IIT Bombay has created a Rs 6000 laptop that runs on a modified version of the Ubuntu Linux OS. The device also comes pre-loaded with several free open source apps (FOSS) for students and researchers, as well as for watching movies and music. But does it perform well in meeting our daily needs? Hassan M Kamal puts it to the test
Low-cost computers have been in the news for a while. First, it was the Android tablet, named Aakash, and now, the Indian Institute of Technology — Bombay (IIT-B), has developed a low-cost laptop, dubbed as the FOSSEE (Free Open Source Software for Education) laptop. Currently in the pilot phase, the laptop funded by NMEICT (National Mission on Education through ICT) aims to promote IT literacy and the usage of FOSS apps. It's priced Rs 4,990 (Rs 5,820 after taxes). There are only 1,000 pieces available, of which the guide received a sample unit recently. We gave it a workout to check if it lived up to expectations.
The Foss Laptop
Design: There's nothing striking about the laptop visually; the entire body is made of plastic, and resembles a toy laptop. The top lid gets a glossy finish (prone to scratches and may get worse with time) but don't expect much at this price. There are too big logos printed on the top; reducing the appeal. The rest of the body has a solid finish (not matte), and offers a good grip. The above flaws were expected, however, we were disappointed to find few sharp unpolished edges in some parts of the laptop.
Rating: 7 / 10
Display: The device gets a 10-inch TFT display with 1024x600 screen resolution, which is sufficient. The viewing angles, as expected are limited, but suffices our needs. However, we found the brightness level of the screen very low. It also gets a bluish tinge to it, which some users may find difficult to work around.
Rating: 6 / 10
OS and Apps: The device runs FOSSEE (Free Open Source Software for Education) OS, a modified version of the open source Linux OS, Ubuntu. The team behind the OS has worked hard to build a stable release of the OS, and it shows well throughout the system. But most importantly, it comes pre-loaded with softwares such as Chromium and Firefox browser, Libre Office (an alternative to Windows Office), Gnome player (for media), AV tools such as Audacity and Kazam and several other education tools and tutorials (such as Wikipedia in 10 Indian languages, available locally) developed especially for students across fields. Though, the hardware of the laptop is not very impressive, the FOSSEE OS and the selection of apps could be worth it. The device has also been synchronised to offer access to spoken tutorials, and various other online tools and resources to improve learning among students. You may not find the same apps as in Windows OS environment, but there are plenty of alternatives that are worth a try.
Rating: 9 / 10
Connectivity: We are surprised to see the number of the ports in the laptop, despite the low price. It has two USB 2.0 ports, one mini HDMI port, one speaker out, one mic-in and an Ethernet LAN port. The device is also Bluetooth enabled and supports Wi-Fi. The ports make it a very useful device for students and researchers.
Rating: 8 / 10
Storage: The laptop comes with 8GB Nano flash drive as primary storage and 1GB RAM. Users won't be able to store large number of music or video files, and may soon find themselves running out of storage, but support is available for external drives (upto 2TB). The device also comes with a 4-in-1 card reader and can support memory cards up to 32GB. Considering that the OS requires low storage, and the device comes pre-installed with several apps, a user gets nearly 4GB free storage for personal use.
Rating: 7 / 10
Performance: The device runs on a 1GHz dual core ARM v7 Processor which, coupled with 1GB RAM, seems a fitting pairing at this price range. Though it manages to almost pull of multi-tab browsing, we found few issues during video playback (we suggest playing videos through different apps until you find the right one for your file type). We also faced issues in launching new apps — as there was a 5-10 seconds delay in launching apps. We feel, an upgrade in the RAM and processor should be paramount to make it run smoothly. The built-in speakers do not offer the most natural sound and are a bit high on treble, but they were loud. The device gets a standard VGA camera, which though not the best, is enough for video chats. Overall, the device is sufficient to meet most of your standard computing needs, and offers more than any other device at this price range.
Rating: 6 / 10
Keyboard: The keyboard is standard and offers a good typing experience. However, the key signage appears to have been pasted on later, and could rub off with time.
Rating: 7 / 10
Battery: The device is powered by a 5,000 mAh battery, which according to IIT-B, should give nearly two hours online playback of 720p videos. But we found it lasting longer than that at all times. It should easily give three hours of video playback. However it's a bit slow while recharging. It takes more than two hours to just reach the 50% level. The device was originally supposed to have a 3,500 mAh battery and recharge upto 80% in two hours, but the charge time had to be compromised for a larger battery.
Rating: 7 / 10
7.1 / 10
The guide verdict: There's not much one shoud expect for Rs 6K, but the laptop manages to offer more than that. The hardware standards won't get you drooling, but IIT Bombay has managed to pull off quite a feat combining low-cost hardware with the best of free open source software. Overall, the FOSSEE laptop seems like a promising approach to make IT literacy in India a reality. Besides, from what we hear, an upgraded version is already in the pipleline. Watch this space.
DISPLAY: 10-inch 1024x680
PROCESSOR: 1 GHz dual Core ARM v7
MEMORY: 1GB RAM, 8GB NAND Flash storage, expandable up to 32GB, external hard disk drive up to 2GB
CAMERA: Standard VGA
CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 2xUSB 2.0, mini HDMI, Ethernet LAN, mic-in, speaker-out
PRICE: Rs 5,820