The all-white Asus Eee PC X101H sent in to us looks like much of the rest of Asus' long line of Eee PC models when open; you're still talking the basics of a small notebook with a 10.1-inch LCD display. Where the X101H stands out is in how thin and light it is; where many previous netbook models have tended towards the small and chunky side, the X101H is relatively slender, with dimensions of 262x180x22mm and a stated carrying weight of 1kg. It gives the unit a slender, almost ultrabook kind of feel, but at a fraction of the asking price. One caveat with this particularly thin device is that the power plug for the X101H is very thin, and this makes it a little bit fiddly to plug into the system.
So how can Asus offer up the X101H with an ultrabook form factor at a fraction of the cost? As with everything else that could be called a netbook, it's because it's not a performance machine. Underlying its thin exterior is a 1.6GHz Intel N455 processor, 1GB RAM and the Intel GMA 3150 graphics processor; in other words, a very simple solution for a very simple netbook. Connections on board include VGA, 2x USB 2.0, Ethernet, audio and an SD/MMC card reader, and from a networking viewpoint it's got 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0. With only 1GB of RAM on board, it's not surprising that the offered operating system is Windows 7 Starter Edition 32-bit; while Asus does offer a variant of this hardware running MeeGo, this isn't that particular machine.
The resolution of 1024x600 is frankly frustrating — with many applications designed for something taller, we miss the 1366x768 resolution that had crept into some netbooks, meaning less window-repositioning acrobatics just so you can hit an "OK" button.
The X101H performs exactly as you'd expect a netbook to. The keyboard is small but acceptable for short form work. The 1024x600-pixel display is acceptable for most tasks, but not stunning. Even from a benchmark viewpoint there are few surprises, with a PCMark05 score of 1382 and a 3DMark06 score of 152. Netbooks have never been huge performance machines, and the X101H doesn't buck that trend.
Where Asus has reversed a trend is in offering a three-cell 28W/h battery. We've more recently seen netbooks with improved battery life performance, but even Asus' own battery figures for the X101H aren't that impressive. Asus reckons it's good for "up to" five hours of performance, a fair factor below many others. We ran the X101H through our standard battery test, which involves disabling all battery-saving features, turning screen brightness up to full and looping full-screen video to the point of battery exhaustion. It's a deliberately brutal test designed to switch from an "up to" battery life figure to an "at least" figure. In the case of the X101H, that at least figure was two hours and 45 minutes. That's in line with other three-cell battery solutions we've seen, and ultimately that's disappointing.
At AU$399, the Eee PC X101H is decently priced; long gone are the days when netbooks could command prices above AU$600. The problem is that there's a lot more choice when it comes to small light power machines, even at this kind of price point. You could opt for a tablet for not that much more money and get near performance characteristics if content consumption is your key criteria. If thin and light is more important, a little more money again would score you any of a number of ultrabooks or the MacBook Air. Sure, the X101H is less than half the price, but it's also less than half as powerful again.