Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

David Talbot

A View from David Talbot

The $20 Laptop that Wasn't

India’s gadget looks more like a modem.

  • February 4, 2009

It turns out that India’s “$20 laptop” – a gadget meant to cheaply deliver online educational content to students at more than 18,000 Indian colleges – may actually be more of a handheld web access device than a laptop computer. According to the image (left) obtained by Hindu Times it is roughly 10 inches long and five inches wide, with a small screen in the middle and no visible keyboard. Indian government officials have said it has two gigabytes of random-access memory and both Ethernet and wireless Internet access, and consumes 2 watts of power. But, beyond that, there haven’t been many details.

Credit: Hindu Times

So I asked Vivek Pai, a Princeton computer scientist, what he made of the gadget. Scrutinizing a photo of the mysterious electronic block he noted that, while details were still slim, it’s “definitely not something that would be called a laptop.”

He offered three speculative possibilities on what it might be. He said it might be a “data brick of some sort” – a shared fileserver for laptops– or “maybe a wired/wireless router and some shared storage.” Noting that four wires snaked away from the block, he added that it was possible that the wires might be for power, Ethernet, a keyboard, and for video.

The prototype was shown Tuesday by government ministers at an Indian university during the launch of an government effort called the National Mission on Education through Information and Computer Technology. According to Indian press reports, the cost is now pegged at between $20 and $30. But it’s still not clear to what extent government subsidies may be keeping the price low.

Cut off? Read unlimited articles today.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.