Asus Eee PC 701 review
A genuine step forward for the laptop. Unbelievable capabilities for the price and ultra-low weight, too.
Selling a £170 ultraportable laptop might be harder than it sounds. Misled by the low price, consumers could well believe decent quality for that kind of money is an unreachable nirvana. The Eee PC defies all expectations, particularly for a device that's nominally aimed at children. We all know that the smaller the laptop, the more expensive it is. But the Eee costs less than any full-blown laptop we've ever seen. It's less than half the price of the outgoing A-listed budget laptop, the £499 Hi-Grade Ultinote A9800R.
For tapping out emails and working on documents and spreadsheets, the Eee PC is all but perfect. It measures just 225mm wide and 170mm deep, and including its power adapter weighs only 1.12kg. The device on its own is a featherweight 928g.
The operating system is a custom Asus effort, built on the back of a Xandros installation of Linux. It sports a tabbed main interface; along the top of the screen you can select from Internet, Work, Play, Settings and Favourites tabs, each with its own selection of applications and links to online resources.
The window furniture of each application is as standard as can be. The minimise, maximise and close buttons at the top right of a window look like they were grabbed from Windows XP wholesale, but the effect is that making the transition between Windows and the Eee's Linux desktop is easy. Even better for children, delving into potentially destructive settings is all but impossible, to the point that none of the pre-installed applications even show up in the Add/Remove Software dialog box.
OpenOffice 2.0.4 and Firefox 2 come pre-installed. In keeping with the Eee's aim of being as easy to use as possible, these are simply described as "Documents" and "Web" in the Eee's OS interface. But both are the full-blown installation of each application; in use we found nothing the Windows version of Firefox could do that it couldn't on the Eee, including handling rich websites such as YouTube. Mozilla's Thunderbird is also pre-installed, incongruously under the "Work" rather than "Internet" tab.
The only usability problem is presented by the low-resolution screen. 800 x 480 feels rather cramped, and the 7in diagonal isn't perfect, either. It's enough for only 18 lines of 12pt text in OpenOffice, and you should forget the Eee if you're looking for something to work on large spreadsheets. But it's bright, clear and reproduces colours well.
The cramped conditions do affect the tiny keyboard: each key has about the same surface area as a fingernail, and getting up to full speed takes a concentrated half hour of practice. The trackpad is similarly restricted but works perfectly well.
Everything's kept running smoothly by a 900MHz Intel Celeron M ULV (ultra-low voltage) processor and 512MB of RAM. We'd expect a low score if we ran our Windows benchmarks, but the Eee doesn't run Windows and we never experienced a slowdown even with multiple applications open and a web browser running a Flash-intensive website.
The only problem is the operating system's disk footprint. The Eee has a 4GB flash disk instead of a conventional hard disk, and at 2.5GB the OS consumes over half that capacity. That means you'll never be able to install any recreational media - videos for the plane, for instance. But, it's more than enough space for hundreds of office documents, and we failed to find a USB flash drive that wouldn't work one of the Eee.