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XO and Asus EeePC: Comparing Size, Keyboards & Screens - Updated
Sunday, February 03 2008 @ 08:57 PM EST

One of the happy buyers of a One Laptop Per Child XO laptop is Groklaw member Jerry van Baren. He asked me if it would be useful to show a comparison between the screen sizes and keyboards of the XO and the Asus Eee PC. I thought that was a grand idea, and now that there is the news that you guys in Australia will soon be able to buy the XO, it's timely. Some of you may be thinking about which one to buy.

So he took some pictures comparing sizes in general, then key sizes on the keyboards, with a ruler, and a shot of a regular-sized laptop keyboard to orient us, and then the screens. That was by far the biggest surprise -- the XO screen is so, so much larger. And the keyboards are not that different. They are both significantly different from a regular keyboard. That was the second surprise. He also shows a Nokia N800, for comparison, which is a web tablet in the form factor of a larger PDA, so you can see the various sizes of the screens. XO wins by a mile. He had a 12" Dell XPS M1210 and a Fujitsu P-2100 "ultraportable" on hand to use for keyboard comparison also.

His kids are having a ball with the XO, of course. But the graphics are useful for adults, and I think it's interesting. At least you can have this information while you consider your options. Of course, this means graphics, so if you are on dialup, be forewarned.

Size comparison

First, here are the three, the Asus Eee PC on the left, then the XO, and the Nokia N800 in front of the Eee PC. You can see not only the general size difference, but you can also compare the thickness:

As you can see, the OLPC and Eee PC are the same thicknesses at the back edge, but the Eee PC is slightly wedge-shaped where the OLPC's XO has the same thickness throughout.

Next, he stacks up the Nokia, the XO, and the Dell to give a general idea of sizes:

Next, let's look at the XO with the Asus Eee PC on top of it, with the back edges lined up, and the Nokia on top of the two, showing that the lid of the XO is about the same size as the Asus:

As you can see, the Asus Eee PC and the XO are, minus the handle on the XO, essentially the same size.

Comparing the screens:

First, let's compare the Dell, the Nokia, the Fujitsu and the XO:

On the left, you have the Dell in the back, with the Nokia in front of it. On the right, in the back, you have his "normal" laptop, a Fujitsu P-2100 "ultraportable", with the OLPC XO in front of it, to orient us as to relative sizes. This was taken before he had access to the Asus Eee PC.

So what about the Eee PC? In the next shot, the OLPC's XO, the Nokia, and the Eee PC are open and all three are displaying the same picture:

The screen of the OLPC is obviously larger (the Eee PC and N800 are 800x480, the OLPC screen resolution is 1200x900 native (B/W) and approximately 800x600 in sub-pixel sampling mode (color), all of which is hard to photograph unless you are a pro, and he says that there are jpg artifacts, which are not real, but you'll still get the idea. The Eee PC screen is so much smaller, tiny compared to the XO. It's a stunning difference.

As far as the color and overall screen, I'd suggest looking in real life before you decide, though, as these pictures are not professionally done, and I know from owning an XO that they don't do it justice, and that's likely true for the others as well. For that reason, I have placed the larger original graphic on this page, so you can download it for a better view, if you wish, without me loading the article down with such a large graphic. You'll see that the book the little girl fell asleep "reading" is about Engineering Formulas. The only graphic that I can read the title on is the XO. Here's a demonstration by a librarian on YouTube of the XO used as an ebook reader. She shows the screen resolution, which she calls mind-boggling. She does a second video, a review showing how to use the OLPC's features, and it's charming. If you are trying to figure yours out, this is the video for you. She expresses her appreciation to the Open Source community for their contribution to this laptop, which is of course ongoing, meaning it will continue to get better and better.

The little girl is Jerry's daughter when she was about two years old. It was not posed. She appropriated the book off his bookshelf, carried it around as "her" book, and "read" it every night in bed. One night she fell asleep with the book propped up. Jerry picked this picture to illustrate the color displays because it is one of his favorite pictures. It's adorable.

His impression of the XO display is that it is good, but the color saturation is slightly lower than the traditional color filter based LCDs. If you look closely, he says he can see the color stripes. I never noticed it, personally, so it's a question of what you care about, I'd say. He says he suspects this is a trade-off between power consumption and all-out color+resolution performance. In his opinion, it is a very acceptable trade-off, and the lower color saturation is not significant. A very good explanation of how the display works and why color resolution is hard to pin down can be found on the OLPC wiki.

What about black and white? Here only the XO can do it, so it's in a class of its own. Jerry told me, "I was not able to get a good black and white picture of the OLPC's screen, but its resolution in B/W mode is VERY impressive." I agree. It's very, very clear. Here. Take a look:

You can see a video of David Pogue of the New York Times on YouTube, and he shows the black and white view, along with demonstrating how sturdy the XO is. He drops it, someone throws water on it, he puts sand on it, etc. It's a very good demonstration of some things that the XO does best, particularly for children, who will do all that and probably more.

Comparing keyboards:

Let's start with his Dell, which has a normal-sized keyboard:

The four home row keys are almost 3", and you can see his fingers are able to relax naturally without cramping.

Here's the Eee PC:

Note that the home keys are 2.5" . So it's a real difference, and you can see it in the way his fingers have to squish together to hit the keys right. He found the Eee's keyboard to be just barely touch type-able, with a reduction, a substantial reduction, in speed and a high error rate. Practice would probably help, he says, but if you have large fingers, and touch typing matters to you, the Eee might not be for you. Here it is with the ruler:

What about the XO?

The keyboard is essentially the same size as the Asus Eee PC, but the XO has one more key than a "traditional" keyboard in the home row, which explains why the keys are packed together a tad tighter than the Eee PC, but not that much, despite it being designed for children, not adults. But touch typing is going to be a problem, unless you have very slender fingers.

Since writing that, I found a comment on an article about the XO, in which the writer says this:

I’ve been defending the XO vigorously since I received mine. Even though I’m a fat fingered adult (if someone wants to start a user group called the Fat Fingers please do so!) I find that I can still type at a decent speed. The hardware is a constant journey of joyful discovery for me. It took me all of one day to become comfortable with it.

I can’t understand the negative press that the blogosphere keeps dumping on the XO and OLPC. The machine is hands down the best laptop I’ve bought! I, too, would love to know where the one I gave went but I’m happy enough knowing that a child somewhere is sharing in the joy that the machine is giving me.

So I guess I'm not the only one who has noticed what seems very unbalanced coverage of the XO.

Here's a shot with the ruler, and you can see that the home key width is 2 1/8" from the edge of "A" to the edge of "G":

Isn't it interesting? What's the bottom line for me? That you can't pay attention to corporate PR. Look for yourself. There's been a lot of PR about the Asus Eee PC, but all I've mostly seen is complaints about the size of the XO. It's eye-opening.

What surprised me the most was the screen. I knew that the XO had a better screen than the Intel Classmate (you can compare them side by side in this YouTube video which is pushing the Classmate as booting slightly faster, but the screen comparison is devastating to the Classmate, in my view; here's a second one, perhaps even more clear), but the comparison Jerry shows between the XO and the Eee PC was unexpected. Also the keys on the keyboard of the Eee PC are a lot smaller than I expected. I knew the XO keys were small, because it was designed for children, including 5-year-olds (who are reportedly able to repair the laptops themselves, due to the design), so it was deliberate. Yet the difference between its size and the Asus EeePC was minimal. Yet the Eee PC *was* designed for adults (a reader reminds me it was first advertised for kids too), and people are raving about it, but if you have large fingers, you may find it not so useful for you. If you have slender fingers, you may be able to adjust. But that's true for the XO also.

So it's a personal decision, based on your own personal needs and wants. As you know, I'm not crazy about rewarding those trying to kill the OLPC project, and I lump the Asus Eee PC in that category, and I also won't personally buy any software from any company that does a patent deal with Microsoft. But I wanted to be fair and realistic. I know you may not feel the same, so this comparison will at least give you the overview of factors to consider if you are thinking of the Eee PC. I don't expect all humans on earth to think exactly as I do before we can be friends. And I also know most of Groklaw's readers immediately install something else anyway. Here's someone who just put Ubuntu on his.

So, it's a personal decision. Some of us really care about how much can fit on the screen. I'm like that. I care about that more than the size of the keys. But if I could only have one laptop, I'd care more. For others, someone who must type a lot and fast and has larger hands, for example, neither might suit and they might need to stick to a traditional laptop.

Our thanks go to Jerry and his lovely and brainy daughter for a memorable photograph. All the graphics are published under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States license.

If you participated in the Get 1, Give 1 campaign in the US and would like to know where the laptops went, here's where they went first, to Mongolia. Enjoy the pictures. And if you are like me and want to know how to take it apart and put it back together again, this page on the OLPC Wiki is for you, along with the Repair Manual. Note the cautions, of course.

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