OLPC versus eeePC

I am now the lucky owner of both an OLPC XO and an Asus eeePC. I wrote about the eeePC before, now I got a chance to compare these two Linux-running, cheap ($200), kid-friendly, mini-PCs.

Let’s look at size first, since that’s a major differentiator for both:

mini-img_5371.jpg

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:

mini-img_5378.jpg

mini-img_5376.jpg

Finally, to give you a sense of proportion, here they are next to my Apple MacBook:

mini-img_5364.jpg

mini-img_5368.jpg

Screen sizes: MacBook: 13″, XO: 7.5″, eeePC: 7″.

mini-img_5367.jpg

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.

Published by

Toni Schneider

Partner at True Ventures. Team lead at Automattic. Advisor at Atipica, Bandcamp, Handshake, Hatch Baby, Madefire, Renovo Motors, and Tend.ai.

31 thoughts on “OLPC versus eeePC”

  1. My girls got an eeepc each for Christmas. So far, so good. Just does what they need, holds no fears, like exploring.

    I'd like an XO though and when I can I'll do the "but one, send one" deal.

  2. Great review man, I also bought an Eee PC (black 4GB model) and have a black MacBook 13".

    Seems to me like the OLPC fits a very different market – especially since it's being targeted at governments. Although, ASUS has made it clear that they are releasing the Eee specifically to compete with the OLPC, though again I think it will fall out to a different demographic.

    I think the Eee will be an additional computer for most people, where the OLPC will be the only computer for lots of lower income folks (or nations.) Just my $.02.

    Thanks.

  3. You say the cost of the OLPC is $200, but the only way to get one is to send the company $400 (you get one and one is donated). So, realistically, the cost is $400.

    Now, I have a question. My kids love to play games at webkinz.com, which is a flash-based environment. Can the OLPC run webkinz.com? If it can't, then I've spent $400, and it won't even get my kids off my computer.

  4. I'm looking at the Asus Eee as a potential ultra-mobile daily use machine. Plop it down, hook up an external monitor, and open a couple of apps off my main linux server in X windows on the Eee.

    I've also had my eye on the Nokia N810. Not sure yet if the Eee and N810 are complementary or competitive.

    My take on the Eee can be found here:
    http://blog.karas.net/Das_Blog/bid/3324/Nokia-N81

  5. Both of those computers are cool, but I think my good old apple emate 300 is better. I got mine for 50 bucks with everything in perfect working order. So, lets see…. 200$ for internet, word processor, and other apps withcolor? Or 50$ with all the same, but monochrome? Ill go for 1997 technology. =)

  6. Got an XO for my son as I wanted to see what we thought was good to supply to developing nations. He probably would not have got the computer if it wasn't for the $200 donation part and the school suggesting he needs to learn keyboarding. WOW, Just the handle and the keyboard are worth choosing it. He is 11 and walking across the driveway I don't worry about him dropping it. That handle is smart. I thought about an alphasmart (wordprocesser) which he uses at school but he can transfer work to other computers with the XO. He can also hook up to the internet and do other things with it. I worry less about theft. I once had a low end computer full of files stolen because it had that nice standard black case. Not saying you should not think about theft but the XO is clearly kid stuff, it is attractive to him and us because of that. It does enough but not too much (i.e.games). Even his older brother is not going to show more then passing interest. in "his" XO.

    I don't think the interest would have been as strong with a monochrome alphasmart. .. we have had some internet issues but even given that it seems like it was the right choice for us.

  7. are both of these very kid friendly?

    My kid is under one right now, but getting all of these ridiculous hit a button lights flash toys, I'm sure she'd have just as much fun with one of these laptops, though she would be even close to using it to it's full potential for quite a while.

    But would it withstand her banging on the keyboard and pressing on the screen? Just researching.

  8. @mschaef: Both keyboards are pretty tight…

    @Ariah Fine: They are kid friendly and more sturdy than a regular laptop, but I wouldn't recommend them for anyone under 5 or 6.

  9. I know this sounds like it goes against the grain but if they put a Firewire port on it I'll get rid of every laptop I have to get one.

  10. Can you verify for us ( we want to use thr "buy many" offer and have them go to a mission school in Haiti ) that the OLPC is indeed solar powered?

  11. Re. Dianne:

    The OLPC is not solar powered, but it is designed to work with a range of power sources that can include solar rechargers.

    Re. keyboards:

    The OLPC keyboard is just a bit too small for use by adult hands: you can hunt-and-peck one key at a time but forget about touch-typing. What I do with this machine when using it at home is attach an external USB keyboard and mouse.

    Question: Is the eeePC keyboard any better in this regard? Even the slightly-smaller-than-normal keyboards on the early Apple laptops such as the Powerbook 165, were quite satisfactory, but a too-small keyboard is a serious issue for those of us who do a lot of writing.

  12. Nice review Tony. I didn't realize ASUS was actively competing with OLPC, which makes me feel somewhat guilty for buying one. I'm happy with the eee PC and even getting used to the cramped keyboard which was my initial concern.

  13. It's ironic that the industry just doesn't get it– to make a subnote book with a 92-95 percent keyboard, max size 10.5 X4" or 4.5". Yes, it can be done and was done in the '70's and '80's providing sport jacket/backpack/purse p0cket-sized computers for journalists, students, writers and business people who found them so invaluable that to this day they are being coveted. A screen with a 3-4 inch "height" has proven MORE than adequate for writing, note-taking, math and just about anything. The market niche for this isn't obvious because until one actually uses a computer this size and discovers how wonderful it is to have, there is false need and demand for bigger screens. It's necessary to start out with a different assumption than computer companies are willing to make because they rely on market research that does not reflect the EXPERIENCE and advantage of the smaller screen, etc. that allow for the kind of situations that demand them. I wish the industry would wake up. You'd see these things everywhere. The small ones are still too awkward. As for battery life; yes more time is better, but for transient use 1.5-2 hrs with a spare battery meets most situations. Also, someday, the airline industry, which could also use a revolution in the direction of passenger convenience and comfort, might actually decided to put power jacks in seats. Commercial aircraft generate huge amounts of electrical power which goes wasted. Power outlets and wiring are a one=time cost and dirt cheap. But that's another story.

  14. To the person who asked about Flash: I have found that the open source gnash is not adequate for most Flash applications, and that is what is on the OLPC XO laptop. On the other hand, if you install firefox you can install the non-free-love software (but-free-of-cost software) from Adobe, the plugin that will make flash work. Here is a link to instructions on how to do that: http://tinyurl.com/2c8aap http://jeffreyscudder.blogspot.com/2008/01/trying

  15. Thanks for the very generous overview of so many readers. My interest is for a handicapped (mental) adult at 35, who does not have command of the everyday world…but I feel he could…after time…have some fun with the XO "just for learning" – in the 'ATTEMPT TO" mode…:) – but I feel you are actually comparing Apples with Oranges between these two models. You are comparing a child's learning toy (machine) WITH an adult's mind and usage…care to take a pedal car and put it up against a Ferrari? The XO of course is a winner with the handle, the color and "it just looks like a kid's unit"… Regards, Wally B

  16. Personally, I think it is far out of the ball park to say that the eeePC is trying to compete with the OLPC. These two products are entirely different and made for different purposes. The eeePC is an adult focused internet machine with note taking abilities, and the OLPC is a kid machine focused on being sturdy enough for some rough usage. Basically you just are comparing two different things.

  17. Small size of EEEPC comes first. I need to carry a laptop all the time in my work. Even my 12" DELL X300 is way too big and heavy for the road. PDA's are missing USB host connectors. You need them for the measurement devices.

    I'm using browser, email, calendar, notepad, SSH, SFTP and paint daily. I'm using TP, Wlan, BT and 3G all the time.

    What I would like to have is a simple programming language like BASIC for sudden calculations.

    EEEPC seems to have all connectors needed except CF, which I can handle with an USB adapter. There is even memory enough, when you have WLAN in the work and home and use Linux servers for the mass memory.

    Question: is there a real connector for the microphone or only an internal mic ?

    Camera is not of use in a laptop, when you have a Nokia with a camera all the time with you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s