With high-powered skinny ultrabooks flying at us from all directions, the time of the netbook seems to be almost over.
Asus, at least, thinks there's life in the old dog yet and has brought out a couple of new models -- the Eee PC 1025C and this chap here, the Eee PC X101CH.
It comes packing an Intel Atom processor, 1GB of RAM and can be yours for the reasonable price of £210. But is it still worth investing in these miniature machines?
Design and build quality
Netbooks have been floating around for a while now and there's been very little attempt by any of the manufacturers to help their models stand out. Asus has made at least some effort with the X101CH, giving it a pleasing texture and -- in my review sample -- a minty-fresh white coat.
Every available space -- excluding the trackpad buttons -- are bright white, which you'll either love or hate. The standard model that will be on sale will be black, at least at first. Asus says the white one will hopefully follow soon after, but for the time being, you'll just have to imagine our pictures in black.
If you're a big fan of minimalist designs and clean, recently bleached surfaces, then you'll probably be keen on it. If you prefer dark colours and angry gun-metal grey, then it won't float your boat quite so buoyantly. If you've ever owned a totally white tuxedo though (and I sincerely hope you have), then you'll know how quickly pure white things pick up dirt and grease -- an issue you won't experience with the black model.
I found the crisp white was immediately muddied by errant cake crumbs and fingerprints. You'd have to be an epic neat-freak to keep this thing spotless, so you'll really need to think about your own cleaning habits before splashing your cash.
At 262mm wide, it's exactly the same size as pretty much every other netbook's footprint, but at 22mm thick, it's particularly slim. That has the knock-on benefit of weighing around 1kg, which is a fair chunk lighter than many of its competitors -- great news if you plan on carrying it around all day.
If it does become your travelling companion, you'll be pleased to know that it's built sturdily. I gave it my usual manly barrage of pokes and squeezes and found it to be satisfyingly free of creaks and flex. The white plastic might give off a slightly cheap impression, but it still feels well put together.
Around the edges you'll find two USB 2.0 ports, an SD card reader, VGA out, an Ethernet port and a headphone jack. There's also an HDMI output, which means you should be able to hook up a TV for high-definition video playback -- something I'll come back to later.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard is a standard-issue netbook affair and is in fact the same one I found on its sibling, the Eee PC 1025C. That's a shame as the keyboard on that was unpleasant, to say the least, and the same is sadly true of this one. The isolated keys are spaced out as much as they can be, which is good. But if you've got hands any bigger than a child's, you won't find it too comfy to type on for extended periods.
The trackpad is the standard size you'd expect to see i.e. small and narrow. It uses all the available space, but on a netbook, there's really not much to spare so you're left with a tiny square to swipe around. That makes anything more than clicking on a few emails an irritating chore. If you plan on doing some serious web browsing, I highly recommend plugging in a USB mouse.
Like the keyboard, the screen has also been pulled from the 1025C, which is disappointing considering how mediocre that display is. It's got a 1,024x600-pixel resolution, which is the bare minimum I'd expect to see, even on last year's netbooks. I'd have liked Asus to have progressed the technology, even a little.