Asus Eee PC First Thoughts

by Reads (590,653)

The Asus Eee PC 701 notebook was officially announced at the beginning of June at Computex Taipei. Today I met with Asus to get a close-up look at this new device and talk more about the company’s goals with it. If Asus really can pull off selling this device for $250, it could be a very tempting companion PC for on the go.

First of all, here’s a quick look at the specs the Asus Eee offers:

  • Display: 7"
  • Processor: Intel mobile CPU (Intel 910 chipset, 900MHz Dothan Pentium M)
  • Memory: 512MB RAM
  • OS: Linux (Asus customized flavor)
  • Storage: 8GB or 16GB flash hard drive
  • Webcam: 300K pixel video camera
  • Battery life: 3 hours using 4-cell battery
  • Weight: 2lbs
  • Dimensions: 8.9 in x 6.5 in x 0.82 in – 1.37 in (width x depth x thickness)
  • Ports: 3 USB ports, 1 VGA out, SD card reader, modem, Ethernet, headphone out, microphone in

What bootup?


The Asus Eee before it’s turned on (view large image)

The startup time for the Eee is about 10 seconds, and that’s when it’s being slow. Shutdown is performed with the simple one click of an "off" icon in the lower right hand of the screen (this "off" graphic is always present) and the total shutdown time is a whopping 5 seconds. We’ve all been ruined by slow hard drives and a bloated Windows OS I know, but I felt kind of giddy with glee seeing such fast startup and shutdown.


After you push the power button on the right hand side, this is the opening screen that pops up after less than 10 seconds (view large image)

The Asus Eee uses a Linux based OS that Asus has customized themselves. Combine a small Linux footprint OS with a flash based hard drive and what results is this speedy startup that the device has. Just because the OS is light doesn’t mean it doesn’t do much. There’s a ton of software features on board that will most definitely serve all of your basic needs. You can browse the web using FireFox, use Skype with the built-in web cam and microphone, open Word and Excel docs and edit them, view photos, listen to music files, use AOL IM, MSN messenger or just about any other major chat client via Kopete. In other words, all the basic functions you perform on a PC you can do on the Eee PC.


Shut down takes 5-seconds (view large image)

Performance

You already know the bootup time is fast, and I’m happy to say that not once did I ever see an hour glass (or, whatever might indicate "waiting" in this Linux OS) when opening an application. Everything was just instant. Apparently the included Intel 900MHz processor is powerful enough. Unfortunately we didn’t have a wireless connection handy when using the device, so I couldn’t test the devices abilities to quickly download and process web pages. It is 802.11g capable so I trust throughput speeds would be fast, the question is on how fast the processor can render large web pages.

Software and OS

The home screen is very simple and intuitive. You bootup and see the "Internet" tab where you can quickly double click on any icon there to open an application related to the Internet. Double clicking on "Web" launches FireFox for instance. There are six different tabs across the top labeled "Web", "Work", "Learn", "Play", "Settings" and Favorites. Each tab had applications or links to websites underneath that corresponded with the description. For instance under the work tab were Google docs or Open office applications. Under the "Learn" tab was a link to Wikipedia — often some of the icons when double clicked would just launch websites.


A look at the "Work" area tab (view large image)

There were some pretty intense games under the "Play" tab, I can attest Penguin Racer ran flawlessly and Solitaire was blazing.


Viewing photos on the Eee (view large image)


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Usability

The keyboard is definitely small and takes some getting used to, I initially found that pecking at keys was faster than doing a normal style fast type. It’s just hard not to fat finger the wrong key or two keys at once, even if you have medium sized fingers. The keyboard also had a bit of rattle and shake to it, but it definitely worked for getting the job done. Nobody will use this as their main PC, but if you’re at Starbucks and want to surf the web and crank out a few emails, the keyboard is absolutely serviceable for that. I wouldn’t write my disseration or anything on it though, you’re just asking for carpal tunnel by doing that.

The touchpad worked fine and the single button mouse was easy enough to use, there’s no need for a right mouse button in this software environment.

Screen

The screen is no 300nit glossy display, but it’s absolutely serviceable. Brightness is perfect and coloration is decent.


(view large image)

Ports and Features

I was most impressed to see three USB ports on this thing, and at the same time even more angry that my 14" screen notebook that cost $2,000 only has two USB ports. In a notebook with a 7" screen, what more could you want than what you see is offered below?


Ethernet, Modem, USB port and then headphone and microphone jack (view large image)


SD card slot, 2 USB hubs, VGA out (view large image)


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Any noise and heat?

On the whole the Asus Eee was very quiet thanks to the flash drive, but it does have a fan and it did make a bit of noise trying to keep itself cool. We were in a very, very warm room (about 80F) during the meeting so the Eee got noticeably warm. If the room temperature was something more sane like 70F then I would expect the Eee would feel much cooler to the touch.


(view large image)

Build and Design

To be honest Asus could have made this thing as ugly as the OLPC (bright green) and it would still be appealing for $250. But as it is there’s not much to complain about with design. It’s white all over with some black around the screen. It’s not glossy or anything fancy, but that means it won’t pickup fingerprints either. The LED lights on the front are actually nice.


(view large image)

The build is as you would expect for a budget $250 PC, a little shaky. It felt and looked like plastic and if this thing were stepped on I’m sure the result would not be pretty. Having said that, it didn’t feel like it was made of something as thin as milk jug plastic. You’d probably want to just put it in a rigid case if you were carrying it in a backpack with a bunch of books, I’m sure a Calculus and Biology book smashed up against it could also have bad results.

Price and Availability

Asus had initially said that the Eee PC would start at $199, but they’re thinking now is more like $250 for the 8GB flash drive version and somewhat more for a 16GB version. They’re still looking at late August for availability of the device, and it should be offered world-wide. I hope Asus can do a good job in making this device widely available, it’s really quite compelling for the price and it will be interesting to see what type of people look to buy this.

** UPDATE **

See our initial Video Review of the Asus Eee PC 701 posted on 10/25/2007 by clicking here

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