Lifehacker AU reviews the ASUS Eee PC

asus_small.jpgIt may have been aimed at kids and the education market, but a lot of Linux geeks have been looking forward to checking out the Linux-based ASUS Eee PC mini-laptop. I got my hands on a review unti last week, and let me say upfront this review will not look at whether this laptop would be great for kids - I'm not a kid anymore and I don't pretend to know what they need or like in a computer. I wanted to roadtest how the Eee PC would work as a laptop replacement for an adult user. Read on for the full review.

I previously told you my initial impressions of the Eee PC from a brief play with the unit at the product launch. I was initially surprised at just how small a laptop with a 7 inch display really is. The keyboard felt very cramped. After having used it for a week, I concluded that the keyboard is workable (the only thing I had trouble with on the small keyboard was regularly mistyping when going for the backspace key).
I should also mention that while initially I didn't like the idea of a (non Apple brand) white laptop, I really fell for its pearly white looks. ASUS clearly looked at Apple's corner of the market and decided to copy the cool kids, and it works well. It also comes with a cute black soft slipcase, which appears to be made of thin neoprene.
ASUS are marketing the Eee PC as "a lifestyle gadget designed for online access and learning". The laptop is running a flavour of Xandros, a Linux operating system I wasn't familiar with (apparently it's a streamlined version of the distro).
They've gone for a simple, folder style layout on the desktop and the folders are divided into Internet, Work, Learn, Play, Settings and Favourites. It's got a number of apps preinstalled, including Open Office, Firefox and Thunderbird. It also has Skype, a chat program and a webcam built in for web communication.
The display looked nice and crisp. The speakers are on either side of the screen, and it has A 10/100 Ethernet port, modem,  three USB2.0 ports, headphone, VGA out and microphone jack. It's also equipped for wireless b/g.
The battery life is quoted at up to 3 1/2 hours and I don't think you'd have trouble attaining that unless you're hammering the wireless and watching movies. Not bad for a $500 computer.
The only real snag I hit was the wireless interface - I couldn't get it to work. Nor could my usual tech support friend. If two adult geeks couldn't get it to work, what chance would a school kid have? I'd already been planning to take the Eee PC along to an election night party where I knew there'd be lots of geeks, because I knew they'd be keen to see it. And I hoped that one of them could get the wireless working! The wireless problem managed to stump everyone until I decided to do something crazy and read the inbuilt help manual. Following the intructions got the wireless working right away. There's a lesson in that for all of us.
Given that it's not a hugely powerful computer (Celeron processor,512MB RAM, 4G solid state storage and a four-cell battery) it clearly wouldn't make a desktop replacement for someone who has heavy duty computing needs, but that's not what its designed for. It's really a well featured PDA or laptop replacement, and it does that very nicely indeed. With no moving parts, it's a rugged yet delightfully light (.92kg) and compact unit.
I think it might take a little while to adjust to the cramped nature of the keyboard (and the lack of a CD drive), the idea of having a $500 laptop weighing less than 1kg to as my portable computer is very appealing.  One of the reasons I've resisted getting a smart phone or  PDA is that beyond sending SMS, I really dislike using a mobile phone-sized keyboard for typing. If you look at the Eee PC as a smartphone replacement, then the keyboard seems really large.
I have to say I am still a bit taken aback that the Eee PC has been referred to as a "disposable" laptop due to its $500 pricepoint. Yes it's cheaper than a $1500 laptop, but  I don't think there's anything about the laptop which deserves being treated as a throwaway item, and I think it would be an irresponsible, backwards step if we started treating computers that way. So let's not. :)
There have already been stories on the web of someone hacking the Eee PC to run Leopard (quite slowly, I'd imagine) and ASUS has promised an XP version later this year. I'd be keen to see how it runs with one of the more popular Linux distros.
If you get your hands on an Eee PC, let me know what you think of it. I was a bit regretful to send mine back at the end of the review period. I wonder if one of these little guys would fit in my Christmas stocking. :)


Comments

    Nice review. I would have liked to see a couple of pics of the little beast in action...

    Nice little review.. I'm quite keen on this little machine.. though I want to see how they handle OS improvements and whether they make Ubuntu an option in the future. I prefer to stick with a distribution with regular release cycles and I'm curious to see how update-able the Eee PC will be. I'd also like to see the price hit $400. Might buy one for my little sister actually.

    Oh, quick note though.. might want to drop the word 'web' from this sentence: "It's got a number of web apps preinstalled, including Open Office, Firefox and Thunderbird."

    Sarah, your lucky you got to play with one of these. Im hanging out for one myself. Mainly to write for my site when Im overseas. By the way, you can buy these from Dick Smith Electronics in New Zealand.. and apparently they do ship to Australia.

    http://search.dse.co.nz/search.php?sessionid=47541ef700c8f7da2740c0a87f3306df&site=&w=eeepc&submit.x=0&submit.y=0&submit=Go

    Sorry, I have no camera at the moment. :(
    But.. CNET put up lots of nice pictures:
    http://www.cnet.com.au/laptops/laptops/0,239035649,339283970-1s,00.htm

    Yeah, not too sure why they went for one of the lesser known (presumably lesser updated) distros but I'd prefer one that's a big larger with a bit more community support behind it.
    I thought the price would be a bit lower too. I saw some reports online last night that said it had sold out in Australia, so don't expect the price to drop for a while hehe.
    And ugh, thanks for pointing out that typo. Bad cutting and pasting job, meep.

    Yeah, I've been bugging ASUS for a while about when they'd get the EeePC into the country, it was one of the few products coming out this year I was actually keen to check out. :)
    If ASUS doesn't bring any more into the country before Christmas they're going to kick themselves, they'll lose lots of Christmas sales I think.

    I understand these are being sold through Myer exclusively in the lead up to Christmas so if they're not sold out, don't expect prices to drop anytime soon :) I haven't seen one instore yet but I'm keeping my eyes open. I want to see how big (small?) the screen is in person before making any decisions.

    Sorry to rub it in, but I got one on Sunday from Myer on preorder... and it's great.

    I totally sympathise with you about the keyboard being a bit cramped, but you do get used to it. And the USB ports mean that you can plug in a full size one if you really want.

    The VGA out feature is great - the system reconfigures the desktop to the size of the external monitor, up to 1280x1024.

    The only issue I have had is with configuring the wireless, and having run it past the IT department where I work, it appears to be a bug in Linux and not the Eee specifically.

    All in all, this is a great device; it starts conversations wherever I take it. And since it is so small and light, I pretty much take it everywhere.

    Out of curiosity, you say that they keyboard is cramped (understandable for a 7" laptop), but without having seen the laptop myself, I cannot guage how my own hands would fair.

    So, on to one of the strangest questions I've asked today...
    How big are your hands?

    Ok, that is a wierd question. :)
    So here's a wierd answer. My new diary was sitting right by my keyboard when I read your question, and it looked a similar width to my hand. And indeed it is - so around 9cm wide, if that helps answer your question.

    I'm trying to get a review one from ASUS at the moment to have a play with over the Christmas break (we have a change freeze on at work, so I have to do SOMETHING !!!)

    I had good fun with it. :)

    I recently bought one. I'm a Perl programmer by trade and having a linux friendly laptop out of the box is a godsend - with Perl already installed!

    I was able to bring up a linux terminal with a control-alt-T and I was off connecting to my other servers, reading email etc.

    Perfect. I've saved time trying to rid my laptop of Micro$oft and I'm productive straight away.

    The wireless setup wizard provided was a no-brainer and easily the most user-friendly wireless setup process I've experienced on Linux.

    If a 10inch screen comes out I'll be upgrading to that but in the meantime - my eeepc gives me freedom to move.

    I want one of these so much, the concept and technology application means that such a Device could make a true Mobile Office.
    Having worked in the Security Indrustry, I.T Industry and in Retail, I see this Unit as a truly adaptable device that not only is affordable, but breaks the reliance on the Windows Bloating Systems that most of us have to use.
    Now note Windows is Good, but for laptops (and most PC's) it is like a pair of 7X Boardshorts when you ordered Small.
    Aussies seem to be loosing alot in Consumer Benefits in the last few years. This just proves it

    My first thought on seeing the photo was "That's not Sarah!" ;-p

    A friend had one down the pub on Sunday and let me have a play with it. Yep, it's a real computer, with real Linux and real Firefox. The keyboard is really just too small for my huge fingers - I'll be waiting for a 9" or 10" model. He put an 8GB SDHC card in it, which I suspect will be pretty much mandatory. He carries his with him EVERYWHERE, as an outsize PDA/wireless terminal. He uses his work MacBook at home.

    He said he wasn't going to bother removing Xandros until necessary - it's Linux, it's at least slightly supported, it works.

    And DAMN they're gorgeous.

    Only £200 when you're paid in pounds sterling, the depleted uranium of currency ;-)

    Hello folks,

    I am most interested in one of these-however I wish to get hold of a 8Gig/1Gig version are these around yet?-preferably in black. How does one load XP as the OS-What is the risk of doing this?

    Stuart

    Suart Hart,
    ASUS in their manual have provided instructions on how to install XP SP2. I have used the eeepc and i love it. ibrought it to replace my dead PDA and think it is one of the best I have seen.
    yes the keyboard is small, but what do you expect with a 7" laptop.

    A useful review, even after having purchased one. This comment is being done from it! My supplier, name withheld, upgraded the memory to 1gb, makes it even faster. I suspect that there is an internal slot for a laptop modem. Also the OS has been dumbed down to stop users stuffing up the box and creating support issue. Plenty of help on the net to 'unlock' the OS and get a full featured machine. Also XP apparently is fine if you use a cut down install - also more help available on the net re this option.

    They look really sweet, i want one to use buzz tracker and fruityloops on the bus to work and back!
    thanks for your review matey :P
    also how did ANDREW upgarde his ram, i thought these things had an on-board ram chip?

    I've been trying to figure out how to afford one of these since I first heard about it. I'm a uni student and my current laptop is basically just a desktop now (battery is dead & I can't close the screen) so this seems like a perfect "back up" laptop to cart with me on my 2hr-each-way trip to uni.

    Funnily enough, most of the reviews I've read on this are by males, so I'm wondering if it's a more practical laptop for adult females than males (smaller hands and alle)! No one seems to have addressed that question yet.

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