Let’s look at size first, since that’s a major differentiator for both:
From this angle, they seem about the same size. The keyboards are both 8″ x 3″ (the XOs keys are smaller and the rubbery type). The screen is slightly larger on the XO.
However, looking at the from above and the side, you can see that the XO is actually a little bit bigger:
Finally, to give you a sense of proportion, here they are next to my Apple MacBook:
Screen sizes: MacBook: 13″, XO: 7.5″, eeePC: 7″.
I like the hardware on both devices. The eeePC is nicely put together and sturdy. The XO is a great piece of industrial design – fun, innovative, and versatile (it can go into tablet mode, the built in handle is cool). The XO has the better screen. Both keyboards are too small for me to touch type. The battery lasts a little longer on the XO (about 4 hours vs 3 hours) but it’s nowhere close to early promises of 10-12 hours of battery life. Both have built in wi-fi. The eeePC has more ports, it can connect to Ethernet and an external monitor, the XO can’t.
On the software side, things get interesting. Both devices run Linux and have created their own custom GUIs that are more simplified (and kid friendly) than Windows or the Mac. The XOs software is all open source (a goal of the project is to let kids/users go under the hood and change things if they want). Not sure how much of the eeePC’s software is open source.
I found myself getting up-to-speed more quickly on the eeePC, yet finding the XO more intriguing and full of potential.
The eeePC software feels pretty familiar (if you’ve used a computer before). There are familiar apps like Firefox, Skype and OpenOffice. The other bundled apps (learning tools, games, media management) have a traditional Windows, menu-driven GUI feel to them. I also found the eeePC software to be pretty solid. The network works well, the bootup and apps are pretty zippy, etc.
The XO was a little strange at first. There are no instructions, you just dive in. I guess this makes sense since these devices were designed for students in third world countries. The XO software is a little more flaky at this point than the eeePC. It boots kind of slowly, the network worked at my house, but not at the office, and loading apps and general responsiveness is a little slow. On the other hand, once you get into it, there are some gems. Networking is built into everything in a fun and simple way. The top of the screen let’s you switch between your neighborhood (all computers and networks within range), your group (other XOs that you’ve connected with), or your home screen. Joining multiple XOs together is super simple and some of the apps have built-in sharing, so you can invite other XOs to work with you on a program. This seems like a great feature for classrooms where every student has an XO and they’re working in groups. I also like that the bundled apps feel more like hands-on learning tools than the software on the eeePC and other more “traditional” platforms. For example, the XO bundles Pippy, a Python run-time app that let’s you write code and run it on the spot, or Turtle Art, which let’s you program a Logo Turtle to draw stuff.
I think both the XO and the eeePC are interesting devices. Both feel like a better fit for a classroom than your typical Mac or PC laptop. The cost alone ($200) makes a lot of sense for a school and the form factors and primarily open source software are great as well. I’d feel good recommending either one, though I’m currently more excited about the XO, because it’s more innovative and has more potential. Next step is to let my kids try them and see what happens.