ASUS Eee PC
The ASUS Eee PC is an extremely small, ultraportable notebook at the cheapest end of the market. At $399 US, it's supremely affordable. The entire industry has been buzzing around it, with Asus claiming that it was America's most popular Christmas gift.
When we arrived at the store to pick up our Eee to review, all the salespeople were busy. We looked near the laptops for it and couldn't see it—had the shipment been delayed?
We finally snared a salesperson to ask about the Eee and were led to the small electronics cabinet. There, nestled among the compact cameras and iPods, was one of the smallest laptops we'd ever seen. Its box was also diminutive. Inside the box is the Eee, manuals, CD, charger, neoprene sleeve and the Eee's battery. We appreciated the inclusion of the sleeve—most notebook bag and case makers have nothing for a machine this small.
Asthetically, the Eee looks like exactly what it is—a miniature laptop. Ours came in pearl white. It drew comments and admiring glances everywhere we took it—for both its extremely small size and smooth styling. The only aspect that mars its appearance is a large screen bezel. We feel the Eee would be vastly improved cosmetically if the screen filled even half that bezel. But, that's a minor issue in an otherwise very attractive notebook.
4GB solid-state Flash disk
512MB, 400MHz DDR2 memory
900MHz Intel Celeron Mobile
Intel 945GM Graphics
Atheros 802.11b/g wireless
9" screen at 800x480 resolution
Three USB 2.0 ports
Kensington lock slot
Headphone and microphone jacks
Customised Xandros OS
IceWM, with ASUS enhancements
The Eee has a nice touchpad, although a little small. There is a single-width button that will execute a right-click if you press down on the right-hand side. We found this a little difficult to get used to, as it was hard to tell without looking exactly where you were about to click. The touchpad will scroll if one traces a finger down the far right—an extremely small target we found difficult to hit reliably. We've read a lot of reviews that seem displeased with the keyboard, and frankly, we just can't see why. The keyboard has an excellent feel to it, although again, it is extremely small. It took less than an hour to get used to touch-typing on it at quite a reasonable speed.
The screen is LED-backlit, making it extremely bright. Unfortunately, that's the only kind thing we can say about it. The contrast and colour is dreadful, and although the screen is a reasonable DPI, the resolution is just not high enough for Web browsing. Most sites these days are optimised for at least a 1024x768 resolution, and having a screen only 800 pixels wide made us scroll sideways fairly often to see whole pages.
The speakers are surprisingly good. Sure, the sound isn't studio-quality, but the volume can be maxed out without distortion, and the clarity is acceptable. With good headphones, sound is even better, although it did have a slightly muddy quality. The headphone socket is extremely clean with no discernible hiss even at high volumes. The internal microphone is adequate for voice chat, and plugging in a headset with an external microphone works exactly as you'd expect.
Connectivity is excellent with 10/100 Ethernet, 802.11b/g wireless and three USB ports. There's also an SD card slot on the left-hand side, and the card sits flush with the side of the laptop. It supports SDHC cards, which is a very viable option for expanding the onboard storage. There's also a VGA-out port that displays up to 1280x1024 on an external display with excellent acceleration. This feature alone makes the Eee far more worthwhile for serious use, as the mediocre internal display becomes an acceptable compromise—having a tiny device to carry around, but a reasonable screen resolution while at home.
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