Asus Eee PC Initial Hands On and Video Review

by Andrew Reads (168,817)

by Jerry Jackson, Kevin O'Brien and Andrew Baxter

The Asus Eee PC 701 4G is the new affordable ultraportable notebook that’s bound to be on many consumers’ Christmas wishlists this year. Retailing for somewhere between $299 and $399, the Eee PC isn’t exactly a workhorse, but it will do just about every basic task you’d need from a laptop. Our initial hands-on actually proves it does more than we expected.

First, the specs for the review unit we have on hand, which is the Eee PC 701 4G:

  • Processor: Intel Celeron M ULV 900MHz
  • Storage: 4GB of Flash based storage (SSD)
  • Memory: 512MB of RAM
  • OS: Linux (Asus customized)
  • Screen: 7-inch screen with 800 x 480 resolution
  • Ports: 3 USB, 1 monitor, headphone jack, microphone input, SD card reader (SDHC compatible), Kensington lock slot, Ethernet 10/100
  • Webcam (0.3 MP)
  • Battery: 4-cell 5200 mA (rated at 3.5 hours)
  • Wireless: 802.11b/g Atheros
  • Input: Keyboard and Touchpad

We’ve only had the Asus Eee PC for a few hours at the time of this writing, but wanted to share a few thoughts and some video before we do a more complete review next week.

 

Looks

The Asus Eee PC isn’t half bad looking. It’s all white, which in the long term might not do so well with showing dirt, but while it’s pristine and clean in the first few hours, it sure looks nice:


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Size Comparison

The Asus Eee PC is small, very small. It weighs only 2lbs, if you include the power adapter then it still weighs under 2.5lbs. That’s great for travelling. If you’re on the go and want a cheap device to take with you but still do some work or have some fun, this could be it:

 

Screen:

The screen is 7-inches diagonally and has a resolution of 800 x 480. For the sake of a reference, here’s what you can see when you pull up the homepage of the site you are on right now:


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As you’ll see from some of the videos in this article, it’s no Sony XBrite display that offers jump off the screen contrast, but for your web surfing (Firefox is pre-loaded) and Open Office (also pre-installed) work needs you won’t really care. We even found the colors serviceable for You Tube video watching needs (more on that soon).

Below is a screenshot we took on the Asus Eee PC of the YouTube.com homepage, this is a good example of what you'll see using the Eee PC screen resolution and size:


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Keyboard and Input:

Okay, so the keyboard is far from being a ThinkPad keyboard, but it’s not (quite) the worst keyboard we’ve ever experienced on a notebook. That said, we have to be honest and say it’s a real challenge to get used to this keyboard if what you want to do is fast touch type input. Some of the keys are a little wobbly, most of them are undersized and your fingers will most definitely strike the wrong keys as you get used to the weird size and positioning of the keys.


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The Asus Eee PC likes the Apple iPod

Pleasant surprise number one. We plugged in an iPod to the Eee PC and braced ourselves for nothing to happen. But it did. Upon plugging in the iPod the Eee PC launched the built-in music playing application. It took about a minute for this to happen, but once the application was open we could see all of our playlists on the iPod and could play them through the Eee PC. That called for playing some AC DC "Back in Black" to celebrate:

The Asus Eee PC works with USB devices flawlessly

We were concerned that all of the normal devices we use with Windows would flake out and not work on the Eee PC. We were wrong again. We plugged in a Logitech wireless mouse and it right away worked with the Eee PC. Even the scroll wheel worked without issue, scrolling through FireFox was a breeze. An external keyboard worked along with any thumb drive we plugged in. Now don’t go expecting your USB based TV card tuner to work out of the box with the Asus Eee PC, but it seems that most common peripherals will instantly have a happy relationship.

Voice prompt capability

One little fun thing about the Eee PC is that it has a built-in microphone and basic voice recognition software. A built-in application that you can enable makes it so you call out to the Eee PC to open applications. For instance, say "Computer Web" and it will chirp back "Web" and open FireFox. Or say "Computer Clock" and it repeats back "Clock" and then pops up the time. While neat, we found that after a while it started being a bit too good. Jerry said "Sony" out loud in the room and the Asus Eee PC decided to open the "Movie" player. Well, here’s an example of when it works how it should:

Outputting to a larger monitor

We tested outputting to a monitor at 1280 x 1024 resolution. The output was fine, but for video playback things began to choke a bit. When opening up other applications at the same time as playing a video the sound and audio went out of synch and things got choppy. The good news is that the built-in game PlanetPenguin Racer (based on Tux Racer) worked at a whopping 5 frames per second on the large monitor at max resolution. It worked at 15 fps on the regular old 7-inch screen.

Video playback

Again we were pleasantly surprised. It seems that any MPEG4 based video will play back on the Eee PC. DivX and xVid videos play without issue. And yes, if you want to watch You Tube within your Fire Fox browser on the Eee PC that’s completely doable. In fact, here’s a You Tube video of a You Tube video playing on the Eee PC to prove it (that hurts to think about):

Web cam

The Asus Eee PC comes with a built-in 0.3 megapixel web camera that works quite well. Once you enable it that is. For whatever reason the camera was by default turned off in the BIOS and we had to go in and enable it for the camera to work. For something that dubs itself as "Easy to work, Easy to play, Easy to learn" that’s not exactly something you’d expect. We don’t think grandma will figure that part out on her own.

Below is an example shot we took using the Eee PC webcam, it’s a picture of the box it came in. Not the greatest, but certainly not bad.

Updating the OS and Software

It turns out that all updates are done internally, including everything from Skype to the BIOS. All you have to do is click on "Add Remove Programs" in the Settings area and it will check to see if any updates are needed to the system. It will download any updates, apply them and restart itself. So far this has worked flawlessly in our testing.

So far, so good

While this is in no way a comprehensive review, we just wanted to get some of this video out there and some first real hands on thoughts.  We'll have a more honest and in depth formal review in the days ahead once the Asus Eee PC has stood the test of time for more than just a few hours with us.

A note on Availability

The caveat we have to throw out there is that we know the Eee PC is going to be hard to get for some time. Supplies are short at the moment (for various reasons) and because of the price and expected high demand the Asus Eee PC is going to be another one of those gadgets that gets sold for a much higher price on eBay than it does at Best Buy. Asus tells us the Eee PC should hit U.S. store shelves within weeks. Keep your eyes open, because even if you blink it might be gone not long after it has touched those shelves.


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