in the plastic bank on either side of the screen hinge of the B2 prototype that could be activated to bathe the keyboard in bluish light. The LEDs were removed from the design after that batch of machines, and some really missed having the feature. In the comments on Wayan's post, Mary Lou Jepsen, the CTO of OLPC, explained that the LEDs were removed to save a little money and complexity. Mary Lou reasoned that because kids are shorter, the screen could be tilted forward more to allow the screen's LED backlighting to cast light onto the keyboard. Perhaps this is workable for a small child, but as an aging adult, I find that when surfing with the XO in bed at night, shifting my gaze from the screen to the keyboard, my eyes don't adjust very quickly. Adding a USB LED light was the obvious thing to try.

Plugging in one of the commonly found gooseneck USB lights solved the problem, but I didn't like how much airspace the USB light took up around the XO. Next I tried a little Targus LED light that clipped onto one of the mesh antenna ears. A coiled power cord ran from the light to one of the USB ports. This worked much better for me, but the Targus light had to be stored in its original custom plastic case because the clip and ball joint around the LED light are pretty delicate.

The iLite USB LED Mini Light

Googling around, I hit on a product called the iLite, by MCT in Florida, USA. The owner is actually named Mike Lee too! The iLite is a custom designed USB mini light that was designed for small devices such as UMPCs and the OQO, but works fine in any USB port. The iLite is not much more in form than a USB plug with a 1" repositionable plastic stalk tipped with a small LED. On the XO, with the light aimed downward, the keyboard is illuminated quite well. There's some spill light on the screen, but it's not objectionable. I'm not bothered by the slight amount of glare from the LED either.

The iLite comes with a reclosable plastic box, but I'm sure you'll find a cool tin mint box to use for storage instead. The blister pack package copy says there's a red LED version available, but I couldn't find that on the web site. An iLite that emits red light would be great for when the XO is taken up by amateur astronomers.

Mike at MCT also customizes Kensington and iGo power adapters for the MacBook, and seems to really like hacking hardware, so maybe we can all lobby him to start a line of accessories for the XO.

Note: the iLite is being sold by Restoration Hardware for US$ 12.00.


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Mike, I'm glad to see you'll be writing about XO accessories! I really regret that the built-in LED lights were removed -- I know that the LED flashlight built into my phone is now a feature I'll seek on future phones as well. I've been an LED flashlight nut for a long time, but none get used quite as often as that one does. At least there's USB ;)

An idea: I hope there will be some way that the XO can be use with USB GPS devices; it would be a great use of the daylight-readable screen to employ it as an in-car GPS display, in combination with a program like GPSdrive (which I think the XO is certainly powerful enough to support otherwise, whether or not it's actually feasible for other reasons). I hope that you'll be able to comment on GPS devices at some point.


Thanks Tim. I have several GPS devices including the Sony GPS-CS1 USB memory stick data logger. Given the number of USB compatible GPS devices and the all the GPS software for Linux, I'd say there's a 100% chance GPS software will appear quickly for the XO. I can't wait either.

There should be a way of storing 1-3 small devices with the laptop. So that I don't have to carry a collection of tokens around. I've been searching for something like that for some time. 'Internal' usb-plugs are another alternative.

I think the plastic around the handle has no technical use, maybe its big enough to store something in there? It's probably hollow?

Hi Mike,

the accessory that most interestes me is the solar charger. I've been looking on the web and the portable Solio charger looks like a pretty good buy, i reckon it would meet the power requirements of the laptop. The one piece of information i can't seem to glean from anywhere though is the size of the jack that the machine has - what sort of connector does it have? Is it the standard type or a custom design? Which solar device do you recommend?

Thanks for taking the time to write about this great machine!


the connection is a DC power: 6mm (1.65mm center pin) connector; 11 to 18 V input usable, –32 to 40V input tolerated; power draw limited to 15 W

Info found here:
under: External Connectors

Galen, Walter Bender said in a recent presentation that kids haven't been using the handle as much as thought. Perhaps a small plastic case could be designed to snap into the handle? Doing something with the void inside the handle is an interesting idea. I'm sure someone will venture there soon.

Andy, the XO is very tolerant of variations in power, but there are a whole range of power accessories optimized for the lower power range (3 - 9 volts) of cell phones, PDAs, iPods, etc that won't work with the XO. I haven't tried the Solio yet, but I think it may not charge the XO at all.

Bastian, those measurements are for the power jack (port) on the XO itself, not for the connector. There was a long, frustrating post and comment on this a while back. I have found sources for the plugs and am developing an article to post here.

Basically, the plug has an outside diameter of 5.5mm and an inside "hole" of 1.5mm. But what no one has written is that there's a spring clip inside the hole that grabs the pin in the XO's power jack. The plug is most commonly used for ACER-brand laptops and a couple DVD players. Here's a close-up photo of the plug/tip:

More info to come...

Actually, we've discussed the OLPC XO laptop power indput connector in great detail already. See:

Thanks for all the replies, most helpful and most interesting but i'm still not sure what to buy exactly. My problem is that i'm going on an extended trip into areas that will certainly be "off the grid" in January, so i need something before then really, solar ideally. The laptop itself is one of the most amazing pieces of design in my lifetime, in my own humble opinion, but details on alternatives to mains for powering it have been lacklustre at best. The thing is shipping now but no-one seems to know when even the pull-cord charger will be available, let alone the solar (which i would far prefer). Not to have a dig at the OLPC guys or anything, they are doing great work - Negroponte for the Nobel! I suppose when they have arrived for a few more people we might see more solutions in this regard, i'm sure some kind geek will risk bricking his for the greater good :)

Andy: I've done a bit of research on using a solar charger on the XO. According to a PCMag article (,2704,2223940,00.asp) the XO: "runs on 8-to-11-volt power systems (from solar panels to hand or foot cranks to a car battery), and it does so efficiently. I measured 18 watts of power usage while the battery was charging and 6W after the battery was fully charged."

In theory, the Solio will work, but I can't find how many watts the Solio can put out to confirm this. However, there are a couple other portable solar chargers I've found that max out at 5 watts. According to that PCMag article, that's not enough. But I'm no electrical engineer, so don't trust me. My dad is, however, and that means I'm not totally full of crap, either. :)

But I'm very interested in a solar solution for the XO. Keeping it entirely off the grid would be so cool!

Mike Lee: I'm very excited to read more of your posts. This one was very informative and helpful. I'm curious how tough the casing is--I have two Mac laptops and I like to keep them snug in a slip case when I travel--do you think a slip case or bag of some kind would be a good idea for the XO? Or would it be overkill since the casing is designed to stand up to much rougher treatment than I'm liable to put my PowerBook through?

Andy, the Solio is indeed a cool design. Your lament about the lack of documentation on off-grid power options will be eased soon I'm sure. Yes, the OLPC team was/is simply too busy to create documentation not essential to their initial launch. The user community will fill the gap quickly. Also, everyone's usage scenario for off-grid will be different. Read Steve Paine's excellent blog (with videos) on the challenges he faced charging a UMPC with solar and batteries during a bike marathon. What you read there are going to be the same issues for the XO, except you'll also need to find that pesky unique power plug. Hopefully by next week, I'll have confirmation on a source for those.

Pete, the XO casing is really tough--thicker than most laptops, though I still have concerns about the mesh ears breaking off. Do you mean that your Mac laptops are in a slip case inside another suitcase or bag? I would recommend some kind of form fitting bag or sleeve for the XO just as a way of keeping the AC adapter with it. The XO casing can be scratched too, so I wouldn't pack it with rough-edged objects for example. One of several cases I've been using is the $20 portable DVD player case from Case Logic linked below. It holds the XO snugly with its handle to one side and has a front pocket where you can store the AC adapter. I'll be doing a longer post about bags soon.


I am looking forward to using the ebook feature on my (soon to arrive) XO. Would this light be good for illuminating the screen during ebook reading at night while my wife is sleeping?


John, no, the iLite will not cast light on the XO screen. But I do understand your usage scenario as I too like to read in bed while my wife is asleep. The easiest thing to do would be to dim the screen backlight to the lowest setting and optionally keep the XO plugged in to a nearby outlet or power strip. Switching off the XO backlight puts the screen into high contrast, low power e-book mode, but then you'll need some kind of external light source such as a small reading light on your bedstand or maybe a clip-on book light.

Mike! Thank you so much for your answers--they're a big help! Thanks also for the links to the DVD slip case you use--and yes, actually, the situation you describe is precisely the one with my Mac laptops--I have slipcases for both of them and both end up in other bags when I travel.

Thanks for the link to your case, BTW. I'll probably go with that model or possibly another 10 inch-dvd player slip case (I'm not a big fan of those handles). I was also contemplating asking my wife to sew something for it or breaking down and sewing something for myself.

Thanks also for the link to the solar UMPC site. I'll definitely devour the info on that site. I think solar is the future--assuming all these oil-hungry types ever let us get there.

I've also checked out your blog and will be adding it to my regular reading--very interesting stuff--especially the post about texting "I want SEX now" by accident. Too funny.

As I said above, I really appreciate your answers and really look forward to your future posts. Thanks again!

Unfortunately, the iLite seems to be sold out on the Restoration Hardware site. So I went a-looking on Amazon for USB LED lights, after ordering the Case Logic case described above (thanks!).

I found this light, which is extremely inexpensive and, as it's got a flexible neck, might be usable to illuminate either the keyboard OR the screen (when reading ebooks in the dark):

Hope this helps! :)



I bought a $1 USB LED light at my local Dollar store.

I took a picture with it being used, but I am not sure how to post the picture using my laptop.