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XO Tablet Hands On Review: Wow, OLPC Finally Got It Right!

By Wayan Vota on August 9, 2013

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When the XO-1 Laptop first came out in 2006, I was in awe of the hardware innovations. From bunny ears for better WiFi to a hardened swivel-screen top, to its low power consumption, OLPC had one innovation after another.

However, the operating system was still buggy, the software barely past beta, and the content non-existent. Add to it, OLPC wanted poor countries to spend millions (billions even) on the hardware, but not on better teachers, pedagogy, or even basic support.

So while the idea was brilliant, the hardware was clock stopping hot, OLPC had absolutely no clue about educational implementation.

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Fast forward 7 years and with the XO Tablet, OLPC has finally produced a “unique learning system” that any parent or Minister of Education could proudly give to children and students in or out of any classroom and expect it to be a catalytic change in learning.

The XO Tablet is not a hardware innovation – far from it, actually. Its just another 7″ Android tablet, looking pretty much exactly like a Nexus 7 wrapped in a green silicone bumper. The operating system is stock Android with a nice skin on top. But where it is boring in hardware it shines in software.

The XO Tablet comes with hundreds of software applications that will excite and entice young minds. My two daughters were using an engaging painting app within seconds, fighting over which color a toucan should be and then manipulating a human skeleton, quizzing my wife on bone names. That never happened with the XO Laptop.

Maybe it is the touch screen and responsive hardware. Maybe it is over 160 mature apps with hundreds of thousands of developer hours invested to make them world-class experiences. Maybe it’s the familiar Android UI that let dad help out when kids got stuck. Or maybe it’s just a real, polished consumer device honed with retail marketing experts, but the XO Tablet doesn’t feel anything like the XO Laptop.

It’s not a toy or a gadget. It’s a real learning machine that I can’t pull either of my daughters away from. In fact, I just bought a second XO Tablet for $150 to stop the tug of war over this one.

OLPC, you finally got it right.

Now get your XO Tablet on Amazon (USA) or eBay (worldwide).


PS: Check out the unboxing and usage pictures here and the full XO Tablet coverage on OLPC News

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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9 Comments to “XO Tablet Hands On Review: Wow, OLPC Finally Got It Right!”

  1. Dan Sutera says:

    Hey Wayan, very cool– glad to see the have something with functional software going finally!

    One question: You mentioned Ministers of Education– how would you see (or how does OLPC see) the new device integrating into a classroom setting. Do they have an actual curriculum/lesson plans that the device is integrated into? Or would it be more for tutoring/afterschool?

    • Wayan Vota says:

      Dan, from what I can tell, OLPC itself has no actual curriculum/lesson plans for the XO Tablet (or the for the XO Laptop for that matter – it was done at the country level).

      I see this tablet integrating into the classroom as a way for students to explore a topic on their own via one of the apps or content, or as part of a classroom lesson where students used the tablet to find answers or do a task. Note that both of these activities could be achieved by any other technology device with good apps/content as well.

      The edge I give to the XO Tablet over other devices is that it comes preloaded with what I consider to be way more than $150 worth of software/content. The big news is that historically OLPC did not invest in either.

  2. Pat Hall says:

    This is wonderful, a good modern feel, and is particularly relevant given the recent debate about Worldreader. I hope that this OLPC offering is as physically robust as the original – I the OLPC X0 dropped from a couple meters onto concrete, no problem. And I hope that this is marketed aggressively to the consumer market worldwide and that the price rockets down.

    That was my reservation about Worldreader, remembering the fate of the Indian Simputer – nice idea but just could not keep up with the generic commercial rivals adding capabilities while dropping prices. And, hopefully costs will be lower for volume sales to schools across the world.

    Thanks Wayan for telling us about it, I see you have written the first review on Amazon, that is fast work. The other (second( review is also worth reading.

    • Wayan Vota says:

      You should have no reservations about Worldreader’s use of the Kindle. Yes, they had multiple hardware failures when they started out (as we’ve covered before) but they’ve learned quick and now have a very low (I wanna say 5% or so) failure rate.

  3. John Hawker says:

    OK – So what can this do that a Min Ed of a country couldn’t do by going out, placing an order for “X” million units with Nexus or some other manufacturer and setting up an education ICT content and curriculum integration team that would source, sponsor, and create local content to match the local curriculum in local language?

    If it’s exactly like a normal tablet, the only difference being other companies/peoples/organizations applications on the tablet, that’s not really an incentive is it?

    I can buy retail a great Acer 7″ tablet for the same price.

    • Pat Hall says:

      Yes, I wondered too what extra value the XO tablet gave, and asked if it was as super-rouggedised as the old OLPC X0 had been.

      The way the OLPC laptop is being used in Nepal is exactly as John Hawker suggests – all the valuable teaching content is being produced in country in collaboration with the Min Ed so that it matches the local curriculum.

      While the OLPC X0 is fast becoming dated, it is at least ruggedised and does survive the exacting conditions of rural Nepal.

    • Wayan Vota says:

      John, for a Minister of Education looking at thousands of units, sure, go buy the hardware and set up a bespoke list of apps and content that fit with that country’s needs. They have the resources to do that, as Thailand, Brazil, Uruguay, Rwanda and soon Kenya have shown.

      But the reality is that most deployments done by those reading ICTworks are not funded by Ministries, they are set up by well-meaning donors who do not have the financial or technical resources to replicate the software and UI, and certainly not at $150 each. At 10, 100, even 250, buying the XO Tablet is much more cost effective than development and then supporting a bespoke software image.

  4. Sam Lanfranco says:

    As someone who has been critical of the technology led OLPC strategy, driven at the expense of teacher and overall in class curricular support, I am pleased to see the move to the XO tablet. Since it run on an Android system I have two questions. 1. Are the XO Tablet applications compatible with other Android based tablets? If so, then the interesting aspect is the apps, above and beyond the rugged and cute device. 2. Are any apps uniquely dependent on XO Tablet hardware?

    • Wayan Vota says:

      Sam, I too am excited they’ve moved from bespoke to common software platforms. To your questions:

      1. Yes, the applications are compatible with other Android devices. Some/many are in Google Play Store already.
      2. Not that I know of.

      So to John’s point above, you could recreate most of the XO Tablet app selection on another tablet.