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XO Laptops and other "NetBooks"

Page history last edited by Roxann Nys 11 years, 8 months ago

XO Laptop-Plenty of Potential



Is the handheld on its way out? I think not, although the XO laptop (orginally known as the $100 laptop) is certainly a tool worth considering as another option, especially for the very young. I ordered my XO laptop during the recent “Buy1 Give1″ promotion and received it the day before Christmas. (The promotion ended on Dec. 31st, 2007, but I think it will be back once initial orders are fulfilled.) The cost was $398 for me to get one XO and donate one. In return for the donation, I can take a $200 tax credit. I’ve finally had time to check most of it out and I think it has some very good possibilities for students in kindergarten to about 4th grade.


Although I knew that the laptop would be small, I was a bit surprised by how small it really is–just 9″ x 9.” Here’s a comparison photo you can check out. Not a handheld–it definitely won’t fit in my pocket or purse, but with its sturdy handle and light weight (about 3#), it’s very easy to carry around. The screen size (7 1/2″) was comfortable for me for viewing (I’m very used to the small screens of Palms), but the keyboard is definitely designed for little hands–it was impossible for me to type on it normally. Although its size was a problem for me, I liked the fact that it’s completely sealed and it would be almost impossible to damage it by spilling something on it. It’s also not possible for individual keys to be removed–a real plus for kid use. The laptop has a 500-megahertz processor and 256 megabytes of DRAM (dynamic random access memory) with 1 gig of flash memory.


I have been able to connect to open wireless networks and browse the Internet easily. As part of the laptop giving I also received a one year complimentary subscription to T-Mobile “hot spots” (there’s only one in Green Bay at the Starbucks, but there are a fair number of them throughout WI and beyond.)


I’ve checked the “activities” (they are not called applications) that come pre-loaded on the XO, including a word processor which works very much like any other–copy, paste, insert tables and images, and basic formatting. It has a limited number of fonts and no spell check options, but documents created can be saved as RTF, HTML or TXT and transferred to a flash drive for further editing if desired. (The XO comes with 3 USB ports built in.) I was able to connect a USB mouse with no problem (it didn’t come with one) and was able to use the mouse pad without too much trouble, although it was sometimes a little jumpy in some of the activities. There is a built in stylus pad, but no activities (as yet) with which it can be used.


In addition, I was able to download a number of additional activities from the XO wiki software page. All were free and most are works in progress. Thank you to those of you who are taking time to develop them! Developers are asking for feedback from anyone who tries them out.


I gave the XO to my 6 year old grand-nephew and with a few basic instructions he was able to use a couple of activities pretty much on his own. He had fun with Paint (mostly scribbling, though) and did quite well with the Maze activity (one that I downloaded.) Each maze gets progressively harder and you can time yourself on how long it takes to complete it. He also enjoyed Story Builder created by MaMaMedia–it provides several backgrounds with related characters that can be placed on them by dragging and dropping them. Each character had its own movements and noises. The idea is to create the scene and then write a story. He doesn’t have much patience or typing skills, so I helped him out with that part. Cartoon Builder, a basic “cell-animation” activity with sound effects and a variety of characters and backgrounds also piqued his curiosity and imagination. The MaMaMedia folks included a few lesson plans in each activity. He also explored TamTamjam, a music creation program which has great potential for a budding Beethoven. There’s a considerable library of sounds and with the built in microphone, kids can add their own as well.


The laptop’s battery lasted a solid 3 hours of constant use (I tried most every activity during that time) before it had to be recharged. It comes with a built-in camera which can take still photos (not bad quality at all) or video–pretty much unusable in my opinion.


There are three types of activities distributed with the base system: tools for exploring, expressing, and collaborating. The XO software components wiki lists all the available software–pretty extensive actually, as well as that other software still under development. I expect that much more will be added as the community grows. I was impressed with what’s already available.

A colleague of mine has one on order as well, and when she gets hers, we’ll test some of the collaboration activities.


I do think that the laptop is worth considering for use in our elementary schools as it continues to be developed. Birmingham City Schools has signed a purchase order for 15,000 of the laptops for use by every student in K-8 in the district. I believe tech savvy parents will be purchasing them for their kids once they see the XO’s potential. I would advise schools to be prepared for this eventuality by carefully looking at their policies for allowing student owned “gadgets” (including other handhelds and inexpensive computing devices) in their buildings. These are powerful tools with incredible potential for enhancing learning. I know that my grand-nephews will be enjoying mine whenever they come to visit.


I know absolutely nothing about OS’s, so I can’t comment on the XO’s–you’ll have to look to others to tell you more…check out educational tech Doug Johnson’s Blue Skunk Blog posts: OLPC-Follow-Up and another OLPC Follow-Up Posting. He writes (among much else):

This is a VERY different operating system. Nothing is in the same place you’d find it in a Linux, Windows or Mac OS. The learning curve may be longer for adults with computer experience than for kids with no tech experience at all.

Finally, Tony Vincent, handheld guru par excellence, has also blogged about the XO and other small, cheap laptops coming onto the market.


One to One Computing continues to get more affordable!


There is a proliferation of ther small laptops, now being called "Netbooks" out there!


A netbook is a cheap (often under $500) small laptop which is optimized for wireless Internet and word processing. The term was introduced by Intel corp. in Feb 2008 and it is expected that there will be about 50 millions netbooks in widespread use by 2011. This light notebook is underpowered, low cost and of small size. The platform combines power-optimized processor such as the Intel Atom or VIA C7 with adapted Linux or Windows XP OS. Check out this relatively recent list of the top 10 netbooks currently available in the market.


For more in-depth evaluation info on the eight best netbooks, check out James Maguire's article published in April 2009.


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