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Asus Eee PC T91 review: Asus Eee PC T91

Asus Eee PC T91

Dan Ackerman
Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
7 min read

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.


Asus Eee PC T91

The Good

Small and light; well-done custom touch-screen interface; good battery life.

The Bad

Uses less powerful version of the Intel Atom CPU; not much space on the tiny SSD hard drive.

The Bottom Line

Asus does a good job combining a Netbook and a touch screen in the Eee PC T91, even if the system hits a couple of first-generation snags.

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
Category Netbook

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
Expansion None None
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None None

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.

While the performance difference was not enough to be a deal breaker, Netbooks are generally pokey products to begin with, and even a tiny bit of additional slowdown can be frustrating. We'd trade a little battery life for a powerful processor and a zippier overall experience (although even with the slower CPU, the custom touch apps ran smoothly most of the time).

Juice box
Asus Eee PC T91  
Off (watts) 0.5
Sleep (watts) 0.66
Idle (watts) 5.82
Load (watts) 10.28
Raw (annual kWh) 20.45
Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $2.32

The Eee PC T91 ran for 4 hours and 20 minutes on our video playback battery drain test. That's impressive (even if Asus' 10-inch 1005HA Netbook ran for more than an extra 2 hours on the same test), considering the small chassis requires a small battery, and the additional drain of powering a touch-screen display.

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 is easier to navigate than it used to be, and includes easy-to-find driver downloads FAQs.

Multimedia Multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Mini 110
Asus Eee PC T91

Jalbum photo conversion test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test laptops.

Asus Eee PC T91
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 500; 16GB ASUS-JM S41 SSD + 16GB SD Expansion Card

Acer Aspire One AO751h-1545
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 500; 160GB Seagate 5400rpm

HP Mini 110
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 950; 160GB Seagate 5400rpm

Toshiba Mini NB205
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 128MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 950; 160GB Toshiba 5400rpm

Yukyung Viliv S5
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.3GHz Intel Atom Z520; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB (Shared) Intel GMA 500; 60GB Samsung 4200rpm

Asus Eee PC 1005HA
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N280; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 224MB Mobile Intel GMA 950; 160GB Hitachi 5400rpm


Asus Eee PC T91

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 6Battery 9Support 6
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