With the basic parameters of what makes a Netbook fairly set in stone, it's becoming harder than ever for a new model to stand out from the crowd, as evidenced by largely identical recent Netbooks from Dell, Lenovo, and HP--though the HP Mini 1000's impressively large keyboard was a plus. To this fray returns Asus, the company that arguably created the Netbook market with its Eee PC line, with a new take on the familiar Intel Atom/Windows XP combo. The Eee PC S101 takes the same components found in other Netbooks and dresses them up in a sharp new chassis that wouldn't look out of place in a high-end ultraportable.
At $699, the S101 is on the high end of the Netbook price range, but it is certainly cheaper than most laptops with brushed aluminum wrist rests and bodies only a hair thicker than the MacBook Air. If you don't mind the performance compromises of a Netbook, but want something more substantial than a plastic body, the S101 and HP's 2133 Mini-Note PC are two well-built alternatives.
Unfortunately, the S101 has one fatal flaw that had us muttering to ourselves and nearly tearing our hair out--the right Shift key has been lopped in half. Touch typists beware! The tiny keyboard decently balances key size and layout to maximize typing comfort, but the right shift key has been unceremoniously cut to half size and moved just to the right of the up arrow. The end result--after several days of regular use--was that we continually mistook the up arrow button for the right shift key (and easily churning out several thousand words of prose each week, we consider ourselves far from amateur typists).
|Price as reviewed / Starting price
|1.6GHz Intel Atom N270
|2GB, 533MHZ DDR2
|16GB SSD (x2)
|Intel GMA 950 (integrated)
|Windows XP Home
|10.4 x 7.1 inches
|Screen size (diagonal)
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter
The Asus Eee PC S101 looks little like the plastic Eee PC models that preceded it. Instead, this slim laptop has more in common with ultrathin ultraportables, such as the Toshiba Portege R500 or the Lenovo IdeaPad U110. Less than an inch thick, with a brushed metal wrist rest, clearly the idea was to build a Netbook that wouldn't be seen as a commodity product.
The keyboard is sturdy and doesn't flex under your fingers, but the keys are still a little small for extended typing--unlike the recent HP Mini 1000, which maximizes the surface area of each key (they're about one-eighth-inch wider on average). The HP aside, the S101's keyboard is on par with recent entries from Dell and Lenovo, except for one painfully frustrating layout decision, the aforementioned right shift-key downsize and reorganization. This seems, at first, like a minor change, but the end result is that you're always hitting the up arrow instead of the shift key, leading to some truly tortured typing experiences. For a journalist who types thousands of words every week, this is a real productivity killer, and over several days, it was nearly impossible to train my hand to move further to the right to hit the tiny shift key. The left shift key is of the correct size and in the traditional position.
The 10.2-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,024x600 native resolution, which is standard for Netbooks. It's readable, but most documents and Web pages will require some scrolling.
|Asus Eee PC S101
|Average for category [netbook]
|Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
|3 USB 2.0, SD card reader
|2 USB 2.0, SD card reader
|Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
|Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
You get a basic set of ports and connections on the Asus Eee PC S101. Nothing exciting, such as the ExpressCard slot on the Lenovo S10, but also no pointless proprietary media drive slot, as in the HP Mini 1000. The Eee PC S101 features Bluetooth, which is high on our Netbook must-have list these days, to allow phone tethering for a mobile broadband connection.
The familiar Intel single-core 1.6GHz Atom CPU is fine for basic on-the-go computing, as long as you keep your expectations modest. It's found in almost every current Netbook, so performance was on par with similar systems, such as the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 and Lenovo IdeaPad S10--no surprises here.
Where the S101 really shines is in battery life. We've seen impressive battery scores from other Asus Netbooks, such as the Eee PC 901 and Eee PC 1000, and this new model gave us 4 hours and 5 minutes on our video playback battery test. Dell's Mini 9 came close, at 3 hours and 21 minutes. Since a Netbook is so portable and likely to spend long stretches away from a wall outlet, we recommend a battery that lasts at least 3 hours.
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.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Asus Eee PC S101
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel 945 GSE; 32GB Solid State Drive
HP Mini 1000
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel 945GM; 60GB Toshiba 4200rpm
MSI Wind U100-002LA
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel 945 Express; 80GB Western Digital 5400rpm
Lenovo Ideapad S10
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 64MB Mobile Intel 945 Express; 160GB Western Digital 5400rpm
Dell Inspiron Mini 9
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.6GHz Intel Atom; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 64MB Mobile Intel 945 Express; STEC 16GB SSD
Acer Aspire One
Linpus Linux Lite v1.0.2.E; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; Mobile Intel 945GME Express; 8GB Solid State Drive