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Whether you're looking for a child's laptop, or just want a cheap piece of hardware to play with, the sub-$300 laptop category has a lot to offer. With a field full of open source plaforms and rugged designs, you're sure to find something you'll like. Here we'll take a look at 5 of the best.
- Classmate PC: Intel's Classmate PC is an education-centric subnotebook designed for children in the developing world. Although it doesn't have the cute factor that the OLPC XO has, it seems to be more sturdy. This machine is designed to be used on the move, as it comes fully equipped with a handle and leather case for transporting from school to home. Some of the drawbacks include limited hard-drive space of 2GB, and a low screen resolution that's to be expected with laptops of this size. It's reported that the hardware can run on either Windows or Linux, and storage is handled by flash memory, making this a very flexible machine.
- OLPC XO: The OLPC is the flagship of subnotebooks, with a glowing review from David Pogue and just about everyone else. People, especially children, seem to just love this little laptop, not just because of its low price, but for its innovation. Designed for children in poor countries, the OLPC is an efficient, stripped-down version of the laptops most people use, with a Linux operating system, no CD/DVD drive, hard drive, or bloatware, and interesting power methods. Perhaps the most appealing part of this machine is its look, with shiny green and white plastic and toylike antennas. Plus, the screen boasts one of the brightest and clearest resolutions, and is easy to view even in the sunlight. However, it is not without its problems, primarily its slow processing, and an unclear battery capacity. This laptop is best reserved for the children it was designed for, or those who want to tinker around with an innovative machine.
- Elonex ONE: Soon, the subnotebook industry will have a new kid in town, called the Elonex One. The $195 device will be unveiled at The Education Show in Birmingham. It's aimed at consumers, but they'll donate a machine to an underprivileged child for each 100 that are sold. The One's main appeal is price, but that's not all it has to offer. Its battery life clocks in at 3 hours, and it has a flash-based hard drive. Like its competitors, it has a rugged case to facilitate mobile use. The hardware runs Linux, a choice made both for financial and political reasons. The One is not much to look at, with retro-IBM stylings, but current buzz suggests that it will be one to watch.
- Zonbu: Zonbu presents a low-cost Windows alternative, with a custom operating system that offers built-in programs like Open Office and the Banshee music player. It's definitely a lot larger than its competitors, coming in with a 15.4 inch widescreen, 60GB hard drive, and a CD-RW/DVD drive. It offers quiet operation, an easy wireless connection, and pretty flawless operation right out of the box. One drawback of the Zonbu is that you have to buy a monthly plan, or buy the device for much more than $279. However, this notebook offers a very positive user experience overall, and ongoing support that makes it easier to use than any of its competitors.
- Asus Eee PC 2G Surf: The Asus Eee PC 2G Surf is the little sister of the Asus Eee PC with a price to match, coming in just under $300. It offers ease of use in a tiny package. It's just a bit larger than a DVD case, so it's easy to take out just about anywhere. Just like its brethren, this notebook is durable, although perhaps not as rugged as the OLPC or Classmate. Some reviewers found the device to be a but sluggish, most likely due to its lowered caching ability. This notebook is seemingly designed with road warriors in mind, offering a microphone, speakers, and pre-installed Skype software. You can even upgrade to get a webcam. Battery life is not as impressive as others, clocking in at about 2 hours. One major drawback is that this fairly limited device has a soldered-on back, so upgrading would be difficult. It is, however, visually appealing with a variety of pastel colors. Overall, it's a neat little device, but you'd probably do better going with the larger 4G or 8G version.
In the sub-$300 category, you'll definitely get what you pay for, but that's not to say that it won't be enough. Armed with efficiency, open source software, and durable design, these devices have a lot to offer. Children, road warriors, and curious gadget freaks would love any one of these laptops.