We first caught sight of the Asus Eee PC T91 back at CES 2009 in January, and were immediately taken with the idea of combining a small, low-cost Netbook with a touch-screen interface. Seven months later, the final product is here, and it's largely successful for a first attempt at this kind of hybrid. It's a much more flexible way to interact with a Netbook--especially if you're tripped up by the tiny touch pads and keyboards found on most minilaptops.
The Eee PC T91 has a rotating display that can be spun 180 degrees and folded down, akin to what you'd see in something like the HP TouchSmart TX2, and its screen reacts to your finger or an included nonactive stylus. The optional custom touch interface, with big, easy to grab icons, works well--even if it's not as slick and responsive as the touch interface on, for example, an iPhone.
We appreciate Asus' attempt to keep the price firmly in traditional Netbook territory, and a convertible tablet laptop for only $499 seems like a good deal, even for one with a smallish 9-inch screen. Our main hang-ups are the use of a slower version of Intel's Atom CPU and the small 16GD SSD hard drive (plus an additional included 16GB SD card, for 32GB total).
|Price as reviewed||$499|
|Processor||1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520|
|Memory||1GB, 533MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||16GB SSD, plus 16GB SD card|
|Chipset||Intel SCH US15W|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 500 (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows XP Home SP3|
|Dimensions (WD)||8.9 inches wide by 6.4 inches deep|
|Height||1.0 - 1.1 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||8.9 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.1/2.6 pounds|
The T91 looks and feels small and light, even for a Netbook. That's because it's built around a 9-inch screen, rather then the bigger 10-inch (and now 11.6-inch) displays found in most current Netbooks. The obvious compromises, besides the smaller display, are the tiny keyboard and touch pad, but the tradeoff is a system that's very svelte and easy to carry. It's smaller even than the original 7-inch Eee PC.
Of course, a touch-screen laptop is not meant to be primarily used with a traditional keyboard and touch pad. The screen on the Eee PC T91 is a resistive touch panel, so it works with any input device, such as your fingers or the included nonactive stylus. And because using a small touch screen, whether on a 9-inch Netbook or an even smaller UMPC, can be a hassle when trying to fumble around Windows XP, Asus has included a custom interface meant for finger-driven computing.
You launch the Touch Gate interface by either tapping a physical button on the screen bezel (you hold the same button down to rotate through screen orientations), launching from a desktop shortcut, or by tapping a launch button on the Mac-like Eee dock bar that sits at the top of the Windows XP desktop.
There's a short animation of the screen rotating, landing on the main Touch Gate interface window. This screen holds five large app icons, meant for easy tapping with a finger or stylus. A small button at the bottom of the screen brings up a longer list of apps, and you can drag choices onto or off of the large five-app menu bar, setting up your own custom collection of frequently used apps.
Besides the custom version of Internet Explorer that includes some useful finger gesture controls (although we'd much rather see a version of Firefox), Asus also includes a handful of proprietary software packages, including notepad and memo programs for handwriting notes. Most interesting was FotoFun, which lets you flip through photo galleries, moving and rotating photos with your finger (similar to what we've seen in HP's TouchSmart systems).
By flicking your finger (or the stylus) near the right side of the main Touch Gate screen, the display flips to the third interface, a full-screen widget dock built around the Yahoo Widget engine. You can drag different widgets--from clocks to calendars to battery life indicators--anywhere on the screen. Asus includes several useful widgets to start with, and more are available from Yahoo.
Flicking your finger near the right side of the Widget screen will take you back to the main Windows XP desktop. From there, you'll have to launch the Touch Gate interface via one of the shortcut buttons to get back to it.
While any kind of custom interface has its own quirks and requires a learning curve, the results here are largely successful, and Touch Gate gives you access to lots of useful functions. Most of the large icons worked well with our fingers, and our main hang-ups were that we repeatedly accidentally flipped between the three main interface screens by touching too close to the screen edges, and some of the small onscreen tools (particularly the Close and Settings buttons on the Yahoo widgets) really require the stylus or touch pad pointer to use.
The 8.9-inch wide-screen LED display offers a 1,024x600 native resolution, which is standard for Netbooks. These days, we're also used to larger 10-inch displays, and the smaller screen may take a little getting used to. However, we said largely the same thing about 7-inch displays when the first 9-inch Netbooks hit the market.
|Asus Eee PC T91||Average for category [netbook]|
|Audio||headphone/microphone jacks||headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, 2 SD card readers||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
With 802.11n and Bluetooth, the T91 is a well-equipped Netbook. The 16GB SSD hard drive feels like a bit of a throwback--and Asus must have sensed the same thing, because a second SD card slot is built in, and there's an extra 16GB SD card included in the box. By plugging the SD card into the second SD card slot (labeled "disk-expander"), you now have a much more practical 32GB of total storage. Asus also gives customers 20GB of online drive space, using a built-in app called Eee Storage, but that's only free for the first 18 months.
Our main knock against the Eee PC T91 is the inclusion of the 1.33GHz version of Intel's Atom processor, instead of the more common 1.6GHz N270 version (or even the faster 1.66GHz N280 that Asus is particularly fond of). The 11.6-inch Acer Aspire One 751h made the same mistake, and in our benchmark tests, both the T91 and the Acer Aspire One 751h fell behind other Netbooks.