One of the best things about technology today is that at the end of it, you want something that’s easy to use and something that you can bring around everywhere with you. Ever since I heard of the EeePC concept a couple of years ago, I’ve pretty much been anticipating its arrival. Now that it’s here and that I’ve been playing around with it, I can say it’s every thing I expected it to be…and so much more.
A hint of that greatness comes from the moment you see and lift the box which the EeePC comes in. The fact that it’s smaller and lighter than an average notebook testifies to this greatness. Without being too bias here I have to admit, it felt like I was carrying a toy, which is far from the truth the moment you start unboxing this thing.
What I bought was the standard production model. The EeePC 701 that comes with an underclocked 900 Mhz Celeron-M, 512 megabytes of RAM and 4 gigabytes of solid state storage space. In retrospect, this is a pretty low deal compared to it’s significantly more powerful counterparts.
But when you stop and consider the fact that it also has 3 USB ports, an MMC/SD/SDHC card reader, a 0.3 megapixel webcam, a monitor output, 10/100 gigabit LAN connection, wireless 802.11 b/g connection, speakers, inbuilt microphones and jacks for your headphones and microphone, all in the standard model. You have to think that for the price you’re dishing out, this is one hell of a bargain in something so small. To give you an idea just how small this is here is another picture.
The only other laptop available was a 15 inch Acer Inspire and my hand which isn’t exactly a giant pincer. Either way, the 7 inch EeePC was still smaller, and lighter too, weighing up a measly 0.9 kilograms. Rest assured, this is one notebook that is guaranteed not to break your back. More to the point, you’re not going to be needing one of those huge laptop bags either. This is small enough to fit into a woman’s handbag. The perfect accessory for that everyday convenience.
While using the battery, it lasted about 2 and half hours before it told me that it’s low on juice. It would have probably lasted another half hour if I wanted to push it to the limits. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either, due to it’s smaller battery size.
Sadly though, there isn’t any WiMax or Bluetooth connection. There isn’t even an optical drive. Easily solved with a dongle or an external drive to one of its many USB ports. Same goes for its lack of space, nothing a high capacity thumbdrive or SDHC card won’t fix. But I can see how that might put off a lot of users.
Now size does come at a price and that happens to be two of the most annoying features we’ve all heard about the Eee. One of which is the keyboard size and layout. I’ve been using my Eee for about a day and I’m still having some typing difficulty on a keyboard that’s about 65% the size of a standard keyboard while having the up button right next to the right shift key. Needless to say it takes some time getting used to and if you don’t have fat grubby fingers, there really shouldn’t be a problem getting used to it.
The second major downside and to me the biggest one is the resolution which defaults as 800×480. In a world where most web pages are now designed to accommodate at least 1024×768 resolution and above, having this small a resolution does present more than a fair share of annoyances. While I’m starting to live with the small screen space, I do however think that for the general public and among older folks at least, this is probably the biggest turn off for them.
Less obvious downsides is that this does have a sort of cheap plastic feel to it. It doesn’t look like it’ll break when you touch it, but no aluminum casing on this baby to save costs. Since mine is the black model, while it doesn’t dirty as much as the white model, it does however attract dust and fingerprints like a magnet. Small detail though but, still worth mentioning.
The Software Features
Now going on to what matters, by default, the Eee uses it’s own version of Xandros which is a debian based Linux distro. Now before everyone starts groaning about the fact that it’s Linux, it actually makes sense. Because of the low system specifications, you need an operating system that’s small and low maintenance to run it. Linux is your best bet and if there are any more preferences, the Eee does come with Windows XP installed as well, although it is a little harder to find and slightly more expensive to purchase. Either way, it is fast. Booting up only takes about 15 seconds, which biblically fast when you compare it to a Windows bootup.
Software-wise, the Eee also comes pretty well equipped, sporting:
- OpenOffice, which is a Linux version of Microsoft Office and is compatible with it.
- Firefox, which is probably one of the most practical browsers out there one could use.
- Pidgin, which is an all in one instant messenger that allows you to connect to so many different services at the same time including MSN, Yahoo, Gtalk, AIM, ICQ and even IRC.
- Skype, which makes up for the lack of video conferencing that Pidgin doesn’t have and works well with the in-built webcam.
There are two operating modes to the EeePC. The “couldn’t-be-stuffed-and-use-it-out-of-the-box” easy mode and the “tweak-and-mod-until-completely-unrecognizable” advance mode. The easy mode is basically a tabbed interface that’s cleanly divided into things like Work, Internet or Preferences which lists programs in each tab accordingly. It doesn’t have much of a Windows based interface to it that many people are used to, but it it easy to use and it does have a File Manager program that allows some windowed file management. Out of the box, the Music manager allows you to play your MP3’s, the Picture Manager allows you to sort your picture and the Video Manager lets you watch movies. It’s simple and straightfoward for the user that just wants a computer which is what the EeePC was originally intended for.
Then under preferences, you find a little hidden option that after booting up that takes you to the Advance Mode and this is where the other more hardcore face rears its head. The advance mode is the full Linux operating system, complete with everything you need to start turning your Eee into something that a geek would actually use. So far, I’ve managed to update all the software, add in new software and tweak the system settings so much that it is basically notebook that’s been in the dryer for too long because there is no difference with the Eee I have now and most notebooks that are out there.
This is all thanks largely due to huge EeePC user community out there that have turned their own Eee’s into a modded masterpiece. The biggest unofficial EeePC site, EeeUser has forums and wiki’s detailing how to make the best out of your EeePC and is simple enough to undertaken by the most novice of users.
To me, the EeePC was clearly designed for two kinds of users, one is the entry user with no computer knowledge whatsoever. This is a great gift for your non-geek partner that just wants to go online and do work every once in a while. This also makes a great gift for the kid that just needs something simple for work and play. But because of the small keyboard and screen, I wouldn’t recommend this to older people unless you plug it into a monitor, that being said it’s much better and cheaper to get them a desktop instead.
While not expected, the Eee is also suited for the geek at heart. People who love to tweak their systems to the maximum. People who like to push the limits and see what can be done. People who aren’t afraid of voiding their warranty to see just what it can do. Coupled with a large community of users, the maximum potential of the Eee can be unleashed if you have the time and patience to learn.
The sad thing is that if you’re not the kind of person who doesn’t want to experiment, the Eee might not be what you’re looking for. While it does its job as a notebook, without playing around with it, there is no way you can fully utilize it for the user that wants just a little more. This is a notebook that’s either easy on the curve or hardcore to the max. There is very little middle ground unfortunately.
The bottom line is this. While you can pay a little bit more for a notebook that is much more powerful with a bigger space and an optical drive. While there are ultra portables out there that can do more with such a small size. What you’re paying for is a sub-$500 AUD ultraportable, 7 inch notebook, that weighs less than a carton of milk and can perform almost anything its much bigger kindred can do with relative ease.
Good luck trying to get the same thing for the same price.
That alone is enough to make anyone give it a second glance. For anyone else, it’s enough to head out right now and get one for yourself.