Asus's $599 Eee Top ET1602 seems like an attempt to capitalize on two major computer trends. Small, low-cost hardware is all the rage these days, and the Eee Top is both the smallest and the most affordable all-in-one we've seen. And with HP's TouchSmart line, as well as the coming native multitouch support in Windows 7, we expect more and more all-in-ones and laptops will ship with touch-capable displays. The Eee Top is undoubtedly unique, and as long as you understand the performance trade-offs, you may find this a tempting second or third computer. And yes, the touch capability imparts a minor wow factor, but the novelty wears off quickly once you realize the lack of substance in the software. Because of its design, cost, and targeted features, we recommend the Eee Top as a flexible, low-cost digital-information hub for around the house. Just be aware that for the same price, you can purchase a significantly more capable laptop or desktop.
The Asus Eee Top ET1602 is already on-sale overseas, and Asus says the system will make its American retail debut on March 9. When it does launch in the U.S., for $599 you'll get the Eee Top with its 15.6-inch, 1,366x768 LCD, a wired mouse and keyboard, a stylus, the attached stand/carrying handle, and a power adapter. The Eee Top has no DVD slot, but a number of USB 2.0 ports around the system allow you to connect peripheral devices, including external DVD drives. Unlike the similarly optical-drive-free Macbook Air, the Eee Top provides no special program for installing software via another system.
Because of its built-in LCD, its carrying handle, and the fact that it weighs only 9.5 pounds, the Eee Top is perhaps the first desktop that's actually fairly easy to move from room to room. Unlike small, standalone PCs, such as the ill-conceived Eee Box, you don't need to worry about linking the Eee Top to a separate display, and an 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter eliminates the need to find an open network cable. Instead, you only need to disconnect the power, mouse, and keyboard, and then relocate as necessary. With no battery, the Eee Top can't compete with laptops for portability, but thanks to its 6.75-by-15.7-inch footprint, the Eee Top also take up less space than many laptops and their protruding keyboards.
While we like the Eee Top for its scaled-down size, we understand if the touch screen sounds more exciting. We're lukewarm on the touch interface here, but given the price of the Eee Top and the fact that you don't have to use touch, it's also harmless. First, we appreciate the Eee Top screen's iPhone-like smoothness while dragging our finger across its screen. HP's TouchSmart screen offers too much resistance, and it's surprising to find a better physical response in the Eee Top, which costs nearly $800 less.
We should also add that touch-based software is still in its early days. The Eee Top is as yet only single-point touch sensitive; and if we find the (also single-point) HP TouchSmart software a rudimentary showcase for touch interaction, the Eee Top's software is even more basic. You can use your finger or a stylus to drive both systems' standard Windows interfaces, with all the frustration that implies in trying to click links on a Web page. But where the HP provides a customizable touch hub, to which you can add shortcuts to launch any program, as well as a handful of touch-specific apps, the Eee Top's software is more limited.
You do get a hub, of sorts, by way of Asus' EasyMode software. The tabbed layout presents you with a series of clean folders organized by application type, with large, finger-friendly shortcut icons on each tab. Unlike the HP TouchSmart, you cannot add shortcuts to the EasyMode tabs, so were you to install FireFox on the Eee Top, for example, you'd have to launch it from the standard Windows desktop.
Of the touch-friendly applications on the Eee Top, you get a simple fridge-note program, a cutesy/corny video-chat app, a handful of bargain-basement games, and a more-or-less useful software keyboard. We say more-or-less useful in comparison with the HP TouchSmart's soft keyboard, which is context-sensitive and launches when you double-tap any text-entry box. The Eee Top's keyboard lacks that context awareness, and instead requires you to navigate and otherwise manage a series of overlays, which can become annoying. Still, it works well enough, and chances are you'll get used to it quickly.
We should be clear that we don't hate Asus' take on touch software. Even if you don't like it, you can always ignore it, and potentially take solace in the fact that you only paid $600, compared to $1,400 or so for the HP TouchSmart. Fair enough. But if you are particularly value conscious, it's also fair to raise the issue of bang for the buck.
|Asus Eee Top ET1602||Acer Aspire X1700|
|CPU||1.6GHz Intel Atom N270||2.4Ghz Intel Pentium Dual Core E2220|
|Memory||1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM||4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Graphics||128MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics chip||128MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce G100 integrated graphics chip|
|Hard drives||160GB, 5,400rpm||640GB, 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||NA||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n wireless||10/100Mbps Ethernet|
|Operating system||Windows XP Home SP3||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)|
With no other system like the Eee Top, we can compare it with a number of other PCs. We've chosen to compare it with a small form factor Acer desktop, as it actually costs less than the Eee Top without a monitor. Throw in a 19-inch LCD for about $120, and we have an apples-to-apples comparison as far as the fact that each is a fully usable package.
We won't belabor the point that the Acer desktop is a far superior computer to the Eee Top, at least in the traditional sense. You get a larger hard drive, four times the system memory, and a significantly faster processor. More important is the idea that you know what you trade for the Asus's touch interface, and its self-contained, more portable design. Anyone defending the Eee Top would be correct to point out that it would be much more difficult to store and use the Acer system on a kitchen counter.