The ASUS Eee PC’s been out for a little while, but I haven’t had the chance to get a first-hand look at it until earlier this week. A friend picked one up and was kind enough to let me get in a few unboxing pictures as well as some comparison photos of it with my Dell XPS M1330. I was also able to use it a bit and get some quick first impressions in. This device really excited me when it was announced by ASUS for $199. Has the new price tag of $399 and some time with it changed my opinion?
You don’t even have to open the box to realize that this device is going to be small. The retail box it comes in is absolutely tiny. The first box shot doesn’t really do it much justice, but when compared with an EVGA video card box, you get a feel for just how diminutive it is. The Eee PC box is almost exactly the same dimensions as the 8800GT box.
Opening up the box, you’re greeted with an even smaller laptop. The package comes with a nice sleeve for the laptop, a 4 cell ~38Whr battery, a charger (no power brick here – it’s like a power adapter for a modem), and some manuals/warranty cards (and a driver CD).
After removing it from the box and connecting the battery, I performed the subjective weight test and was very impressed. This thing is light! Fortunately, it doesn’t feel like ASUS sacrificed material quality for weight. You can pick it up from a corner with no creaking or flexing (the small size also helps). Don’t get me wrong; the casing is completely made of plastic, but thickness is good and the hinges are especially beefy. They feel like they’ll last plenty of repeated openings and closings.
I purchased my Dell XPS M1330 because it has a great balance of portability, power, and battery life. But on the portability front, the Eee PC completely shows it up. Just look at the comparison photos and you’ll know what I mean.
There’s just no comparison in size. The user interface is also extremely simple and attractive. It is extremely graphical and intuitive. There are no long menus of applications and folders. It’s a great setup, especially for beginner users or other non-advanced users.
Unfortunately, that’s also where its disadvantages stem from. A consequence of the small chassis is an even smaller display. I hadn’t thought much of it prior to seeing it, but the 7″ display is tiny. It doesn’t help that the wide bezel and speaker combination makes the display seem even smaller. The 800×480 resolution is enough for many uses, but more and more web pages are expanding beyond 800 pixels of width. Chalk it up to lack of concern of usability by the webmasters or what have you, the fact is, you’ll be side scrolling quite a bit. Fortunately, the integrated graphics and CPU are more than capable to playing back both internet video and DIVX/XVID files.
As well, the size of the keyboard had to be reduced. This means typing is a rather difficult affair, although I’m sure with some time, I’d be able to get used to the size of the keyboard. On the other hand, some of the layout sacrifices are terribly annoying. I’d especially like to point out the smaller than usual backspace and enter keys. Perhaps even more annoying is the fact the right Shift key is on the outside of the up-arrow. Even in the brief amount of time I had with it, attempts to hit the right Shift resulted in going up a line instead.
I haven’t had a chance to thoroughly test the battery life, but ASUS is saying anywhere from 3 to 4 hours. Some reviews have cited around 3.5 hours of battery life with light use, which in itself isn’t bad at all. However, considering the battery is rated at almost 40Whr, we’re talking about approximately 11W power consumption per hour (at light load), which is surprisingly high for such a small and low-powered device. In comparison, with the optical drive disabled, but wireless on and screen brightness at 6/8, the Dell XPS M1330 only consumes around 13W idle and 15W while browsing the internet. That’s with a dual core processor and a dedicated 8400M GS video card. Perhaps ASUS can optimize it further for power as a low-power 900MHz single core mobile CPU, a 4GB SSD, a 7″ LED backlit display, and integrated video still sucks up quite a lot of power. Plus, the two yet-to-be-announced lower-end versions sport even smaller batteries, to the tune of ~18% less capacity. Hitting 3 hours of use under light load may be all you can hope for with those.
I didn’t have a whole lot of time with the device, but I did manage to answer just about all the questions I had. At the original announced price of $199, the Eee PC would have been an absolute steal, but it’s much harder to swallow at double the price. I could stand to lose some usability at the lower price, but for $399+tax, it’s just a little too much money for too many sacrifices. The thing that stands out most is the screen size – it’s just too small to use comfortably or effectively.
I’d wait and see if a 9″ or 10″ version pops up that would solve almost all my complaints in one swoop, from the small display/low resolution to the annoying keyboard. At $399, that device would really be the one to get.