Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Eee PC Review

[Original Portuguese article here]

Now that the weekend is over and the Eee PC is back on the hands of its rightful owner (which I sincerely appreciate having lending it to me for use and abuse during the weekend) its time to write about my findings and conclusions.

To begin with, and just like I had alreade said on my first impressions post, the Asus Eee PC's size is just right. Everyone that glanced at it had that look: "I don't know what that is, but I definitely want of those!" In that department, it's a highly addictive gadget that you wish to buy right from the start.
But... is it a long lasting love? That's what I wanted to figure out...

(Eee PC size compared to a Nintendo DS and to a regular 15" laptop)

With 4Gb of flash based SSD and 512Mb of Ram, this Galaxy Black Eee PC is - in my opinion - the best looking Eee PC out there. Some may prefer the à la Mac look of the white model. But when you notice those black speakers standing out next to its tiny 7" LCD screen... you'd wish you had this all black model - it looks a lot better

(Eee PC compared to a wireless mini-keyboard; guess that mini is not mini enough)

Such a tiny keyboard requires some getting used to, but I found its layout quite pleasing. The "Fn" key is not obnoxiously required as in some other UMPCs, and its allows you to type reasonably well (even with my big hands) once you get used not to move your fingers around so much as usual.

The Trackpad is tiny but surprisingly usable. It also implements the "scroll" function - which is a real requirement with such a tiny screen (800x480) however I found it a big disapointment when it came to a simple feature: the "tap" that does a left mouse button click. If you're used to using the physical mouse buttons next to the trackpad, you won't have a problem - but I use "tapping" a lot, and nearly half of the time, those taps were not properly detected.
I messed around with the trackpad settings, trying every possible combination, but I never got it to work right.
It's a bit odd, as even the lowest-end PCs have quite usable "tappable" trackpads...
It remains to be seen if this was a faulty trackpad, or if it's a driver issue that could be improved by a future update.

The 7" LCD is reasonable. I was hoping to try it out outdoors on a sunny day - but I can't control the weather and just got dark overcast skies. So, I can't say if it will be usable under direct sunlight (most likely it won't.)
However, my main gripe with the Eee PC is indeed related to the LCD - it's "low" resolution.
A few years back maybe we could live with a 800x480 screen resolution... today we can't.

I mean... sure, this is enough when you're using the Eee PC in its "easy mode", with its large icons and tab selections. However, not every program 3rd party is designed to work at those resolutions.
Although it may be enough to work on Open Office, typing some letter and using its spreadsheets; when you launch firefox to navigate the web, things get a bit more cramped.
In its regular view you'll end up seeing just the ad banners on top of websites. Even if you use the "full-screen" view (highly recommended) it will still feel claustrophobic when using Google Maps, Gmail, and Google Reader. It could really use some extra vertical resolution.

But it's not just about the internet - even when trying to access some configuration screens on several programs, it's not that hard to find a dialog window that doesn't entirely fit the screen. You'll end up with several inaccessible options, as well as "OK, CANCEL" buttons placed outside your view area.
You'll need to press ALT+ left mouse click + move your mouse to drag the window around and use it; hardly intuitive for a newcomer.

On some other devices using this same resolution, like Nokia's MIDs N770, N800, N810 - they have a couple things in its favor. They have a touchscreen for easier interaction, and most of their software is designed with that resolution in mind. Today's Linux and Windows Operating systems are designed to be used in far higher resolutions. Some programs even fail to launch at such low resolution.
Having a virtual higher resolution could also help a bit, having a 1024 or 1200 screen resolution rescaled to show on screen.

However, the best solution would be to have a proper screen with slightly bigger dimensions (8" or 9") with a higer 1024x600 or 1280x800 resolution.
However, it's easy to understand why Asus used this screen: it certainly is a lot cheaper!
This type of screens is used in a lot of devices, and it certainly helped keep its target price.
Furthermore, for its target audience this screen may be "enough" - though I'm sure it will be the reason that will keep a lot of more advanced users away from the Eee.

(Eee PC with a bigger screen - ok, maybe 50" is a bit overkill :)

When you press the "on/off" button, the Eee PC takes just a bit over 15 seconds to be completely loaded and ready to work. Some PC motherboard need more time just to pass the BIOS tests and RAID configurations!
Its performance is more than adequate for Open Office and internet browsing. Obviously, by lacking a swap file and only 512Mb of RAM, you won't be able to keep many programs open at the same time. Leaving a couple open office documents open and browsing the web can quickly lead to some "out-of memory" errors. The 1Gb model will be more adequate for intensive use.
You might also want to consider upgrading to 2Gb RAM. But keep in mind that you need to recompile the kernel in order to get 2Gb in Xandros. If you plan to use Windows XP the full 2Gb will be instantly recognized, though you might want to read my post regarding XP and SSD)

After the first round of boots and reboots, suspends and resumes, and checking the pre-installed applications (which I won't delve into as many other sites have already talked about it,) I activated the "advanced mode" that allows you to boot into the traditional linux environment (Xandros.)
Well, a lot of people will want to use this mode. You can now have full access to your machine, and install new applications through synaptic.
As a curiosity, there is a small voice "recognition" application that allows you to launch programs by speaking "Computer Web, Computer Calculator, etc." - but if you're in a noisy environment, forget it.

(Remote Desktop from the Eee PC)

I even dared trying Google Earth, just to see how it worked - but it didn't work too good. It was s l o w... very slow. More than a couple of seconds per frame. I don't think this has to do with the 900Mhz Eee PC CPU alone. Maybe it's a driver issue, or the lack of memory or swap file. I'm sure it can get better when a new updated version comes out.

WiFi reception is great. I was able to use the Eee PC in places my Acer laptop was unable to. However, if you suspend it and resume it, your WiFi connection will require a manual reconnect to work again. I'm not a linux guru, but I read there are already some scripts to fix this - but this should have been better handled right out of the box.

Connecting a digital camera and iPod to its USB ports is not a problem, though you may want to replace those programs and install your personal favorites for that.
When trying some USB pen drives, two of them were recognized but failed to show up on the file explorer. A old 128Mb and a newer 2Gb sticks weren't displayed. That was odd, as both work fine in both my windows and ubuntu computers.

If I had more time, I would have tried installing Ubuntu and XP on the Eee PC to see how it handled. But I prefer to leave those tests to its bigger brother with 8Gb flash and 1Gb Ram (preferably expanded to 2Gb.)

Like it was said, if you want to upgrade its memory, you'll need to remover a "warranty void" sticker:

In the USA this is illegal, as the buyer has the right to upgrade the computers s/he owns.

As a conclusion: the Asus Eee PC is a nice "toy" which you wish to have. For its price there are no other devices like it.
Its the perfect computer for children, and for everyone requiring a light ultra-portable laptop to carry around for occasional web browsing and open office work.
For advanced users waiting for the perfect UMPC, this may be close, but the limited screen resolution and lack of mobile connectivity options such as bluetooth (though you can add it yourself if you0re brave enough) might keep you waiting for its next version.

Will I buy one?... I haven't made up my mind yet.

For me, the SSD space is not the issue (there will even be a Elite Eee PC with 16Gb SSD flash for a few select developers) - it's all about the LCD resolution.
I'd want to use it as a always connected UMPC wherever I'd go. Bluetooth or HSPDA would be essential. And for remote access work, anything less than 1024x768 just isn't enough.
(But these are my personal requirements for the use I'd like to use it for)

For those wanting a small and simple computer to do some office work, probably a 2nd or even 3rd computer to have around, this low cost tiny laptop is a highly attractive option you should consider seriously.

  • Price
  • Small, lightweight
  • Easy mode interface for first time users
  • Flash SSD storage
  • Low resolution LCD might feel "cramped"
  • Trackpad "tap" doesn't always work
  • 512Mb RAM may cause "out-of-memory" errors
For many, this will be a nice Christmas gift, for me... I guess I'll keep waiting for a Fujitsu U810/U1010 form factor with a P1610 screen... at the Eee PC's price! :)


  1. Hi! I noticed you have the eee pc with euro-sign on the 5-key. Is this a US International keyboard? Where did you get your eee-pc? Please let me know! Thank you!

  2. This was a review unit lended to me by Asus, I suppose it was the European version - not localized to Portugal though, as it was missing the accented keys.

  3. Thanks!! I think I will then just go for the USA version. Here in Europe I think only UK and German are available, but then I prefer US (I'm from The Netherlands).

  4. I'm still waiting for them to launch the Portuguese keyboard version... It was supposed to already have been launched by now... but as we're a small market I guess we are left for last.

    If you want one without delays, the vest option is indeed to get the "international" version.


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