If you were looking for a new gadget to get this holiday season and were ready to spend, let say, $400, what would you get a Kindle from Amazon or OX from the OLPC program? I’d like to argue for the second option. If you are to spend $400, I think it makes more sense to spend it on the OX computer and I will try to explain why.
I feel a little bit overwhelmed by the massive marketing machine Amazon put in place to push its new device. For me it started from some random news reports a while ago, moved into a massive and uber-optimistic article in Newsweek, and continued with this thing stuck on every corner of Amazon website and some flashbacks in the blogosphere. Frankly, i still cannot understand what is so revolutionary about this device.
Of course there are some neat solutions in Kindle. Although it is not really new, the use of ePaper sounds promising for the ease of reading from screen. The fact that you can quickly buy a book and have a copy of it stored at Amazon in case you loose the device, also sounds nice (though the dependency on Amazon’s eternal existence is a bit scary and i doubt the dominance of impulsive online purchase when it comes to books, but I may be wrong with the last point). The ability to have many books on a single device is also appealing as well as the idea of semi-dynamic content (i.e. subscription to newspapers and magazines to be delivered directly to your Kindle). So far, it all is nice, but nothing is really innovative. On the innovative side, I think the wireless solution they have is interesting (only I didn’t figure out how much you have to pay for the air time) and the fact that people can sell their own writing in a form of eBook sounds really great.
At the same, I still don’t understand why one would like a separate device just for reading books? Are you suggesting that today I need a laptop, a mobile phone, a PDA, and now also Kindle? Each one as a separate device? Why? Then, the format issue and the fact that you have to transfer all your eBooks to Amazon format seems to me as extremely annoying. Unless Amazon format will become the standard, such as PDF today, there is no logical explanation from a consumer point of view. However more important is the digital rights management (DRM) implemented in the device, thus taking from a user any ability to share, give, or recreate with the book they are buying from Amazon (for that matter you might want to watch a great lecture by Larry Lessig given at TED). This last part is completely frustrating and if anything, i think this may be the killer of Amazon format.
Now, if you look at XO, for the same $400 you are getting a laptop with quite advanced abilities. Starting with the con’s one could probably point at the size of the laptop (242mm × 228mm × 32mm) and its weight (about 1.5kg or 3.2 lb and up). However this would be the only disadvantage for someone who is counting on it as primarily a reading device. If we consider the main strength of Kindle for example, i.e. its screen, XO offers a similar experience (although it isn’t using eInk) as well as a color option. In addition to a great screen, you would get an open system with all the functionality of a laptop including WiFi capabilities, option to use PDFs, and actually have control over your music files, meaning that you can listen to audio-books from anywhere, not just Amazon (you can find the complete specs of XO here). I think these were the main points of complain against Kindle, something that together with the price tag drove its ratings on Amazon to 2.5 stars only. In addition you would get a durable build and a very long battery life together with a series of alternative energy solutions.
However this is not all.
One of the top reasons why I think you should consider XO (and not Kindle) for your $400 is not the fact that you are getting a better product for the same money for yourself, but the fact that by buying one, you are automatically contribute another one to a kid in developing country. In fact, the XO laptop costs only $200 and the rest of what you pay is a (tax deductible in the US) donation, which is going to sponsor the second laptop for that child in a village in Africa or elsewhere in the world. According to the recent updates the XO laptops are in demand and have been bought at a rate of ~5K a day since the beginning of “give 1, get 1” less than 2 weeks ago. Moreover, yesterday OLPC announced that they are extending the “give 1, get 1” until December 31st. So, there is now even more time to think and make the best use of your $400.