XO Tablet Hands On Review: WOW!! OLPC Finally Got It Right!

   
   
   
   
   

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When the XO-1 Laptop first came out in 2006, I was in awe of the hardware innovations. From bunny ears for better WiFi to a hardened swivel-screen top, to its low power consumption, OLPC had one innovation after another.

However, the operating system was still buggy, the software barely past beta, and the content non-existent. Add to it, OLPC wanted poor countries to spend millions (billions even) on the hardware, but not on better teachers, pedagogy, or even basic support.

So while the idea was brilliant, the hardware was clock stopping hot, OLPC had absolutely no clue about educational implementation.

xo tablet hands on review

Fast forward 7 years and with the XO Tablet, OLPC has finally produced a "unique learning system" that any parent or Minister of Education could proudly give to children and students in or out of any classroom and expect it to be a catalytic change in learning.

The XO Tablet is not a hardware innovation - far from it, actually. Its just another 7" Android tablet, looking pretty much exactly like a Nexus 7 wrapped in a green silicone bumper. The operating system is stock Android with a nice skin on top. But where it is boring in hardware it shines in software.

The XO Tablet comes with hundreds of software applications that will excite and entice young minds. My two daughters were using an engaging painting app within seconds, fighting over which color a toucan should be and then manipulating a human skeleton, quizzing my wife on bone names. That never happened with the XO Laptop.

Maybe it is the touch screen and responsive hardware. Maybe it is over 160 mature apps with hundreds of thousands of developer hours invested to make them world-class experiences. Maybe it's the familiar Android UI that let dad help out when kids got stuck. Or maybe it's just a real, polished consumer device honed with retail marketing experts, but the XO Tablet doesn't feel anything like the XO Laptop.

It's not a toy or a gadget. It's a real learning machine that I can't pull either of my daughters away from. In fact, I just bought a second XO Tablet to stop the tug of war over this one.

OLPC, you finally got it right.

[Update: Now available on eBay with worldwide shipping.]

PS: Check out the unboxing and usage pictures here. We'll be posting thoughts and observations on the XO Tablet all week. Drop us a line if you'd like to write your own post on your thoughts about the XO Tablet - we always publish everyone's opinions.

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38 Comments

I don't get it: is it April fool's day?

Well I too am surprised in a good way - bravo Wayan (and Christoph) for always calling it as it is - interesting comparison ie hardware innovation on the XO vs software innovation on the tablet too... If only OLPC Australia would consider them for our schools - you listening Rangan? :)

There are good reasons to standardize on one hardware/software platform, even if its not the most recent one

Yes, kids, it may surprise you but I've always been a critic of OLPC in the classic sense of the word: I celebrate the good and call out the bad.

With the XO Tablet, OLPC has finally learned that its software and content that makes a good learning system - not just hardware. Parents, teachers can use it right out of the box to engage and inspire young minds. That is well worth celebrating.

Now if they would only acknowledge the role of teachers and curriculum...

Not a comment but a question.
Can I bring these to Uganda. Will it plug into their electrical sockets the way the traditional XO can?

Joanne, the XO Tablet recharges via a standard USB cable and comes with the familiar green plug you know and love: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dcmetroblogger/9441135710/in/set-72157594232448993

So yes, it should work fine in Uganda or anywhere else. No need to scrounge around for the XO-1's odd plug size.

I'm sorry I didn't follow OLPC's development lately.

Could someone please tell me if anyone tried to put FirefoxOS on the device, instead of Android? It would make a perfect fit, for so many reasons. The ones coming first to my mind are

1. Philosophies of Google vs. Mozilla
2. Usage of Open Web Technologies
3. Simple, distributed app stores, very simple to setup your own, even per school / class ...
4. Dev community. Especially the ones that are into User experience. HTML is great for that.
5. Developer experience. Developing apps for Android sucks™. It's horrible, really. FirefoxOS? By far the best one available today.

If it didn't happen yet, the right OLPC & Mozilla peeps should talk. I'm happy to connect.

Right, because any of those matter more than engaging educational software and compelling content. Sorry, but who cares? Certainly not children, parents, or educators.

The religious focus on Open Source (and then all the sub-clan fighting within FOSS) is what crippled the XO-1

wow Wayan, you're great at killing people's motivation to get involved. I don't care about FOSS. But I do understand the benefits the specifically FirefoxOS would bring to this project. And I think I know what I'm talking about. And if disagree, that's fine. But it's sad how you just kill other's people ideas, without allowing for a constructive discussion.

I'm outta here.

I am vey much a buzz kill for bad ideas. I get where you are going, but its that very track - "oooo, what about this FOSS instead" or "what! Proprietary drivers?" - that got the XO-1 so far off track.

FirefoxOS doesn't matter. Android doesn't even matter. What matters is a strong ecosystem of software to choose from, regardless of OS

You got me wrong Wayan. I'm with you. Curriculum over software, software over hardware. I don't question that.

But imagine building meaninful for the XO Tablet would be so simple, that teacher's could learn it within hours. Imagine instead of 1 person in a school community, hundreds would be capable of making the ideas of teachers become reality. Imagine it would be so simple and fast to build simple apps, it would even be worth it to make one for a single lesson.

Imagine teachers would build their own apps, because the barrier is that low, that the benefit outweighs it by far.

That's what I'm talking about.

Right now, it's dead easy to contribute to Wikipedia, right? There is almost no barrier to entry and its a very well known and popular platform. And less than 1% contribute to it.

So yes, utopia would be teachers and students creating ApS. Reality is that ain't never going to happen. So focusing any resources on that is a fools errand.

It is CONTENT which is the real decider. the foremost provider of high quality free offline content globally for Third World Development is http://cd3wd.com/ - my operation. We did have some 2 way communication a few years back with OLPC and would like to reopen that and bundle our stuff - currently 800 GB

Agreed that content is the killer app, but not sure you have an edge on http://www.widernet.org/egranary/ though their content is locked inside a required content server

Speaking of content, does the existing library of apps for the XO-1 (and successor) laptops port to the new platform? (Does the new platform even run Python?) Or am I going to have to rewrite my StarChart app in Java, now?

No clue, but I doubt any XO-1 software will work unless it already works with/in the Android ecosystem.

Hi Wayan - do you know if old OLPC software works on this? Like Turtle Typing? Also, can you attach a keyboard via bluetooth or USB? Can you still write apps with python?

Yes, it supports external accessories via USB and probably Bluetooth too (didn't check yet) as its standard Android tablet hardware and OS. So if it works with an Android tablet like the Nexus 7, it should work with the XO Tablet. Not all software applications might be external device compliant vs. touchscreen though.

It sounds like an over-arching different philosophy. The idea of the XO-1 was explicitly to give kids a *computer* in the old-fashioned sense and with an emphasis on creating--maybe coding, but maybe writing documents. I am still in love with the idea of Sugar, but I can certainly see why others would disagree. In any case, when I see tablets in use, they are overwhelmingly app platforms, there doesn't seem to be much creating going on beyond building in Minecraft or composing Facebook posts.

So, it is then all down to the content, as you said. If that's the case, what's the benefit of this tablet over any other Android tablet? Can't you put the same apps on something else?

You could put the apps on something else, but I do like the UI and the way it organizes and presents the apps. The content is preloaded too.

So yes, you could recreate this on another platform, but why? At $150 you are not going to get much of a hardware price break and any that you do will be lost in time wasted finding, installing, and formatting 160+ apps.

Nice to see you back Wayan :-)
Unfortunately I do not have an XO tablet but from the info in the web looks like that is mostly for preschoolers and maybe K-3. Are there any apps for older kids?
Also looks like (even from the video) that is targeting individual users in a home setting and everything is under the "control" of the parent and the Tablet application store. How do you see the XO tablet being used in a school setting (I mean differently than any other tablet)? Do you know if the relevant required infrastructure is included with the tablet or its appstore?
BTW did _you_ have fun using any of its apps. Any "killer app" in it (games are fine ;-)

1. Apps for older kids

There is a wide variety of apps, from ones from young children to teens. I don't know the full distribution - I can't find a list of software - but it seems like there is a good cross-section of apps. And you can augment with apps from the Google Play Store

2. Role in classroom

That's an open question. There are enough control options to let a teacher keep the kids mostly focused on tasks, but I would say the real classroom use will depend on the software - how the teacher can integrate specific software into the classroom (as she would have to with any other Android tablet)

3. Adult apps

With access to the Google Play Store, I can make it similar to my Nexus 7, but to be honest, with a small tablet its Facebook, Twitter, and email triage. Me and my bad eyes need a full size iPad to type or read anything of length.

Re: 3. I meant any app among of the "100 apps included" that _you_ consider "killer"

I haven't had the chance to play with the tablet much - my toddlers will not put it down

I'm very pleased to see a new XO, but is this really OLPC's doing? I did a little research but I still failed to find a connection between this [very appealing] chotchkie and OLPC.

There is very little OLPC influence and no clue how much they are profiting off selling out their brand to Vivatar. This could've been part of Marvel's multi-million dollar donation to OLPC or separate, but I don't see OLPC getting much per tablet - the price is too low (and no G1G1 either).

I can see OLPC achieved a good UX for children with the XO-Tablet software.

What is your opinion on the UX for teachers? Will it be easy to use for focusing on the curricula?

Also, I'd like to know which age range you think the software would be useful for.

Thanks!

I think this will be just as easy or difficult for a teacher to use based on their skill as a teacher and ability to use technology in the classroom.

The XO Tablet seems like it will be marginally easier - there are some control modules - but not all that different from any other tablet.

Still bummed these don't have the Pixel Qi screens. How is the battery life on these?

Decent battery life - used by 2 kids for 2 days on and off before recharge needed

Just to verify on the ports

1) The USB is micro
2) The HDMI is for a mini connector
3) Can the micro SD slot handle sizes like 32GB SDHC?
4) Who handles software updates?

Good question about software updates. Android and Google Play Store apps should update automatically (or theoretically could be set up to do so) but not sure who does software updates to the (non-Sugar) OLPC user interface. Especially now that many of OLPC's software developers are gone.

On the xotablet.com website has a downloadable quick start guide. On page 22 of the guide states that the user's manual is on the xotablet.com website. I can't find a link to the real user's manual. Is the real manual on the site somewhere?

No clue, but I will scan the one I have just for you.

Hi, the xotablet is saying: unfortunately, xo home has stopped.
what does it mean. It no longer works.
Anybody has a suggestion other than through it away.

Ivan, Push the Reset button on the bottom of the xo tablet. See this web site for more help: http://www.xotablet.com

Dan

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