The 7-inch screen looks even smaller than it is thanks to the large black screen bezel that frames it. At least the extra space around the screen serves a purpose: a Webcam sits above the screen and tiny speakers reside on the left and right sides of the display, emitting tinny but passable sound for things like YouTube videos. With a resolution of 800x480, there's not a lot of screen real estate to spare, but the combination of low resolution and a tiny screen make for letters that don't (usually) require squinting. One niggling annoyance: at 800 pixels wide, many Web pages are too wide for the screen and require horizontal scrolling. We'd happily trade the thick screen bezel for an extra inch or so of screen real estate and a 1024x768 resolution, even if it meant we'd lose the Webcam and would have to get along with even smaller speakers.
The biggest adjustment most users will encounter with the Asus Eee is trading Windows for the Linux operating system. While this machine is technically capable of supporting Windows, and Asus plans to sell a version with the Microsoft OS in the near future, right now, Linux is the only option. While the scant 4GB hard drive and unfamiliar (to many) operating system might make it hard to get the software you need, the Eee actually sports a very user-friendly custom Linux installation, and many of the apps you'll want are preloaded and easy to access through a series of tabbed desktop pages.
Firefox is there for Web surfing and OpenOffice 2.0 for working with word-processing documents and spreadsheets. Both should already be familiar to Windows users (and OpenOffice is an especially appealing solution, as it reads and writes the popular Microsoft Office formats, and is worth checking out even for dedicated Windows users). There's also a generic media player, an instant messaging client that works with AOL, Yahoo, and other popular IM systems, and a handful of preinstalled casual games. Under the settings tab, you can check system information, add and remove programs, and perform diagnostic tests. It's a reasonably useful selection of software, and for Web surfing and working with documents, perfectly acceptable. You may, however, miss some popular software that won't run on Linux, such as iTunes or Photoshop.
|Asus Eee PC 4G||Average for mainstream category|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, mulitformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||None||PC Card slot|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||None||DVD burner|
With three USB ports, a VGA out, and standard headphone and mic jacks, the Asus Eee offers decent connectivity. FireWire is the one missing standard element, aside from the obvious absence of an optical drive. The SD card slot offers a good opportunity to boost the hard drive space, allowing you to pop in your own flash memory, easily doubling the system's 4GB drive (only about 1.3GB of which is actually free), with your own 4GB SD card, which you can get for around $50.
Without the common frame of reference we get from our standard benchmark tests, including iTunes and Photoshop, it's difficult to judge the Eee's performance, especially as it comes with its own set of preinstalled software, doubtlessly tuned to the limitations of the hardware. We can't imagine 512MB of RAM or a 900MHz Intel Mobile processor would results in a pleasant Windows Vista experience (maybe the stripped down Vista Basic version in a pinch), but these meager specs suffice for lean Linux. We were able to surf the Web and work on some office documents with absolutely no stuttering or slowdown, which was a pleasant surprise. Gaming is a no-go, beyond the strictly casual variety (our favorite preinstalled game: Crack Attack). For its intended purpose of getting online while on the road, we found the Eee PC to be more than up to the challenge.
We were not able to run our normal DVD playback battery test, but in anecdotal testing, we were able to use the Eee for a little under 3 hours while running a mix of Web browsers, OpenOffice documents, and playing MP3 files. Asus says the 4-cell battery is rated for 3.5 hours, which is decent for an ultraportable laptop, especially one this inexpensive.
Asus covers its laptops with a standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty, and it offers online Web-based help and a toll-free phone number. The company's support Web site includes the expected driver downloads and a brief FAQ but lacks useful features such as user forums or the chance to chat in real time with a technician.