Asus Scores a Hit
Written: Jan 10, 2008 (Updated Jan 10, 2008)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Inexpensive, weighs two pounds, 20 second boot time, solid state hard drive, trendy linux O/S
Cons:Tight keyboard, no bluetooth, average battery life, hard drive small by today's standards,
The Bottom Line: Only just released, this unit has already attained cult status from users to hackers alike. This is one of my top five lifetime electronic purchases.
It is an honor to be the first Epinions reviewer on this instant cult classic. This sub-miniature ultra portable laptop offers a host of features not previously available at this price point. If you've kept an eye on the ultra portable market, then you know that it wouldn't be hard to drop a couple grand on one of the top-rated uber lightweight models. The Asus eeePC series, at two pounds (with battery!) is....in two word....deliciously portable. Starting at under $300 for the entry level model means you can afford to feed the whole family a heapin' helpin' of portability. The unit I purchased is the $400 model often referred to as the 4g (4 gig memory) although the actual model number is 701. I have a white one, but black (as well as some colors!) are now available.
How did Asus manage to do the seemingly impossible and bring a machine to market at a fraction of the price of the competition? The answer is in the specifications:
Processor: 900 MHz Intel Celeron-M ULV 353, fan
Ram: 512 MB DDR2-667 RAM (expandable to 1G)
O/S: Xandros Custom (Linux based)
Screen: 7 inch (diagonal) TFT LCD with LED backlight; 800 x 480 pixels
HD: Solid State 4gig
Ports: 3 USB 2.0, external monitor, external microphone in, audio out, SD card slot, 56k modem, 10/100 Ethernet
Other: built-in web cam, charger, battery included, 802.11b/g built-in, touch-pad, built in microphone
Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.5 x 0.9~1.4 in
Weight: 2 lb
The main cost savings are the result of using a less powerful Intel processor and an open source (free) custom Linux (Xandros) operating system. The small but sharp 7" screen is also a factor in cost savings. Even at a core speed just under 1Ghz (900Mhz) this laptop is no slouch. The addition of a cutting edge (yet minimal) 4 gigabyte solid state hard-drive results in boot times under thirty seconds, but also dictates that onboard primary media storage is out of the question (although memory can be expanded thru the SD card slot (or the three USB ports), the practical limits of adding on-board memory are the cost and sizes of solid state memory devices) Most people will need an external storage solution such as a portable USB hard drive to compliment the eeePC. I note this because although no secret, it must be factored into the overall cost of ownership when comparing to any laptop with a legacy (motorized) hard drive. In any case, with portable hard drive prices as low as they are these days it isn't a deal breaker.
I purchased the 4g eeePC about two months ago and have been using it as my primary PC since then (writing this review e.g.). I have a MacMini in the office (Epinions review: http://www.epinions.com/content_351311138436). My Mac hast it's own special brand of deliciousness, but it doesn't travel around the house with me like my Asus does!
The O/S on this bit of kit is custom Xandros, a Linux derivative. For those not Linux certified, rest assured that Linux fluency is not a requirement for the purchase of this machine. In fact, every E in eeePC represents another version of EASY, as in Easy to learn, Easy to use and and Easy to play. Asus wants to promote ease of use and they've scored big-time on that goal.
Still, some folks will be leery at the prospect of learning a new operating system, but in the basic mode (default) it's all graphical point and click, intuitive to the core. Total novices will have less trouble learning to use Xandros than they would if they were starting from scratch with nearly any other operating system (the EASY theme at work again here folks). The comical simplicity of the Xandros default interface belies the power under the hood. Powerful enough to run Windows XP. In fact, the top end models of the Ausu eeePC ($400 and $500) are designed to work with Windows XP for those so inclined.
The Xandros graphical interface is intuitively easy to anyone who has ever seen an icon based point and click O/S, and is broken down into four main tabbed categories: Internet, Work, Learn and Play, with two additional tabs for Settings and Favorites. Individual program icons are grouped under the appropriate tabs. The exhaustive list of included software is all open source (free) as in the GoogleDocs, internet radio and Skype VOIP offerings ) and include classics like OpenOffice (as a MicrosoftOffice substitute), Leave it to other reviewers to scrupulously examine all the included offerings.
At the time of this review, there is no preconfigured Windows Asus eeePC for sale, so you will have to do the installation yourself if you decide to go that route. You will need a full copy of Windows XP and an external usb powered optical drive. At the time of this review the retail price for the full version of Windows XP is $199, something to keep in mind if you've misplaced or don't have the original install disks (too often the case).
For the time being I"m sticking with the Xandros O/S that shipped with the unit. I took the time to change it to the 'advanced' mode, which mimics the Windows desktop experience fairly well, but to be honest, I've changed back to the 'easy' mode because it's less cluttered, allows me access to all the features I need on a daily basis, and to underscore the obvious, it's just easier. It also boots about ten seconds faster in easy mode, which I like. I got spoiled with a boot time of twenty seconds in the easy mode and refuse to waste the extra ten seconds for what mostly amounts to eye candy. Talk about getting spoiled quickly! It's almost like "Who would want to live in a world without these features?" Some how we all managed until we found out it didn't have to be the way it always was. I've had Windows machines in the past that took several minutes to boot from off. My Macmini probably takes a minute (I haven't timed it). Now I've got a unit that does it in twenty odd seconds. Sweet.
Asus includes a form fitting rubberized sleeve for protection, but it won't suffice as a stand alone travel case because it lacks storage space of any kind as well as lacking a handle. As with any successful product, there are a variety of aftermarket solutions to address this issue. This unit has barely hit the market and there are already a plethora of case solutions, with some already customized specifically for the eee. I found a perfect CaseLogic portable DVD soft case for less than $15 that almost seems custom designed for this unit. Like the spawn of IPOD, expect the upcoming eee accessory list to explode. The included AC adapter/charger is about the size of most cellphone chargers and has fold down prongs, saving even more space in your carry case. The included battery lasts about three hours and is rated at 4400mAH. Extra batteries are just now becoming available, with a 5200mAH and 7800mAH in the pipeline. Expect supply to be short for awhile. I'll be snapping up at least one of the high output batteries as soon as I can find one. There is a company taking preorders right now, but I don't remember which one and won't endorse an unknown vendor. I bought my unit online from Directron and have done business with them before (at least five years ago). All my experiences with them have been positive.
Two month impressions on usage (note that whenever upgrade is mentioned it is accomplished thru the settings tab using the icon marked add/remove software unless otherwise specifically stated):
Although the touchpad works well enough, I've added a Logitech wireless optical USB mouse for faster, more accurate, cursor control. I chose the VX Nano because it has the smallest USB adapter on the market and can simply be left inserted in any of the three included USB ports. Be aware you will pay a premium for this mini usb adapter as competing models are available for much less than the $70 VX Nano pricetag, but they use a more standard protruding USB adapter(about the size of a small USB memory stick). Some advanced features of this mouse do not work with Xandros unless you're willing (and/or able) to make changes to the system through the advanced Linux terminal window. Online Wiki's are available for those who wish to activate side-to-side scroll as well as enabling extra function buttons included on the VX. Out of the box you get the smoothest and quickest scroll wheel I've ever used. Right and left click buttons work as expected.
For printing, my HP Deskjest D4160 was attached to another USB port and I just clicked on the printer icon under the settings tab. From there I just clicked on the add printer dialog box and added the printer by clicking through a standard set of dialog boxes identical to every other printer install I've done. No surprises. Worked first try.
I'm using an external 17" LCD monitor when I'm at the house. Using the Desktop Mode icon under settings, I can tell the eeePC to turn off the internal 7" screen and set the desired resolution for the external monitor. I run the external LCD monitor at 1280x1024 resolution with no problems. A note on the included media player. It would not play quicktime or MP4 movies as delivered. I found an online forum that provided the fix. I had to DOWNGRADE the media player. You'll likely want to pursue that fix if you need access to those file types. I never had any issues with any windows videos, avi files or Youtube clips. Most other web embedded media players seem to work fine in the included Firefox browser. Note that Epinions does not have the option in their drop-down dialog boxes for screen sizes below 10 inches, so it's not my fault for the incorrect frontpage summary.
Before using Skype the first time, upgrade the software. You can make a Skype VOIP call using the built-in microphone and front mounted screen speakers, but VOIP is somewhat dicey at present (IMHO) and anything that improves call quality is a godsend so I use an external mic/headset.
I've tried a couple different external headphone/mic combinations for using Skype with this unit. I went full bore on Skype, getting a Skype telephone number as well as an account that lets me dial to ANY phone in the world (not limited to just Skype numbers/users). A wireless bluetooth solution would be priceless, however none exist for this device at the present time using the Xandros system. The inexpensive USB to bluetooth adapters you see are not supported on the Xandros O/S. Those who install Windows do not share this restriction if I'm reading the forums correctly. This is something I'd like to see Asus address on a future software update for Xandros O/S, and I'm betting the popularity of this machine will make it happen. For now, it's either use internal mic/speaker, or use a nice wired design of your choice. The included Webcam is reportedly supported with the latest Skype system update, but I've yet to test it. For what it's worth, I'm not sure I want you to be able to see me anyway, but that's another story altogether....
Since you're dealing with a 7" screen you'll likely find the ImageZoom addon for zooming images a nice convenience, and the addon NoSquint for auto sizing web based text is priceless (as in free, which is a killer combo). Both work flawlessly for me with the included version of Firefox (188.8.131.52), but I've read where folks who've upgraded to 184.108.40.206 have had some issues. For me, I'm not upgrading anything anymore that isn't broken just for the sake of upgrading. I was cured of that a long time ago as a Windows user. Current Windows users are getting their own realtime example with the recent Vista...ahem...'upgrade'.
USB powered hardrive added. Western Digital Passport model in red about the size of an Iphone with 160 gig capacity. Worked as expected. Used primarily for media storage this device had been used on both a Mac and Windows machine before ever seeing the eeePC, so cross platform file swapping appears solid.
There is no support for Itunes or Ipod that I am aware of although the unit plays MP3 files with no problem off USB drives, USB memory sticks or SD cards.
There is a lot of help to be had from a large and growing userbase. There is at least one prominent online forum and many will follow. You'll want to hit Google early after your purchase to search out the latest tips, tricks, hacks, updates, and general gossip this machine has inspired. Several hacker/modders have added touchscreen interfaces to their Windows installed eee's (touchscreen driver support exists in WindowsXP but not Xandros) Other hacks involve internal bluetooth and GPS card hacks (again a Windows only option), I've also seen LED keyboard lights modded into the top of the screen. All-in-all, it's the highest level of consumer excitement I can remember since the Iphone.
Conclusion. Buy One. Have Fun.