When it comes to reviewing laptops for kids, we don’t attempt to know what the kids want. So we have gone the route of sending the laptops for children to the children. We sent One Laptop Per Child’s XO to 8-year-old Nicholas Bsales of New Jersey back in December. Nicholas liked the XO, but he didn’t love it. He liked the look and feel of the green hardware, but he had problems taking to the Sugar Linux OS, the sluggish browsing, and the games, which he just couldn’t figure out how to play. A few weeks ago we sent Nicholas Intel’s Classmate. This Nicholas, by the way, knows nothing of the war being fought on the pages of The Wall Street Journal pages between OLPC and Intel. Nicholas had a different feeling about the Classmate. He more than liked it. Check out the full review, but the last paragraph says it all:
“Nicholas decidedly preferred the Classmate to the OLPC XO, saying, ‘Itâ€™s really great. This one is totally better.’ Given the choice between the XO and his LeapFrog learning handheld, Nick preferred the LeapFrog; given the choice between the Classmate and the LeapFrog, he said he would choose the Classmate.”
But there is a difference between sending a laptop to a child who has grown up with computers all their lives and one who has never seen a computer before. A girl just Nicholas’ age in Mali had never played with a PC. So when we sent her an XO she absolutely loved it. She didn’t want to give it up. Would she love the Classmate even more? I really doubt it. Especially since the Classmate doesn’t have a web cam and that was her favorite feature on the XO.
Is the XO the Salvation Army of children’s computers and the Classmate the Saks 5th Avenue? For those that understand food analogies better, Intel serves the filet mignon and OLPC a McDonald’s McSkillet. Without a Windows OS and an Intel chip, the XO becomes a bare-bones system compared to Intel’s Classmate (see the side by side comparison).
Is this what went through the minds of the decision makers in Libya, Nigeria and Pakistan when they decided to push out Classmates to the children of their respective countries? Either way, Nicholas Negroponte has said time and time again that One Laptop Per Child “is a education project and not a laptop project.”
The real question raised by the Classmate is whether the XO laptop, with its non-standard operating system, is a good educational tool. Does the OLPC XO help children in developing countries prepare to compete in a global economy or does it offer them the electronic equivalent of an outdated textbook?