My XO laptop arrived in the mail today! From my first couple of hours experimenting, I can tell that it’s an impressive little machine. I look forward to playing with it for the next weeks, which I will be sure and blog about.
One of the first things I did was put the XO side-by-side with my old Apple eMate subnotebook. Despite the ten year age difference, they are surprisingly comparable machines. Pictures and commentary after the jump…
The XO Laptop Versus the Apple eMate
Okay, it hardly seems fair to compare a computer developed more than ten years ago with a sub-notebook just released by the One Laptop Per Child folks. But since they both were designed as child-friendly, educational devices, it seemed like a logical comparison. Plus, they are both green.
The eMate is the larger of the two devices at about 12 x 12 x 2", weighing in at about 4 pounds. The XO is about 9 x 9 x 1.25", also about 4 pounds.
The eMate has a slightly smaller than standard plastic keyboard with nice action and firmness. In comparison, the XO has a much tinier rubber keyboard with very little springiness. I used to take notes for hours on the eMate before the battery totally died; I can’t imagine doing a similar task with the XO. But then again, I’m not eight-years-old.
The eMate has a 480×320 16-shade greyscale monitor that you can adjust for sunlight and indoor conditions, as well as backlight. Very easy on the eyes when reading text, but obviously not a graphics powerhouse.
The XO has a 1200×900 full-color LCD monitor with an "ultra-low-power, ultra-high-resolution" black and white mode for reading.
The eMate has an IRDA infrared, serial and "Newton Interconnect" ports, as well as two PCMIA expansion card slots to add additional memory and applications.
The XO includees an MMC/SD card slot, three USB ports, microphone and headphones ports, and wifi connectivity.
Winner: a draw
The eMate has a super-cool stylus pointing device that you can use directly on the screen. It has pretty crude but effective character recognition software built in, which is handy. And I have always loved using the stylus to draw and move around objects versus a mouse or trackpad. It has three convenient stylus holders built into the keyboard.
The XO uses a trackpad that I found a bit wonky and slow to respond at first. But I did like the arrow keys right beside the monitor as well as on the keyboard itself.
The eMate supposedly clocks in at a whopping 28 hours of usage on one charge, which is a bit hard to believe. I got mine used, and it tended to last a good 18 hours before needing charging.
I’m a bit unclear on the battery specs for XO, which in the NY Times is quoted as "six hours of heavy activity or 24 hours of reading" and "days of activity" on the OLPC website. CNET puts it as closer to five hours of heavy activity. But OLPC promises that there will be available several ways for kids to recharge their XOs, from a handcrank to a solar charger.
The XO clearly wins, priced in $200 range, while the eMate retailed for around $800 when it was released. No contest.
Reportedly, the XO is nearly indestructible, resistant to liquids, dirt and dropping. I.e. perfect for a child. The eMate is constructed from high impact plastic and has a very few moving parts, so also very durable. But don’t spill your apple juice on an eMate keyboard.
The eMate compares quite favorably to the cutting edge XO laptop, which is surprising giving how old the device is. Just another reminder of what an amazing tech company Apple has always been. Sadly, the eMate was poorly marketed and too expensive for the educational applications it was built for. The designers of the XO clearly took some lessons from the eMate, including the large handle on the back, the easy-to-read greyscale mode, and kid-proof design.
Of course, what really matters is what is under the hood. Built with a completely open source model, the XO is going to be able to run hundreds of applications that are already starting to be available for download on the official site. (No word on the "Doom" port, though.) Kids themselves can use several different built in languages and apps to create their own games, applications and tools that they can share with each other.
I was excited about the OLPC project when it was announced in 2005. It’s amazing to see it go from Negroponte’s dream to an actual product that kids in the developing world are starting to use today. We live in remarkable times.