April 20, 2014

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One Laptop Per Child, Reviewed by 12-Year-Old

[I recently got my hands on one of the One Laptop Per Child machines. I found the perfect person to review the machine. Today's guest blogger, SG, is twelve years old and is the child of a close friend. I lent the laptop to SG and asked SG to write a review, which appears here just as SG wrote it, without any editing. –Ed]

[Update(June 2012): I can reveal now that SG is my daughter, Claire Felten.]

I’ve spent all of my life around computers and laptops. I’m only 12 years old though, so I’m not about to go off and start programming a computer to do my homework for me or anything. My parents use computers a lot, so I know about HTML and mother boards and stuff, but still I’m not exactly what you would call an expert. I just use the computer for essays, surfing the web, etc.

Over the last few days, I spent a lot of time on this laptop. I went on the program for typing documents, took silly pictures with the camera, went on the web, played the matching game, recorded my voice on the music-making application, and longed for someone to join me on the laptop-to-laptop messaging system. Here is what I discovered about the OLPC laptops:

My expectations for this computer were, I must admit, not very high. But it completely took me by surprise. It was cleverly designed, imaginative, straightforward, easy to understand (I was given no instructions on how to use it. It was just, “Here. Figure it out yourself.”), useful and simple, entertaining, dependable, really a “stick to the basics” kind of computer. It’s the perfect laptop for the job. Great for first time users, it sets the mood by offering a bunch of entertaining and easy games and a camera. It also has an application that allows you to type things. The space is a little limited, but the actual thing was great. It doesn’t have one of those impossible-to-read fonts but it was still nice. When the so-so connection allows you to get on, the internet is one of the best features of the whole computer. With a clever and space-saving toolbar, it is compact, well designed, accessible, and fast.

But, unfortunately, the internet is the only fast element of the computer. My main problem with this laptop is how very slow it is. It’s true that I am used to faster computers, but that’s not the problem. It’s just really slow. I had to wait two minutes to get onto one application. That’s just a little longer than I can accept. Also, it got slower and slower and slower the longer I went without rebooting it. I had to reboot it all the time. We’re talking once every two or three hours of use! And one of the most frustrating things about the system was that it gave no warning when it was out of power (as it was often because it lost charge very quickly) but just shut down. It doesn’t matter if you’re working on your autobiography and you had gotten all the way to the day before yesterday and forgotten to save it, it just shuts off and devours the whole thing.

This laptop is definitely designed for harsh conditions. Covered in a green and white hard plastic casing, it is designed not to break if dropped. It has a very nice handle for easy transportation and two antennas in plastic that can be easily put up. Once you open it, you see the screen (pretty high resolution) and my favorite part of the computer: the keyboard. It’s green rubber so that dust and water won’t get in under the keys, and this makes the keyboard an awesome thing to type on. Every time you hit a key, it provides a certain amount of satisfaction of how squishy and effortless it is. I just can’t get over that keyboard. There is also a button that changes the brightness of the screen. The other cool thing is that the screen is on a swiveling base, so you can turn it backwards then close it. This makes the laptop into just a screen with a handle.

All in all, this laptop is great for its price, its job, and its value. It is almost perfect. Just speed it up, give it a little more battery charge hold, and you have yourself the perfect laptop. I’m sure kids around the world will really love, enjoy, and cherish these laptops. They will be so useful. This program is truly amazing.

Comments

  1. tom brandt says:

    A 12-year-old wrote this? Most adults don’t write this well.

  2. Rich Gibbs '74 says:

    SG, thank you for your review. It is excellent and informative — and I think you could give a few adult reviewers that I know of some lessons in getting, and sticking, to the point.

  3. Alex Komoroske says:

    SG, you’re the most articulate 12-year-old I’ve ever seen.

    Thank you for your informative review!

  4. john erickson says:

    Great review, “SG!”

    Regarding the XO’s speed (or lack thereof), perhaps that is due to the UI (“Sugar”) is python-based; a description can be found here (wikipedia).

    An interesting and extensive review of the XO from heise mobil (auf englisch) can be found here (heise.ed).

  5. Rabbit says:

    SG – excellent review – I’ve been waiting for something from your demographic viewpoint.

    And your writing skills are excellent! You should thinka bout getting your own blog. Best of luck!

    • Prescott Real Estate says:

      I was amazed that a 12 year old could write so well. I have a feeling that computers have something to do with that, which again is why every child should have one. Very well written!

  6. Srdjan says:

    Wow, first I am impressed with this 12-year-old’s writing style. Like one of the previous posters said, most adults don’t write this good.
    As for the laptop, it is the first of its kind. These problems are to be expected.

  7. Bill Smith says:

    Well written review, SG.

  8. Anonymous says:

    > [...] most adults don’t write this good. [...]

    Or rather, this *well*. :-)

  9. alex says:

    Probably the best review of anything tech related I’ve read in a while. Cheers to both SJ, and Ed for finding him :)

  10. Scott Swanson says:

    Good review. As has been pointed out, SG is older than the target demographic, so that is one thing to consider; s/he probably was not taking the view of a 7 year old when pondering speed and other usability factors. The other point to consider is that the review does not mention which prototype model nor which build of the environment was tested, and that could make a *profound* difference for some of the author’s concerns.

    Besides the fact that this is posted from a sub-COPPA-aged reviewer, it is quite appreciated and I hope that all people involved were comfortable with this and allow SG to contine hir journalistic career!

  11. steve says:

    I’d love to send them a pile of cash for one, but they think *my* children don’t deserve to have them unless their government agrees to buy millions of them.

  12. Jon Pritchard says:

    Very impressed with SG’s writing. Good sentence structure, good use of paragraphs and brackets! You would have scored well in the SATS for 11 year olds here in the UK.

    I think from what SG is saying, that it delivers on a lot of what Negroponte promised, but the battery life sounds disappointing. Sounds to me like there’s usability issues here with the power management, and saving work.

    However, I’m glad to hear that the internet experience is good, as I think this is one of the most important things about the XO.

  13. Paul C. Bryan says:

    Kudos SG for your review. Greatly written and focused on point. I think you should guest blog more often! I’d read your reviews of other things.

  14. Crosbie Fitch says:

    COPPA or not, I trust that precautions have been taken to ensure that SG’s right to identify themselves as the author of their work will be preserved (at such time as it is considered safe for them to do so – should they wish to exert the right that it appears COPPA denies them today).

  15. CVOS says:

    SG – if this laptop can help other children write and communicate half as well as you do this will be the biggest success of the 21st century.

    It would be fantastic to see more reviews with screenshots of specific applications since most of us live in countries that will not receive this laptop.

    steve: yes it would be great if these machines were available to the general public, but im sure it would cost more to sell it to individuals, rather than a 1mm bulk government order.

  16. Juvenal Sahiri says:

    Who said that the OLPC will be for 7 years old. That’s not certainly what is/will happen in Africa (if it makes it there). Besides the affordability issue (it is a stretch to think of an OLPC in an environment where there is not one textbook per child), there is the language barrier. Mastery of english or other international language which is required to use this computer doesn’t really happen until children are 10-11 years old (under the best conditions).

    But give Negroponte his due, this is the first time that someone engineered a product specifically for the developing world. And this has caused all the other players to get in the act for fear that they loose out.

  17. Not Listed says:

    Uhh.. hello? A lot of today’s generation is more intellectual than you think. I am but of the age of twelve and yet I have an extensive vocabulary. I do believe I can write reviews rather well. I even have some books on the market. I enjoy reading books meant for college level. Therefore, I believe I speak on the behalf of children today – whether they be teens, tweens, or under, when I say do not underestimate the minds of the generation of today. Thank you if you read, this, for by the time you read this, I would say I immensely appreciate your understanding. My gratitude is indescribable. And please, one more thing. Never underestimate the minds of tomorrow. Thanks.
    T. – 12 years old.

  18. Not Listed says:

    P.S. Whoever believes that we are not capable of articulating an extensive knowledge of electronics, technology, or even simply a vast vocabulary and writing skills, I must say that for the whole, you are incorrect.

  19. Fake Steve Jobs says:

    This is no 12 year old….. it’s Daniel Lyons from Forbes!!!

  20. coolbho3000 says:

    This article is pretty impressive for a twelve year old’s work, but when compared to a professional review, it doesn’t even light a match (as some of you seem to imply).

    While well written, this review does miss a key point of the OPLC project – the laptops are supposed to be dirt cheap and delivered en masse to various third world countries. However, this article was written from an entirely different viewpoint than the intended target audience. A child who has never seen a computer in his whole life would give you a completely different (and likely more positive) review.

  21. Not Listed says:

    I call bullshit on this review…there is no way a 12 year old wrote this

    [The introduction is entirely accurate. The review really was written by a 12-year-old. -- Ed]

  22. Amos Satterlee says:

    A quick comment about the demographic — the age range for the OLPC is up to the mid-teens, so SG is a very apt tester. Glad to hear that the overall product lives up to its promise, but the battery charge issue (supposed to go 12 hours), the wait time, and the need to reboot are huge deals.

  23. SG says:

    Juvenal Sahiri—

    I noticed you said something about needing to understand English to use the computer. This is actually not much of a problem since the computer is designed so the user does not need to read and write English. It uses mostly pictures to get its message across. In the countries where this laptop will be used, 7 year olds could definitely use it just as well or almost as well as kids my age.

  24. coolbho3000 says:

    @ Not Listed – Stop it right there. I find it incredibly annoying when someone attempts to boast about their intelligence, no matter what age they are. Face it: there are plenty of twelve year olds who are capable of reading and understanding books “meant for college level,” more than you think.

    If you really have a few books “on the market,” then do us a favor and post links to where these books are sold.

    Please, don’t mix high-level vocabulary words with mediocre grammar.

  25. D says:

    SG, excellent review. Don’t be too harshed by the adults who don’t get the whole point…

    Even with this type of technology, there will have to be early adopters who beta test the units. The early adopters may well be tweens, with flexible brains and enough responsibility to take care of the book. I would believe that the tested unit is a prototype, so a full production model would exhibit different battery times and such. The critique about the time to open an app. should certainly be listened to, as the target audience might not even know they are supposed to be patient. Battery time should be taken into consideration, but my swiss-cheese memory thinks that originally these were to be cranckable generation. Am I remembering the wrong thing? I’m guessing that most of the target do not have access to electricity as a constant thing. They may not have power at all, and that is certainly an issue. For WWW use, were these designed to be wifi or cell access? I know that cell is leapfrogging in a lot of developing places, but without access, the pretty electric book may be a doorstop. Typing on a box is worthless without the capacity to put that typing somewhere, does it have the capacity to wireless print?

    All in all, certainly a good review SG, and now we just have to make it work. You always have to tweak a prototype anyway…

    cheers,
    D

  26. Yope says:

    SG, congratulations on a wonderful and articulate review. Very informative!

  27. Ed Felten says:

    D,

    I had to fiddle with the machine before giving it to SG, to get it to work with the WiFi network at SG’s house. I doubt a kid could have gotten that working. But I assume that in a real deployment they would have a base station preconfigured to work with the laptops out of the box.

  28. Mike says:

    D, I also thought it had a power generating crank.

    When it runs out of power does it save your work with something like safe sleep or hibernate?

  29. Gav says:

    Nice review SG. The OLPC isn’t quite an established platform, so faults are to be expected.

    Also, ‘Not Listed’, I found your attempt at sounding intelligent rather amusing. I understand that you may be intelligent for your age, but your grammar was quite frankly horrific.

    I’d also like to point out that the number of teen or even pre-teen ‘techies’ is a lot higher than you might think. The majority of us (I am 13 myself) use fake ages to fit in with communities that may otherwise, and might I add – rather egotistically in my opinion, shun us immediately because of our age.

    I am personally about to endevour on a MSCE course, as I have a lot of experience dealing with Windows Servers, and have been using computers from a very early age.

    Also, SG, you lucky *** – I wish I was recognised like that, and had the chance to get my hands on and be one of the first to review such an important and revolutionary new product and I don’t use the term revolutionary lightly, unlike Steve Jobs…

  30. Andrew Burgess says:

    The comment about losing your work at power down isnt true for current models. All the apps autosave at powerdown, from what I have understood by following the olpc devel list.

    Pity the exact model isnt stated, it might be a Beta2 and they are mass producing Beta4 now (Aug 2007). B2′s had a slower CPU (B3 and up is 700Mhz) and less RAM (128M VS 256M)

    Personally I think the little freaking thing will change the world :-)

  31. Not Listed says:

    @ coolbho3000 -
    And I find it incredibly annoying when people find it hard to believe that a 12 year old wrote the review. If they have intelligence, and find the computer to be effective, then they shouldn’t have to write poorly – that’s such a stereotype. You should be proud that the new generation isn’t hiding in the dark – that they’re exposing that our world is overcoming changes – some being that there are those slightly more intellectual among us. Be proud that SG has intelligence. Be proud that our world is showing more signs of having a vast vocabulary at a younger age. And remember that just because there are some adults who can not write this well, don’t forget that others among you can.

  32. Ed Felten says:

    The machine SG reviewed is a Beta2.

  33. coolbho3000 says:

    Not Listed, I think you need to read up on the definition of “stereotype.” Generally speaking, we can assume that the average child (twelve years old in your case) is less intelligent than the average adult. There are exceptions, of course, but we cannot label facts as stereotypes.

    D, the OLPCs use a sort of ad-hoc networking system, over 802.11b/g WiFi (though the laptop is limited to communicating at 2 mbit/s due to power concerns). As long as one laptop in the network has internet access, all the other laptops in the cell effectively have internet access as well.

  34. Not Listed says:

    Exactly. That is why I said the general stereotype is that most adults are more intelligent than the average child. That IS a stereotype that adults are smarter.

  35. Not Listed says:

    By the way, whoever posted the comment way back up reading:

    I call bullshit on this review…there is no way a 12 year old wrote this

    [The introduction is entirely accurate. The review really was written by a 12-year-old. — Ed]

    is a different Not Listed. Not me.

    By the way, I find it pretty sad that you’re getting into an argument with a 12 year old.

  36. coolbho3000 says:

    There seems to be three different Not Listed individuals. One seems to think children are just as smart as adults, one calls bullshit on this review, and yet other finds it depressing that I’m having an argument with a twelve year old.

    Please, do us a favor and fill out the proper fields.

  37. Chris says:

    What’s remarkable to me is not that a 12 year old wrote this review, but that many adults think this is such an exceptional accomplishment. To me this rather shows how bad the writing skills of your average adult are.

  38. Bernardo says:

    To all those surprised at the quality of the review – what did you expect? SG is probably the child of a Princeton professor :-D

    Great review, SG!

  39. Donovan says:

    A good review from the perspective of what seems to be an average 12 year old, albeit one that is likely more tech savvy than average.

    And I really can’t say that I’m that surprised by the quality of the review, people really don’t give kids of that age much credit although by that age you have most of your literacy skills in place already. It’s hard to believe that people have forgotten so easily that they were writing multipage reports requiring lots of research and proper citing at that age. And many of us more geeky types were already learning computer programming back then.

  40. whiskey says:

    In my tests with the VMWare Appliance i found that doubling the ammount of RAM made it run faster and stabilized the system in general… So can anyone tell if this is doable on the regular hardware?

  41. Not Listed says:

    I never said that children are “smarter” than adults as you stated. I simply said that some may possess an intellectual level identical to that with their writing skills. Also many of today’s children are learning new topics and expanding their knowledge far beyond what adults have learned back when they attended middle school.

  42. Bethany says:

    Not Listed, the argumentative attitude that comes across in your comments belies your immaturity. Calm down, nobody was attacking you or people your age. I’m pretty sure people were generally trying to express a sense of delight at the reviewer’s articulacy, not disparaging 12-year olds. Most people give credit where credit is due.

  43. Anonymous says:

    This review is kind of pointless. A) This computer is not designed for a tech-savvy person. B) It probably wasn’t written by a 12 year-old.

    An 85 year old who has never used computers would have been a better subject than a tech-inclined 12 year old who has never known life without computers. I don’t understand why this article is here.

  44. Herman says:

    SG:
    Great review, articulate and thoughtfully written. There are adults who cannot write as well as you have done.

    Do consider getting your own blog BTW, that would be a “must read” for a lot of people. It’s good to see something from your demographic anyway.

    Good job, well done.

  45. naveen says:

    SG great piece of work ,

    hey u all magazine guys
    are u all there, here u have a genius to get hold of ………………………………………………………………..the best deal chuck him up………….

  46. Graham says:

    Its a tad obvious that this boy here did not Write it.
    I imagine that he wrote it, and after a Professional Journalist
    read it, write down some notes on a notepad and after Re-Wrote
    the Whole thing.

    The First half of the paragraph, might have looked more like this:

    *Oh My Gawt This can play Mp3s, but it slow. So I Close and it crash and then I play video and it Jib erring. *

    I imagine that I’m correct, although if I’m not, from where he comes from child labour in the Newspaper Industry is HUGE!

  47. Ben says:

    Not bad, you got most of the spelling correct, and the way you string word’s together is excellent.

    Keep it up “SG”

  48. Noah says:

    Excellent review SG. John C Dvorak.. watch out!!!

  49. Isaac says:

    I still find it funny that you guys are arguing with a 12 year old. Come on! How mature!

  50. Leon Freyermuth says:

    A very good review. I by the way am also 12 years old.

    @Isaac: They argue with him/her because through the internet age has become irrelevant. I can post a comment or suggestion on any forums or blog or any where else and people would take me just as seriously if I were 40 even if they somehow know how old I am.

  51. Leon Freyermuth says:

    P.S. Some of you should definitely read Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. ;-)

  52. Steve Foerster says:

    It’s interesting to me that some believe a twelve year old couldn’t have written it and reminds me that many had the same reaction to the autobiography of Frederick Douglass.

  53. Isaac says:

    Same with Eragon. A fifteen year old wrote it. Age has nothing.. I REPEAT, NOTHING to do with how well something you write may be.

  54. J Alabi says:

    >> Rabbit: SG – excellent review – I’ve been waiting for something from
    >> your demographic viewpoint.

    Strictly speaking, “SG” isn’t really part of the demographic of the OLPC machine. The OLPC is dumbed-down version of a laptop meant for children in the developing nations in a laudable bid to close the “digital divide”.

    Not to take away anything from the quality of SG’s writing, but I wrote that well when I was twelve years old, too :) I do agree, though, that many adults could take a cue from SG when it comes to brevity and clarity. (C’mon, Prof. Tinker, are you sure you didn’t tweak his review just a little bit? Huh?)

    Now, back to the actual machine’s performance: I only hope that the model that “SG” reviewed was a beta model, because the battery life issue and the “shutdown with no warning” issue are deal-breakers in an environment where the public power supply is epileptic. I seem to remember though that the OLPCs were going to be equipped with a FreeCycle hand-cranked battery, or did that idea not make it out of the labs? As for the speed of the machine, that could probably be helped out with more RAM.

    All in all, the OLPC project is potentially truly revolutionary, as long as the systems get into the hands of kids who need it (and not on the desks of developing world bureaucrats trying to show off a fancy toy to their cronies). Definitely the best idea to come out of MIT in a long while.

  55. Richard says:

    I’m sure SG had help from his parents.

  56. ClappingTrees says:

    Hi, SG. Thank you truly for this lucid and balanced review. Could you give a few more details about yourself: e.g., nationality, country of residence, educational background (yours and your parents’), etc.? Are you in Asia? Much thanks in advance.

  57. SMone says:

    I don’t understand at all why people are so surprised by this review from a 12 year old kid. There’s nothing special.

  58. ClappingTrees says:

    SMone, it probably depends on where you come from, whether English is your native language, the kinds of writing the children (and even adults) in your area usually produce, etc. ;-)

  59. Ed Felten says:

    ClappingTrees,

    SG is on vacation now and cannot respond to your question, but I know some background information. SG is a native English speaker who lives in the United States. SG is twelve years old and is about to begin seventh grade. Both parents have university degrees and one has an advanced degree.

  60. .... says:

    Hey SMone, THANK YOU. Finally someone else sees that it’s nothing special for a 12 year old. I mean, it’s a great review, but nothing extraordinary. 12 and going INTO seventh grade? wow.. I was going into eighth when I was 12.

  61. Ludwig says:

    Regarding the short battery runtime:

    I don’t think it’s important for the OLPC laptops to run for a long time without external power. It’s more important to run stable under the electrical power circumstates in poor countries. Unstable voltage and power cuts are normal there. To avoid the loss of unsaved documents you either need a normal desktop computer with an uninterruptible power supply or you need a laptop.

    The OLPC should of course warn the user about low battery power. This issue should be no more but a missing device driver. The overall product is still unfinished, right? So we are talking about a prototype laptop here?

  62. B says:

    Well for all the arguing, intelligence and writing skills are two different things. On an average day, a 12 year old probably writes almost twice as much the average 30 year old (who also isn’t graded on his/her work by the way) so having the above writing skills is very much on par.

    As for the review of the laptop, the purpose was not for him to write a professional review, but to get an honest opinion from someone who is a lot closer to the target audience than your average tech blogger.

  63. Spudz says:

    copyfight.corante.com: Host unknown

    A moment of silence …

  64. Adam says:

    Great review! Most reviews pick one side before they even touch the device and then decided to write about it. I like how you included both the good things and the bad things about it.

    Keep writing and you could go into journalism by the time your 20.

  65. One Laptop Per Child News says:

    Children’s Reviews of OLPC XO Technology…

    Gabe, focused on XO activities

    While we can endlessly debate One Laptop Per Child on OLPC News, what really matters will be the opinions and adoption of XO technology by children. And recently children have been expressing their views on the matter….

  66. Chris says:

    Why are you assuming the review was written by a boy?
    At 12 we’re only two years from 8th grade level, the rumored grail (or natural default) of our national publications. SG, you’re clearly capable of writing for most any publication in this country, you go girl! (even if you are a boy)

  67. Bruno says:

    “I’ve spent all of my life around computers and laptops. I’m only 12 years old though, so I’m not about to go off and start programming a computer to do my homework for me or anything. My parents use computers a lot, so I know about HTML and mother boards and stuff, but still I’m not exactly what you would call an expert. I just use the computer for essays, surfing the web, etc.”

    This “review” would have a much higher value if it was written by someone who never actually seen a computer… since this is, after all, the “market” they are trying to appeal to.

  68. C. Scott Ananian says:

    I’m working at OLPC now, so I might be able to offer an ‘informed’ response.

    Basically, SG is right on: speed in early models was unacceptable. We moved to a faster version of the processor (ie — the new processor has cache!) to address this. And power management has been the subject of the most recent work. Battery life depends on proper management by the OS, and that code has just gone into very recent builds — and it still needs some work, particularly for tuning the power usage of the wireless hardware, and some other nits and bugs (getting USB devices to resume properly from suspend was an issue for a while).

    The software is still under very active development. And we hope to keep making it better and better. We clearly need to pay close attention to what happens when the battery dies; I don’t know that we’ve written that code yet (but I work on kernel and security stuff, so I’m not authoritative there).

  69. Isaac Rabinovitch says:

    Very insightful. Covers all the really important sutff.

    A couple of details bother me a lot. First, there’s the way the system slows down as it’s used, suggesting a memory leak in the OS. Then there’s the business of shutting down without warning when the power runs out; bad on any laptop, unforgivable in a laptop that’s supposed to be used by kids without access to wall sockets.

  70. !!!!!!! says:

    PLEASE write about how you think the quality of the computer is, not the quality of the 12 year olds writings. By the way, I agree with Bruno when you state that it isn’t fair to be reviewed by one with prior knowledge when it is made for those not used to laptops or computers. But I mean, why are they giving these children computers? I’m sure they could use other resources – such as clothing or food much more.

  71. Ed Felten says:

    Bruno says,

    “This ‘review’ would have a much higher value if it was written by someone who never actually seen a computer… since this is, after all, the “market” they are trying to appeal to.”

    Maybe. But I could only recruit somebody I knew. And I don’t think I know any 12-year-olds who are good writers but have never seen a computer.

  72. Tom says:

    Welkom to the age of the wizzkids !
    I see a great future for you and your generation, SG.

    Now go and program your computer to do your homework ! :-)

  73. enigma_foundry says:

    I find it believable that a 12 year old did write the review, maybe with a little hlp from spell check of course, but so what. She did a great job, and should be congratulated.

    I would also like to see how it works with it’s target demographic–those who are not familar with computers.

    The OLPC project is groundbreaking, and may be a bit ahead of its time–like the Apple Newton was, an idea just a little ahead of the hardware’s capabilities–however it is through reviews like this that defects will be pointed out and ultimately: fixec..

  74. Dani Fong says:

    That just isn’t representative. You got a prodigy to review the computer. College applications are rarely that well written.

  75. Dani Fong says:

    As background, I also wrote a tech review at 12 for an educational program focusing on geology. I guess I was as close to their demographic as they were going to get, but I can’t exactly say that I’d call my former self a credible representative of my age group. My writing wasn’t even that good, but by the next year I was getting A+’s in university writing courses.

    This aside, the speed is worrisome, but not, most likely for people who’ve never been exposed to computers. I remember windows 95 boxes. Like molasses running up a hill. Terrible. But I didn’t know it at the time!

    More worrisome is the response to drained power. That, and the reference to autobiography. To the author — don’t try to summarize your life! You are twelve! It will change! And you will be incredibly embarrassed! Write accounts of how you are now, and how you were before. Sweeping statements are your enemy! Always. (*wink*)

  76. Anonymous says:

    “I found the perfect person to review the machine. ”
    no you don’t
    this laptop is targeted at 3rd world children to educate them not to some kid who has its mac in its bedroom…

  77. Hello. Moto. says:

    Wait, a fifteen-year-old wrote Eragon?

  78. Roman Mackovcak says:

    Can’t believe that 12yrs old boy could write such a review. If so, then continue, write more!

  79. Chris Lees says:

    Did SG actually lose any work due to the battery draining and the laptop losing power?

    One part of interface design that is treated as law is that you must explicitly “save” your work. This is unintuitive – why shouldn’t what is on your screen be what is on the disk? (yes, in the developed world we have many reasons why this is desirable behaviour, but those reasons don’t translate into the undeveloped world). Make it easier for the kids to learn, make power management less mission critical, just by implementing auto-saving.

  80. Moriah says:

    Thanks for the review! I’d love to see one, but I don’t think they’ll be strongly marketed to college students.

    I’d like to know more about the functionality and design of the text editor and other programs.

  81. Meria says:

    SG: I’ll quote you whenever a computer goes down unexpectantly:

    It doesn’t matter if you’re working on your autobiography and you had gotten all the way to the day before yesterday and forgotten to save it, it just shuts off and devours the whole thing.

    IMHO, this one may go into the fortune cookies of the bsdgames packages in linux / unix / etc :)

    Great review and I think welcome feedback to the creators of this system.

  82. Spudz says:

    “As background, I also wrote a tech review at 12 for an educational program…”

    I wasn’t much older than that when I wrote an educational program. (A hypermedia primer on plant biology — lots of content and a presentation engine and some other code, including search. This was some time before the WWW when “multimedia” was hot but “internet” was some academic thing at universities. I don’t know if it ever became widespread, especially as it was Macintosh rather than PC software — all the schools hereabouts were using Macs then.)

  83. Maria says:

    Oh my gosh, people. THE ARTICLE IS WELL WRITTEN. THE 12 YEAR OLD ISN’T AMAZING! MANY YOUNG PEOPLE OF THIS GENERATION ARE QUITE INTELLECTUAL! GIVE THEM MORE CREDIT! THIS IS SO ANNOYING!

  84. Dane says:
  85. Jaqian says:

    Hi SG great review.

    You should definitely get your own blog. Don’t pay any attention to all the grumpy old men, as we say here in Ireland “feck the begrudgers”.

    Like another poster here I too am surprised you didn’t mention the crank for charging the laptop. Personally it would have been one of the first things I played with.

    All the best,
    J.

  86. Ed Felten says:

    The machine SG reviewed did not have a hand crank. My understanding is that the hand crank is no longer part of the OLPC plan. [Update: see the comment by C. Scott Ananian below.]

  87. John ffitch says:

    The battery issues have been major in this project. The review did not say which build was being used; the B1 certainly had real problems with the power, but I hear that the newer versions have improved it.

    [It was the B2 build, which is not the newest one. -- Ed]

  88. Dan Ridley says:

    I’m not the first to say this, but I think it should be said again: stop underestimating 12-year-olds. Twelve years old is seventh or eighth grade, not kindergarten. To be amazed that SG can articulate their thoughts is insulting.

    That said, thank you, SG, for a nicely targeted review; and thank you, Ed, for posting it.

    Battery charge is challenging. I’ve actually been working on a battery state of charge algorithm recently, and it’s surprising how little understood some of the issues are. There’s a great deal of dependence on hardware — the battery charger needs to behave a particular way in order for the state of charge mechanism to understand what the real capacity of the battery is — and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the issue is that this beta version of the software either makes some incorrect assumptions about hardware, or is using an algorithm that was defined before this version of the hardware was finalized. In other words, it should be a software problem, and readily fixable given sufficient time and experimentation.

  89. C. Scott Ananian says:

    Ed mentioned that the hand crank is not on the B2 model. This is correct, but it’s not *quite* correct to say that it’s “no longer part of the OLPC plan”. Simply put, user testing found that building the crank into the laptop case was a bad idea: kids put the laptops on the edge of their desk to crank them, and then tend to drop the laptop onto the floor in the process of cranking. Oops!

    So human power is still part of the OLPC vision, as well as wind and solar power for places where that’s more appropriate, but no longer built into the machine itself. Instead we’ve got partners who are building the power devices as separate pieces, plugged into the XO via the standard power jack. The flexible cord gives some protection to the XO and, incidentally, allows a much wider variety of devices to be employed.

    Devices I know about: hand crank, yo-yo/pull-style hand power, foot treadle, “stationary bike”, solar power, and wind. I’ve seen examples of most of these around the office, although I don’t know the details of who/what/where/when/how much for production. There’s also a “gang charger” that will recharge a dozen or so laptop batteries at once, either from an AC power source or from a car battery. It turns out that charging and transporting car batteries from place to place is the local power infrastructure in some parts of the world.

    So even though these devices aren’t physically attached to the XO, they’re still part of the plan.

  90. Manny says:

    Ed Felton, is SG your son?

  91. Ed Felten says:

    Manny,

    I’m not answering any questions about SG’s identity. I have agreed to keep SG’s identity confidential. Answering questions like yours would erode that confidentiality.

  92. Not Listed says:

    Right on Dan Ridley! That’s what I have been having a verbal confrontation about with some people here.

  93. Kaizen says:

    Shenanigans. No 12 year old speaks or writes like that.

  94. OH MY GOSH says:

    SHUT. UP. YES, MANY PEOPLE DO WRITE LIKE THAT! ESPECIALLY YOUNGER CHILDREN! PLEASE!

  95. Spudz says:

    Yes. Shame you’re not one of them.

  96. OH MY GOSH says:

    Yes, that might be because I am in my thirties. Not a younger child.

  97. Mrs. Sherwin says:

    I’m a 6th grade teacher in the Canutillo Independent School District in Texas. There are many 6th graders who can not write this well. There are also alot of 6th graders who can write better. The main point here is that this person IS writing. Just what we want 12 year olds to do. He will get better as he gets older, so let’s encourage all our children to keep on writing.

  98. Spudz says:

    Especially when we’ve just seen what can happen otherwise. E.g. people in their 30s who don’t write as well as SG. :)

  99. .... says:

    However, as Mrs. Sherwin states, many younger people DO write much better than SG.

  100. Harry Day says:

    I would prefer to see an underprivalleged child review this. One who has not had prior technology knowledge!!

  101. SBans says:

    Mrs. Sherwin, please do me a favor and make sure to teach your students that “alot” is not a word… It’s “a lot”.

    Although allot is a word, but that’s completely different…

    Sorry, a pet peeve of mine.

    Anyway, as to the article, I liked it. For those wanting to get one for their own kids and it’s not available; if you are in the U.S. or a part of Europe where Dell is selling laptops with Ubuntu, go with it.

  102. _Felix says:

    When I was 12, I was praised for having above average writing skills for a 12-year-old. Now that I’m 30, I still have above average writing skills for a 12-year-old, but don’t get any praise for it. Either this kind of praise is vacuous, or I’m being treated unfairly.

  103. cesar says:

    For the price I am surprised it is so slow, taking into account how cheap Pentium 3 laptops are which are already a lot faster than this “new” machine. I think that for almost $200 dollars it should be an amazing computer, not lack power at all!//

  104. mike says:

    Why is it so hard to believe that a 12 year old could not write intelligently about a subject he or she is familiar with, “using a computer”.

  105. sorry says:

    kids know so much about computers these days this is not extraordinary

  106. Vagabum Mike says:

    I have been rooting for the XO and OLPC since the first 60 Minutes story in May (there was a follow up story last week). I have found it very touching and would love to see the critics and Intel eat their words.

    SG, I am not at all surprised by your articulate review, but I am still impressed so kudos to you. I was more pleasantly surprised by the fact that while learning to use this computer ad the novel paradigms it uses you seemed to genuinely be having fun. For me, you have proven the concept that kids will want to learn when they are having fun and I am confident that proof is universal.

  107. rik says:

    I think it’s a good idea, but who cares about a laptop when they are hungry?

  108. jordan says:

    too dawm long man!

  109. Vagabum Mike says:

    Rik,
    The old saying goes give a man a fish and feed him for a day, but teach him to fish and he gets fed for a lifetime.

    The idea here seems to be if 3rd world kids become more educated via a fun and easy to use computer they have more access to a better life in the future. Once a generation of kids become significantly more educated, that society will be more efficient and productive and future generations should be better off and less hungry. I for one agree completely with that approach for the majority of developing nations not currently hobbled by famine.

  110. Andrew Norris says:

    Interesting and honest. But SG has not gone through the periods most of us in computers have – long enough to know that you CAN live with and use computers of MUCH less power than this.

    Let me give an example. I used to program computer games professionally from the late 80′s until 2001. Constanly compiling, having multiple applications open, searching all time etc. I remember getting a Pentium PC and thinking how “fast” it was and being really pleased with it.

    I also still have an old IBM laptop running at 233 MHz, much slower than OLPC, and it is fine for doing presentations, basic net surfing etc. It only lacks by not being able to show some videos. But the OLPC is MUCH faster – and can show them all.

    The slow speed probably came as a shock to this child simply because he has NEVER seen or used much less power. But once over the shock, and enough time to ge used to it, he will see it is PERFECTLY usable.

    We must remember although he is a kid – he is a Western kid used only to powerful computers. The kids in Africa will not know of this. And anyone who has lived with used computers to do work in the past – would not so be initially shocked at the “slow” speed and know how usuable it is.

    Nice try, getting a kid’s viewpoint, but simply not relevant here.

  111. Jarhead says:

    Don’t be surprised at SG, or, inflate your own level of intelligence by assuming that he (or she) is incapable of writing this review. Just because you couldn’t do it when you were 12 does not change the fact that, to the intelligent, skills even greater than this are greatly possible at this age. Today’s 12 year olds are exposed to technology which was “Star Wars” type stuff to us when we were growing up (50s & 60s), so it’s as common to them as four speeds and four barrels were to us. One of my friends read “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” and “War and Peace” when 12. SG is certainly talented and very well spoken, which, if you knew anything about intelligent young folks today, you would readily understand. Good job SG. Your review was helpful to me.

    Jarhead

  112. Beth says:

    Ed, I understand (and applaud) your commitment to keeping SG’s identity completely confidential. I do wish you could reveal her gender, though, because I’m pretty sure she’s a girl. :) More to the point, I’m appalled by the general assumption among these comments that SG is a boy. I think this assumption exposes an ingrained bias that boys have a monopoly on technical aptitude and interest in computers.

  113. Madsivibe says:

    Now, I happen to live in the ‘third world’ where the OLPCs are to be shipped and I also think SG does write well. Having said that, he clearly has an advanced level of access to tech and is better exposed to some stuff even I dont think I understand.

    Even then, what’s slow is slow whether to a fast-timer or an old hand. Hope that gets fixed before it gets here.

  114. Devil's Advocate says:

    Is it interesting the denial by [First World?] techies about the possibility of high-level intellectual development by youngsters? Is this why the OLPC is stalling? Third [or Any] World high-level intellectual development of youngsters threatens the egos of [not-so-well-spoken] adults?

    And, also, why attack the writing skills? Why not attack the review? If the review was faked, why not attack its substantive facts? I saw no posts denying the

    “cleverly designed, imaginative, straightforward, easy to understand, … useful and simple, entertaining, dependable”

    reporting. Were the same people doubting the reviewer’s authenticity, denying the slow loading speed and short battery charge hold? I saw none.

    Instead, the speed and power issues were explained away by use of a faster CPU in later betas, and the power generation unit being moved off the laptop.

    Obviously, by inspection, many Internet blog reader’s egos are threatened by an increase in the number of well-spoken youngsters. Is this the reason no mass distribution of OLPCs is happening in the United States?

    Conversely, with respect to the “bottom-up” question, do we know how many many Third [or Any] World uneducated youngsters are threatened by [First or Any, World] Internet blog reader’s attitudes?

    When simple emotion trumps simple reason, education prevents rash and imprudent, emotional decisions, presumably in favor of decisions more beneficial to the community. Why shall we be afraid to educate the innnocnets? For the following classic examples? [Because we are too lazy, or too habituated, to do our own work?]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Idler_%281758-1760%29#No_26._Betty_Broom.27s_history_.28Johnson.29
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Idler_%281758-1760%29#No_29._Betty_Broom.27s_history_continued_.28Johnson.29

  115. luc h says:

    I’m not 12 and I’m not a computer geek — but I have to say this is the worst machine I’ve ever played with — I have yet to get on the internet – the catalog of information is nothing short of lame and I am sorely disappointed that I donated this to some poor kid in some faraway place . I cannot even imagine what some child 1) who has never seen a computer 2) does not have wired services readily available 3) has no direct access to power sources etc etc is going to do with this — except maybe as a paper weight — if they indeed have any paper. The project should have been undertaken by Apple and not money grubbing MIT geeks disguising themselves as a charitable venture.

  116. USMCWifeand mom to 5 says:

    Very well written article!
    We had the pleasure of taking advantage of the promotion of buy one get one. My husband and I were thrilled to be able to have a “sturdy” laptop to give our kids. Seeming we have 5 we figured it would get a lot of use from the oldest to the almost youngest! We were very disappointed though once we started to tinker around with it. Our 10 year old was even more upset than we were.
    I think we had higher expectations for this machine than what it was intended.
    We felt that we already had 3 computers in the home (mom, dad’s and work’s..) and this was one that would be the “kids” and that we wouldn’t harp on them to remember to turn it off this way or don’t do this or don’t do that with an application. There wouldn’t be any worries that this was messed up on ours. We really were more into the fact that this was going to be donated to someone less fortunate. We even asked that the one we purchased be sent to one of the countries where my husband has been stationed. He had seen first hand just how those children lived and while he was there I sent items for him to distribute to those the kids to just make their days a little brighter, but were told, no sorry that wouldn’t be a possibility. We still didn’t care we were thrilled that it was going to a good cause.
    Problem for us was that anything our 10 year old wanted to do it wouldn’t support.
    He wanted to go to sites that his teacher sent home information on. The computer wouldn’t support those education sites. He wanted to be able to “talk” to someone else with the chat feature. Going on 4 months later, hasn’t happened. You get the idea. I’m not talking going to NIck.com and goofing off either. Other than the general, taking silly pictures, playing with the music section and trying to teach the little kids in the family the games our oldest was just bored. We also had problems with the battery holding a charge for an extended period, the machine shutting off without warning, screens freezing etc.

    It’s a great cause and has the perfect ideals in mind for someone who has never had the opportunity to even sit at a computer, yet alone own their own or even have the ability to be able to ponder the internet when their village has no running water…. For us though, it’s far from what we thought it would be and our expectations were not that high.
    My husband and I have been thinking about sending ours back so that it may be forwarded to someone else in another country. What is stopping us is the issues with the battery, the machine freezing etc.

  117. lodefinition says:

    One detail that seems to have eluded everyone who commented on the XO power issues… the XO’s charger, unlike virtually all other laptop chargers I have seen, is 12vDC out… ie, matches ubiquitous 12v batteries found world wide (especially in developing countries). Ie, utilizing ad-hoc sources of 12v DC to charge or run an XO, should not be a problem… no problem at all. My proverbial hat is off to the OLPC developers, whom I am sure, came to this “let’s use 12vDC supply” conclusion, via well thought out rational team work.

  118. friedsmashweasel says:

    I am 13 and I’m surpised that some adults cannot belive that a 13 yearold wrote that. I think the adults that can write well could also write well when they were 12.

  119. Anonymous says:

    i am 12 and that laptop is so cool

  120. Lei says:

    I am 12 Whats this all about?

  121. Anonymous says:

    Wow, it was pretty fun reading the comments. =] But back to the OLCP…

    First of all, amazing review, S.G. Nice, clear, and to the point.
    Secondly, it sounds like it could be a great benefit. Making it cheap will definitely help out in the long run.

    Awesome everybody!

  122. Anonymous says:

    Are you sure SG is 12? That is some pretty incredible writing. I’m 11 and I love to download apps. Can this laptop download things? If so, what would they be considered as, windows, linux, mac, what, because I want to know if it will run apps for made for macs or windows. Also, does it have standerd usb drives, ethernet ports, etc.? I want to know if it can open documents from my usb drive or sync my ipod.

  123. FineGeo says:

    I think this laptop is really great for its price, but only for first time users. It’s useful and simple, but who get used to faster computers needs to spend much more for a laptop.

  124. Chris says:

    Are you kidding?
    How about running water? Prevention of basic illnesses like diarrhea? Micro-financing? How about more (actual living, inspiring, human) teachers?

    And if fewer than 25 percent of Africans, for example, have access to electricity, where is one supposed to recharge these things every few hours.

    Superb review, but what an incredibly misguided use of resources!