Windowshoppist - Pressing Our Noses Against The Internets

Sunday, November 25, 2007

OLPC XO and Amazon Kindle ($400)

At first glance, these products don't have a lot to do with one another. One's a stripped-down, rugged children's PC originally developed for third-world countries ("OLPC" stands for One Laptop Per Child, the nonprofit manufacturer's ultimate goal); one's a top-of-the-line E-Book reader intended for yuppies. But they have more in common than their price point (a cool $400): crossover functionality for both devices means they have a wide appeal, and they're both hot items for Christmas 2007.


Running on open-source software (which can be customized and then restored using included tools), it includes word-processing and other simple productivity software, a handful of games, and a super-powerful wireless receiver/transmitter (that's what those cute little antennae do). Its innovative screen works in three positions depending on use, one of which is a position ideal for both gaming and reading E-Books—and unlike every other laptop on the planet, it's completely readable in direct sunlight, thanks to an inventive mono mode. The whole shebang weighs in at three pounds, has an included handle, and can survive coffee spills on the keyboard as well as dropping from a height of four feet.

Downsides: The OLPC XO's kid-friendliness means adults are going to have to retrain their chunky fingers to use the teeny keyboard, and its stripped-down style means there are no fancy extras like a CD/DVD player. Its smallish flash memory also means you really can't store enormous files on the hard drive (do we store big files on ultra-portable PCs, though?).

The Amazon Kindle

Widely lauded as the first really decent E-Book reader, it's also readable in sunlight, thanks to its "electronic paper"-style display. Mad power management skillz make it possible to use continuously for 24 hours with wireless on before you have to recharge. And in addition to being able to buy E-Books from, you can get your newspaper subscriptions delivered wirelessly to your Kindle, check 250 pre-loaded top blogs that continuously update, and consult Wikipedia.

Downsides: The Kindle doesn't actually let you surf the internet freely (only those pre-loaded blogs, Wikipedia, and whatever content you purchase through Amazon), despite having free wireless access. It has no color mode, and using it to surf free E-Books available on the net and/or PDFs is either impossible or very difficult, depending on who you ask.

The Verdict

The OLPC XO has two huge advantages: you have access to the whole web, and because the OLPC XO is available only through a "Give One, Get One" program, a tax-deductible $200 of your $400 purchase sends a laptop to a needy child. The ruggedness and size makes it a great potential ultraportable device for grownups, and an even better My First Laptop for your kid. Don't forget that OLPC XOs are only available for purchase in the U.S. until December 31st, 2007. After that, the "Give One, Get One" program closes down and the laptops are only available through mass purchase to international programs.

The Amazon Kindle has its advantages, too: it's a very easy system for purchased E-Books, probably the easiest one out there. Its variable text size tool means it's a particularly good purchase for older readers who might want large print and prefer something easier to operate than a full-featured computer. Just don't expect to surf the web on it.

Neither retailer, thanks to huge demand, can absolutely promise Christmas delivery, so if you're planning to gift (or own!) either the OLPC XO or the Amazon Kindle, be sure to order ASAP for the best chance at getting your mitts on it in a timely fashion.