dMv (daemonv) wrote,

Third World Tech Chic

My blackberry died in the rain last Monday (November 6th). Between the rain and the freezing temperatures, maybe I pushed too hard, and some buttons failed. It works, except I can't read messages. It works, but I can't call.

Since then, I've embraced the new tech wave: Third World Tech Chic. There has been an impressive amount of development on bringing technology "to the rest of the world". Billions of people have never used a cell phone; billions have never used a laptop. Eventually, they might need to. There are millions of people whose lives would be materially improved if they owned either or both.

Developing hardware for the third world seems to demand optimizing on four objectives: cost, power, durability, design. Everything else -- features, branding, moving parts -- may be eliminated. This is the elegance of the ipod, without the brand premium. What's not to love? Except that selling hardware for the third world seems to demand making first world availability limited.

I bought a Motorola FONE F3 and an OLPC XO-1.

I have an unlocked GSM F3 in hand, and it is beautiful. They have reduced the concept of a cell phone very close to the minimum feature set you might expect. It does send/receive text messages, but not very well (simple screen). I am disappointed that it has multiple ring tone options. I'm happy that it has an alarm clock.

The screen is eInk, with a keyboard back light that makes it readable in the dark. It is totally legible in ambient light. The clock doesn't hide - the display changes once a minute and is otherwise powered-free. I do not have experience with the battery life yet, but I expect it to be robust.

The trick was finding it. I gather they are extremely cheap in places like Brazil and India. Motorola has no plans to sell it in the US or Canada through distribution channels. My unlocked GSM model cost $50 with shipping; the box obviously came from Brazil (at some point). But it is worth it. Even if I return to smart phones, it will be nice to have an unlocked GSM phone with impressive battery life, and an alarm clock, for traveling... which I could lose and not cry.

The OLPC XO-1 is a pretty cool project. This was the $100 laptop, which is currently $188. Except I paid $424 for the one that should be on its way. I bought it through the Give One Get One, which means that $200 went toward buying and shipping a machine to a child in a developing country. The rest goes to an intriguing piece of hardware. My laptop needs are pretty minimal and should be satisfied by this -- ssh, gmail, eBook. I like the notion of a 3 watt laptop and power saving goals to make runtime measurable in days not hours. Given my expensive laptop history, I like the idea of having a laptop designed to survive life with a ten year old in Cambodia. I will report more when mine arrives.
Tags: blackberry, third world tech chic

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