Review of the Asus EeePC

More LouderVoice Reviews

For the last two weeks I’ve been trialling the Asus EeePC 701 as a desktop and laptop replacement. The 701 falls into an emerging category of PC that Intel are calling Netbooks. Even though it will be the middle of this year before the world’s largest computer-chip maker begins selling it’s new processors designed specifically for this form factor, they’ve tested the water by jointly developing the EeePC with ASUSTeK based on the Classmate PC project, but aimed at the consumer market.

Wireless mouse & keyboard with Asus EeePC

I borrowed this review unit from my friend John Kennedy when I met him at a local hotel bar/restaurant. My initial reaction when he presented the black neoprene pouch was to wonder how a fully fledged PC could be hidden inside. My second reaction was to appreciate how incredibly fast it booted up – in 28 seconds (it shuts down in 7 seconds). And my third was to marvel at how unobtrusively it nestled on the coffee table hidden from neighbouring eyes by the restaurant menu and pepper mill. This is the kind of laptop you’d feel very comfortable about using in public spaces.

In handing over the 701 John quipped, "these things bounce James". And John would have reason to know as the nature of his business means the computers get to accompany their users up rather long ladders! But only having it on loan myself I didn’t want to put that claim to the test. Regardless, the screen and hinge are definitely very sturdy and I’ve no doubt the unit would survive a lot more punishment than my not-too-flimsy Dell Inspiron. I’ll report back in a few months when the primary school students of Newcastlewest Gaelscoil have put 15 units through their paces. That should give us an idea of how rugged they are.

Happily sturdiness isn’t achieved at the expense of looks. In fact the pearl white styling, proportion, and wedge shaped angles make it quite an attractive device. The 7-inch, 800 x 480 resolution screen is bordered by surprisingly good speakers at left and right and a basic webcam centered above. Even though I’m short sighted and have a history of troubling eyestrain I found the screen plenty good for two or three hours of use, which is pretty much all you’ll get from the battery anyway. When on the move.

But my primary use of the EeePC was as a desktop/laptop replacement for which I substituted the native keyboard, trackpad and display with external peripherals, to avail of the full 1024 x 768 resolution of a CRT and the extra comfort of a wireless mouse and keyboard. Not that the internal keyboard in uncomfortable, at least not to me. But I recognize that this is a contentious issue and probably the key (forgive the pun) perception as regards a love-it or hate-it conclusion. I’m a reasonably good touch typist and adjusted quickly to a less wristy, more disciplined style of finger movement which, as tests confirmed, allowed me to reach very near my usual productivity level. Having said that this keyboard is definitely not for all and quite likely a deal breaker for many.

Hand sized EeePC

Or at least for those who spend much of their time on the road. In other words, mobile warriors need not apply. But if your primary use of a Netbook is as a desktop replacement and your distant secondary mode of use is mobile then the EeePC is a serious contender. Personally, when I’m on the move I’m usually in consumption mode where I merely want to read email, scan websites and check status messages. Text input is minimal in those situations. Which makes the Asus an ideal companion.

The Operating System is an ASUS-customized variant of Xandros Linux with a well thought out Easy mode GUI. The bundled software includes everything that makes sense for a Netbook (browser, IM, Skype, etc) which is designed to work primarily as a webtop, and indeed many icon shortcuts point to online applications, like Gmail for instance. My EeePC came with an older version of Skype which I updated to the latest, with Video capability, to test the quality of the webcam. Which was surprisingly good. Considering the prominence of the ‘Learn’ tab in the Easy Mode GUI I thought one surprising omission was Google Earth. Which I installed myself, though getting it to run satisfactorily exposed one source of trouble with this machine – Linux is still a pain in the neck! Fine if the target market is likely never to install extra software but an Achilles heel otherwise.

Several models of the EeePC are available to choose from, mine being the 4G which comes with 512MB RAM and 4GB solid-state (flash) drive. I won’t go into the rest of the specs here (as they’re easy to google) but worthy of note is the MMC(plus)/SD(HC) card reader which is the first I’ve had on a PC. And incredibly useful it is too. Though one digital camera in this household uses XD memory the majority of devices (cameras and mobile phones) use (mini/micro)SD. And with 4GB SDs costing as little as €13 online it’s difficult to see the onboard 4GB as a limitation. Especially when one considers the rapid emergence of cloud storage via services like Jungledisk and Putplace. Your mileage may vary of course, especially if you work with a lot of digital media. But for me the combination of Netbook and Cloud Storage makes perfect sense.

While Netbooks are seen as a primary computer for buyers in developing markets they’re seen as supplemental PCs in developed markets and that’s where I think the sweet spot really is. We’re getting closer to the day when our computing devices are like accessories and we’ll have the right one for every occasion. On a long business trip you’ll use your 15" Macbook, in the office your 28" desktop, out shopping your 3" smartphone and for the 45 minute commute a Netbook. Of course with the right peripherals any of these could be your primary computer and the Asus EeePC fits the bill perfectly for me. I’m going to hate giving it back to John but take comfort in the knowledge that it won’t be long before I replace my aging Dell laptop with a brand new Netbook.

GOOD

  • Size and form-factor: It really is a rugged, go-anywhere device and fits numerous places a laptop won’t go (eg. glove compartments, drawers, handbags, large coat pockets)
  • AC-DC adapter/charger: This is more like a mobile phone charger than the usual dual-cabled brick. And with two meters of thin white cable it reaches just about every seat in the house.
  • Webcam: Centered in the bezel above the screen it adds greatly to the feeling of eye-contact when Video Skyping.
  • Boot-up/shutdown: So speedy it puts a Windoze laptop to shame.

BAD

  • Battery life: At about 3 hours of normal use this is quite disappointing.
  • Keyboard: Though not a problem for me many users will find it difficult to touch type.
  • Linux: As user-friendly as the Easy Mode GUI is it’s still lipstick on a pig. And that’s coming from someone who was a Linux Sys Admin. In order to get Skype and Google Earth working satisfactorily I had to dust off a command line manual and reference online forums and wikis.

Technorati Tags: ,

Advertisements

4 Responses to “Review of the Asus EeePC”

  1. Robin Blandford Says:

    “Lipstick on a Pig” – that was the phrase I’ve been looking for for a long time now.

  2. James Corbett Says:

    Hehe, the pig is such a versatile animal really,… can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear…. the chicken was involved but the pig was committed….. etc… etc…

  3. John Handelaar Says:

    My first impression at PC World the other day was that I was impressed with the speed (Openoffice started very quickly) and a little impressed with the screen (better than I thought it would be but I’ll wait for the bigger screen) – but the trackpad was AWFUL. It’s the size of a postage stamp and insanely twitchy.

  4. James Corbett Says:

    Well I’d agree that it’s not great John but I wouldn’t quite call it awful. To be honest though I mostly used my wireless mouse so it wasn’t an issue.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: