Taiwanese computer parts maker Asus obviously didn’t get the memo. Didn’t Asus know notebook computers need hard drives? Or that they’re supposed to run Windows — and the pre-loaded software must bloat the boot-up process to the length of a long weekend?
Don’t they know you don’t just go selling laptops for less than $750 — let alone $400 — unless the hardware has been aged like whisky?
Asustek Computers went ahead and broke the rules with the Eee PC. And we should all be thankful.
A scrappy, aggressively priced 2-pound notebook with a surprisingly broad set of features, Eee is a no-brainer purchase for tech-savvy travelers who want to downsize their luggage at low cost. It also makes a great gift, at least as practical as Apple’s iPhone and about the same price.
In the month I’ve owned an Eee, I’ve used it to watch movies on an airplane, read my favorite blogs and news articles — archived automatically — and update my online calendar while on the road.
Its quick boot-up has made it perfect for writing quick e-mails (and this review) whenever I had a moment of inspiration.
I’m not tossing my larger notebook computer, which I’ll continue to use for editing photos and for other tasks that feel constrained on the Eee PC’s tiny, 5-inch screen. But it’s hard not to be impressed with a full-service laptop light enough to be carried along with sunscreen and a magazine in a flimsy plastic bag, as I did during a recent trip to Cancun.
As it refines the software and instructions, Asus — better known as the world’s largest maker of computer motherboards — could garner a following among mainstream computer users who right now might be puzzled by some of the eccentricities of Linux.
The $400, 7-inch Eee PC is a new entrant in a fast-growing market for ultra-portable PCs.
All such computers, including the Eee, require sacrifices. Its keys may seem painfully small.
For people used to a desktop or a standard notebook, its screen makes you feel like you’ve just moved from a McMansion into a studio apartment. (Tricks for maximizing screen real estate when Web surfing can be found on the helpful user forum, Eeeuser.com.)
Unencumbered by Windows, the Eee boots up so quickly I didn’t bother counting the seconds. Its Wi-Fi chip links with the Web in a flash, and its webcam — a feature missing from many laptops triple the price — turns it into a video messaging device with the help of eBay’s Skype, which comes pre-loaded.
There are USB ports for peripherals, a port to connect to a monitor, and — most essential — a flash memory slot to expand its meager storage. Battery life is advertised at 3.5 hours.
The Eee’s custom version of the Linux operating system has a simple user interface that takes some getting used to. It organizes the software by tabs — Internet, Work, Learn and Play — but many users on the Eee forum dislike its look.
An upgrade to a more familiar, Windows-like interface is available in “advanced” mode, which can be activated with a few minutes of careful programming. (But you’ll do that at your peril. On my second day, a badly written command crashed my system. I had to reinstall the original software.)
The Firefox Web browser, Adobe Acrobat Reader and OpenOffice — the open-source equivalent to Microsoft Corp.’s Office — come pre-installed, as do a music player, a video recorder and some addictive games.
Google Docs — an online document suite for storing files remotely and sharing them — is also configured.