The Anti-iPad

I bought a new computer last week. A laptop. A very, very tiny laptop, in fact. It’s called a Ben NanoNote, and it makes standard netbooks look cumbersome and unwieldy.

I mean, just look at the thing

My nanonote, dwarfed by the iMac.

Not for everyone, though

This is not a consumer-oriented device, at least not yet. For example, the first thing you should do when you get yours is to reflash the firmware with the latest version. This is a scary operation requiring you to remove the battery, short-circuit a few pins with tinfoil, attach it to a Linux machine and run an update script (which took about 20-30 minutes to finish). This is a hard sell if you’re targeting the regular Apple customers.

With the newest firmware you get a graphical menu system that’s kind-of nice (but ultimatly not very useful) and an mp3 player that I can’t get to play my songs. Don’t know if that’s my fault or not but again, a hard sell for most people.

However:

  • At 110 euro (plus 25 for shipping), it’s relatively inexpensive.
  • It’s running OpenWRT, a linux distribution primarily targeted at embedded devices. You can run vim, zile (bare-bones emacs), python, ruby, lua, whatever you manage to fit into the 32MB of RAM. Surprisingly, mine had a web server activated by default when I got it. I have no idea what I’d do with a web server on this little machine, but it’s still pretty cool.
  • Not only is it running free software, the hardware specs are free as well. In fact, you are encouraged to copy, modify and share the hardware design and build your own devices.
  • It’s small, really small. Smaller than my Nintendo DS, just about the size of my wallet. In fact, just by looking at pictures it’s hard to fathom just how tiny it is. You really need to hold it in your hand.
  • And yet it has a 54-key keyboard. Granted, it’s too small to accommodate touch typing (and I have pretty petite hands) but still, it’s a keyboard with real keys.
  • Oh yeah, and it plays quake.

In short, it’s open (truly open), multi-tasking, small and affordable. It is the Anti-iPad.