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Getting to know Aakash

Shilpey Dewan was among the 500 students who were handed the $35 Aakash tablets when it was launched on October 5. “ I am trying to do everything on it,” she says

Written by Chinki Sinha |
October 23, 2011 1:04:38 am

She tapped on the screen with her fingers. Then,she dug her nails,lightly. Nothing happened. None of the icons on the touchcreen came alive. And then she tapped harder. The e-book reader opened up. “There you go. The touchscreen isn’t that good but it is a nice product,” says Shilpey Dewan.

For almost a fortnight now,Dewan,a 21-year-old student at TERI University,has been spending time decoding Aakash,the $35 tablet launched by the MHRD on October 5 and hailed as the “world’s cheapest”,as part of her assignment to conduct field testing for the tablet.

Dewan has been involved with the project ever since her teacher Pradeep Varma brought the tablet to class one day,when it was still in the development stages,and asked the class to design a logo for the tablet. The tablet,they were told,was meant to be a tool to bridge the digital divide in the country and help students in semi-urban centres and rural areas get access to education material developed in the premier institutes of the country. Besides the logo,Varma asked his students,whom he divided into groups,to suggest distribution alternatives to the government. Dewan’s group recommended distributing the tablets via post so that the government could use the widespread network of the department.

The name they had in mind for the product was ‘Eklavya’,the mythological model student in the epic Mahabharata. They designed a logo around the name but they didn’t win the competition. “Aakash is a good name,too,” she says.

Dewan was one of the first 500 students who were handed the tablets on October 5 when it was launched in the national capital. “We were a little apprehensive about it at first,that something so cheap would work,” she said. “We didn’t think we will get to see it so soon.”

While tablets are common these days,Dewan has what she calls a “dream” in her hands,a device that has been given to a chosen few and that seeks to revolutionise education in the country. In fact,the few students who have got the tablet to test at her university have formed a society of sorts where they meet to discuss the product and troubleshoot,like when a friend’s tablet wasn’t switching off.

“I solved the problem. I had read the manual and it said if there is a problem,insert a pin in the little hole at the back and it will turn off. I felt like a genius,” she said.

Mostly,she uses her device to read ebooks and download presentations. She carried a USB device which she could plug into Aakash. At home,she watches movies on it and has downloaded her music on to the device.

“They want my feedback so I am trying to do everything on it,” she said. “The tablet has a 2 GB memory but I think it is expandable to 32 GB.”

On the day of the launch,Dewan was one of the three students from Delhi who got the device from Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal. When she went to her house in Faridabad,her cousins wanted to play with it. But then the attention became a problem. “Everyone wants to see it,touch it,play games on it,” she said. “I am obsessed with it and very possessive about it,” says Dewan.

She has already arrived at certain conclusions. “It will take a little time to get used to. It uses Android so it is easier. They will solve the touchscreen problem but it is a resistive screen so it is not going to be like Apple’s iPad. But you have to see the cost difference. It does help in reading but it is not a complete substitute for a PC,” she says.

She carries the 350-gram lightweight Aakash wherever she goes and doesn’t miss lugging around her much heavier laptop. In the morning,when her lecture starts,she switches it on and downloads presentations onto the tablet through the memory card. “The campus is WiFi enabled so it is good,” she says. “I keep telling everyone I have Aakash,” she says.

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