Its not often one gets to brag about owning the only gadget in a whole country - but as the XO Tablet is only available from the USA, and the Australia arm of OLPC aren't touching it, right now this is the case. Thanks to the generosity of fellow EdTech experimenters Wayan Vota and John Hunt, my 6 year old daughter has now logged about 10 hours on this latest iteration of what a 'green machine' can be and I'm ready to report some first impressions.
I'll get to her thoughts shortly - but first, given the at times highly charged nature of all-things OLPC, some context. I have written for OLPC News before, am the Dad of a child in the target audience for the XO Tablet, and am a long-time OLPC supporter (with nearly 4 years of being employed by a state education department to support XO deployments). I'm also a well-known exponent of that other transformative mobile platform, the iPad, of which I've owned every model and even co-founded the Slide2learn.net community to support. I've also owned a Nexus7 Android tablet since its launch. What I'm trying to say is that I couldn't have been more excited to get an XO tablet that sits right at the convergence of all these interests.
So, first impressions: I love the green case. Its chunky and grip-able and the ring is genuinely useful. Plus, buying such a case separately would immediately add another $20 to the price, so again this puts the XO Tablet ahead. The size and weight also are good for the target audience where I've found larger 10 inch tablets to be un-ergonomic for smaller hands to hold for longer periods.
As Wayan has already noted, the next thing you come to with the XO Tablet is really the software. 200 apps is a good starting collection, as is the 'I dream' interface for curating the experience of browsing them. I have no idea how someone creates such a customised 'master' of a mobile OS and is able to mass-deploy it, but I wish such a process was available easily for any school or district rather than having to make do with more local configuration options.
I have been disappointed with some of the apps however. The very first dream my daughter chose was 'Doctor' - but when we opened the first app to measure her pulse via the camera - nothing worked... There are also some apps I've come across that are in fact just trial versions. It can also seem like a bit of a waste when you open an 'I dream' category to find there are only perhaps 3 apps listed. I had in fact expected that when choosing an occupation to explore there would be videos, websites and other guided resources. So, though it provides a good framework for guiding students use of the included apps, OLPC has a lot of room to expand on and really flesh out the 'I dream' categories. I'd especially love if there was a way for parents/teachers to add additional categories or even resources into the existing ones. I'd put my hand up to help.
So what else did miss 6 find? Turns out her favourite section so far has been the language videos. She's spent ages learning Italian by repeating the phrases in that video (which our 2 year old also happily sat in for). She has also enjoyed the solar system app that lets you zoom in and out on the planets and associated info ('I want to be an astronaut') and the puzzles challenges of the Blockish app.
Other major pluses of the XO Tablet in my opinion are the account settings that let the tablet be used by multiple kids, and long term expansion made possible by the SD card slot. I'm also looking forward to exploring the usage data that the tablet is recording as miss 6 uses it to help me as a parent understand her learning interests better.
So at the end of the day, for US$149, my first impressions are that the XO Tablet looks to be a great learning tool - not iPad mini class, but then its less than half the price. How reliable it proves over time, and how useful the promised port of Sugar ends up being we'll have to wait and see - but in its current iteration, with a good case and good range of starter apps, its got to be the best low-cost tablet option currently available for younger 1st and spanish-world learners that I know of.
Jonathan Nalder is a long time OLPC supporter who is also an mLearning project officer, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator and HP Catalyst Fellow. He writes regularly at uLearning.edublogs.org, has articles at Appolearning.com and Appitic.com, co-founded Slide2learn.net, has a Masters in ICT for Learning, and delights to make the connections between tech, pedagogy, planning and learning.