The Forgotten E-Book Reader: OLPC

With the plethora of e-book reader devices available these days, it’s easy to overlook perhaps one of the better choices for mobile e-reading: the OLPC.

While it’s a bit heavier than most tablets (but still relatively light at just over 3 pounds), and lacks the “instant-on” feature of other devices (the OLPC is technically a netbook computer, so it needs time to boot), the built-in Read Activity (app) supports several types of file formats, including text, tiff, djvu, pdf, and epub.

At 6 inches x 4.5 inches, the OLPC’s color screen is bigger than most dedicated e-book readers, and almost as large as the iPad. The screen folds flat, which hides the keyboard and makes reading easier, and the screen also remains easy to read, even in sunlight.

So why isn’t it more popular as an e-book reader?

One problem is that it’s not clear how to add new content for the Read app to find.

By default, the Read app can open e-book files in the Journal, but the documentation doesn’t fully explain how to copy new files into the Journal.

In theory, you can drag-and-drop files from a mounted usb stick or external drive, but I found the graphical environment choppy and unreliable.

Fortunately, there’s a built-in Terminal script called copy-to-journal created just for this purpose.

Here’s an example of how to copy a pdf file from a memory stick to the Journal:

copy-to-journal "/media/my-usb-stick/My Book.pdf" -m application/pdf -t "My Book"

The first parameter is the full path to the file (wrapping in quotes is good practice, since it will work for files with spaces in their names and without), the second parameter (-m) specifies the mimetype, and the third parameter (-t) defines the title of the book as it appears in the Journal (it can be completely different from the filename).

Epub files work the same way, except the mimetype is different:

copy-to-journal "/media/my-usb-stick/My Book.epub" -m application/epub+zip -t "My Book"

The script can also attempt to guess the mimetype, using the -g switch instead of -m:

copy-to-journal "/media/my-usb-stick/My Book.epub" -g -t "My Book"


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4 Responses to “The Forgotten E-Book Reader: OLPC”

  1. Leandro Says:

    OK, but where to buy it?

  2. Denis Says:

    I got mine under the original Give One, Get One donation program, which is over, unfortunately, but you can still find them used on ebay.

  3. ms Says:

    I have the OLPC but it’s not a good e-reader. It’s way heavy, slow and the battery life never measured up to what the said about it originally. Also the touchpad response is spotty.

    It’s terrible at pagination of books and the software is slow to boot up. When you hold any of the other e-readers in your hand, you realize their lightness is really a huge advantage.

    Because I like the pixel Qi screen, I got a notion ink adam tablet which is worlds better than the OLPC except in durability. Unfortunately the devices are few and far between with pixel qi screens but they are in a few places and possibly growing though I havent’ read news in a about them.

  4. Denis Says:

    I agree that the weight is a negative, though it works well on planes where you can rest it on your lap or on the tray table.

    Which OS version are you using?

    I found the entire Sugar/XO environment basically unusable until version 11.2.0 this past summer.

    I wouldn’t have recommended it before upgrading to that version.

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