Operation and Conclusion
With the hardware side of the Eee out of the way, we can turn to its OS and applications. Asus opted for a heavily modified Xandros Linux distribution, but the Eee is also capable of running Windows XP and Asus will offer Eee with preinstalled XP soon, but at a somewhat higher price.
For now, let's stick to the Linux and see what it has to offer. In most respects it's an excellent choice, the only potential issue being Linux illiteracy among much of the Eee's target group. People are just used to Windows and there's nothing you can do about that. There is, however, no reason for concern. The Linux OS is very easy to use, it's fast and the Eee ships with a lot of useful software. This is one of its more impressive sides, as most people will find the installed software more than sufficient for their needs.
As you can see, the UI is very simple. Applications are grouped in four tabs located at the top. Apart from them, there are two more tabs, Settings and Favorites. What you're looking at is the silver theme, you can choose the blue, green and orange theme in the Settings tab. We think Asus could have and should have done a bit more on the design side. After all, many Eee customers will be students, kids and girls and they've been spoiled by mobile phones. Everybody is used to changing themes on their phones, customizing them and the UI on most modern phones just looks way better than Eee's UI. There's a lot of room for improvement here and we hope Asus will take the issue seriously, as the Eee is supposed to be a cool gadget and a more dynamic UI would help its image.
In the Internet tab, Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird take care of your browsing and email needs, and Kontact PIM is included, too. Pidgin, a cross-platform IM client and Skype round up the communication package, and few people will ask for more. Setting up network connections and connecting to wireless networks is easy and intuitive.
We did run into some problems while reconnecting to wireless networks. When connecting via an Ethernet cable we noticed an odd problem. After accidentally disconnecting the cable, we had to reboot to reconnect. Nothing serious, though.
Here's how Firefox renders our site. It does rather well, but unfortunately this is not the case with many other sites which can't scale to 800px horizontal properly. You can scroll horizontally, it helps, but it's still a bit annoying.
Moving on to the Work tab now.
On the business side, you can count on Open office. It works, but it does seem to struggle a bit with the Eee's underpowered hardware and low screen resolution. It works a bit slower than other pre-installed apps, but it's still a very welcome addition to the software bundle. Thunderbird is also grouped in the Work tab.
Here are the Learn and Play tabs.
Not much to see in the learn tab, is there ?
The Play tab offers you access to several games as well as Amarok audio player, Gwenview image viewer and SMplayer media player. All of them work great, but opening 8 megapixel (or higher) images is a bit slow, which is to be expected.
While the media players are good, it's important to address another issue now. Although the 4G model comes with a 4GB SSD, most of it is used by the OS and pre-installed apps. This leaves you with approx. 1.4GB for your stuff. If you go for the 2G model, you can expect 400MB of free space. Also, it doesn't feature the same software bundle as the 4G version, so we would strongly advise against it.
While 1.4GB doesn't seem like much nowadays keep in mind that the Eee has three USB ports for expansion, but there's a better solution still. It has an SD card slot and you should probably get yourself a 4GB or 8GB SD card as soon as you get your Eee. Unlike a USB drive, the SD card doesn't protrude from the slot and they're dirt cheap, around €20 for a 4GB and €40 for an 8GB card.
The Eee opened up a whole new market niche and we have to commend Asus for having the guts to step in and take the lead. Hence, there's really two ways of looking at it: as a concept and as an actual product and that's what I'm gonna do.
As a concept it's excellent. Simple, compact and affordable Eee-like notebooks on their way and they're probably here to stay. With plummeting memory prices and powerful energy efficient CPUs in the works, these machines will offer serious performance without compromising the basic idea behind the concept: low price coupled with small size. In a couple of years we will probably look back at the Eee as the granddaddy of an array of similar products. Asus took a gamble which eventually paid off; the trouble is, it could have done even better.
Now don't get me wrong, looking at it as a product, the Eee itself is a good machine. It's modestly priced, well put together and well thought through. A nice package, but it's far from ideal, so let's start with its shortcomings.
Its main problem is its 7-inch 800x480 screen which struggles with many Websites. Resolution isn't the only issue, the screen simply lacks acreage, making the Eee unpleasant to use frequently or for a long time. The keyboard is small, and you have to put your hands close together to use it effectively. This might be an issue for taller people. There is no way of making it any bigger, folks, it's a price you have to pay for the Eee's portability. And there's the touchpad, or touchpad button(s) to be exact; the single button solution wasn't a good idea.
The good points? Well, pretty much everything else. It's an affordable, ultra portable notebook capable of replacing a regular notebook in a number of undemanding tasks. This is the essence of mobile computing, keeping you in touch, letting you do part of your work on the road without the hassle of dragging along yet another heavy piece of luggage. It's robust, it looks great and thanks to a good software bundle it's ready to use out of the box. This might not mean a lot to enthusiasts, but it spares average consumers a lot of time and hassle.
All in all, we can recommend the Eee, but only if you can live with the 800px screen. If you're thinking about getting one, try it out for a couple of hours (or days) before making up your mind. If you think it's too small, don't rush. Asus will soon launch an 8.9-inch version.
Other than that, go for it, it's just a taste of things to come and you'll enjoy it.