There are going to be hundreds of tablets here at CES 2012, but the OLPC XO 3.0 isn't just any tablet. It's a tablet for children, and again, not just any children, but children living in some of the poorest parts of the world. Like its XO laptop, OLPC has built an educational tablet for use in low-power locations. It's been designed for outdoor use (a PixelQi outdoor readable display, a solar panel lid, and all) and has some different software options (Android and its own Sugar OS). Of course, I'm not really the target market, but below are my first impressions of the tablet.
No, the XO 3.0 isn't as thin as the original renders showed, and it's thicker than most tablets on the market, but it actually feels pretty light in hand. (OLPC doesn't have the exact specs just yet.) I can't say how kids would find it to use (I have bigger hands and longer fingers than the average five-year old), but hey, I don't hear many kids complaining about the iPad. It's easy to see how the design language from the original OLPC laptop carries through to the new tablet. The rubber back feels a lot like the rubber keyboard on the laptop, though the braille-like raised dots create for a different type of feel. I actually thought they were a bit too rough on my hands.
The bottom edge has a USB port, Micro USB port, headphone and mic jacks, and a power jack. That power jack will accept the tablet's regular AC adapter, but also other sorts of power sources, including a hand crank. As you will see in the video, I got a chance to test out the crank, and it does indeed start charging the tablet, though you have to crank hard and fast.
So, what's going on with the tablet's cover? OLPC will have two versions of the lid. The first is just a basic rubber cover. The second has a four-watt solar panel inside it and a battery. The unit I saw wasn't working, but if it did you would be able to leave it out in the sun, charge up the battery, and then attach it to the back of the tablet. Again, I wasn't able to see this in action, but the four screws along the side of the tablet will apparently support inductive charging. It sounds incredibly awesome and well-thought-out, but we'll see how much progress OLPC can make on that.
OLPC will offer two display options: a regular 8-inch 1024 x 768 LCD and then an 8-inch PixelQi, outdoor readable version. OLPC only brought the LCD version to the show, and while it's no IPS panel, I thought the display was decently bright. The touchscreen was responsive, but the slow software clearly holds it back.
Software and performance
There will be an Android version of the tablet, but I got a look at the Linux version with OLPC's Sugar operating systems. There are two problems I see so far with the software. Firstly, it's slow. While the tablet does have only a Marvell Armada PXA618, 512MB of RAM, and 4GB of internal storage, I think it has more to do with the actual software not being ready. The delay between tapping the browser icon and it opening was noticeable. The second problem is that the software doesn't seem to be optimized for touch. When I tried to scroll in the Wikipedia program, it highlighted text; I had to select the scroll bar to get to the bottom of the page. OLPC says it is working on this and that it does work in some applications. Speaking of applications, many of the apps for this tablet are built by countries that buy the tablets or laptops, so while there are native browser, camera, word processing programs, the others have to come from the open source community.
It's always hard to look at OLPC's products and make a snap judgement. They aren't meant for me, they're not even meant for my unborn children (I don't have any and I'm not pregnant). Still, what I'd say right now is that the hardware is as innovative as ever, and if they can really pull off the $100 price point, it will be the most well-built tablet under $200. However, OLPC has a ways to go on speeding up and optimizing the software. Or maybe, its decision to support Android will be more popular than it thinks.