The Eee PC T91 is the most exciting thing to happen to Asus' Eee PC range in years. Whereas recent Eee PCs have been increasingly large and unwieldy, this diminutive device's party piece is a swivelling screen that allows it to function in tablet PC mode. It sounds almost too good to be true, but can this £450 machine compete with its larger, better-equipped rivals?
The T91 looks very much like the original . Its chunky, angular chassis is a real departure from the plethora of curvy that dominate the market. As a result, it has the toy-like aesthetic common among netbooks of a 2007 vintage.
Despite its modest appearance, the T91 has a special trick up its sleeve. Its centrally-mounted screen hinge allows the display to open and close as usual, but also to twist 180°. That means you can make the T91 resemble a digital photo frame, or lay the screen against the keyboard to put it in tablet mode.
We've seen countless other laptops with this
functionality, but the T91 is by far the smallest of its ilk. It chassis weighs just 960g and measures a paltry 225 by 25 by 164mm, so it's extremely easy to carry around. One drawback, however, is that its keyboard is relatively petite. Some of the most important keys -- shift and enter, in particular -- are so small that pressing them requires ninja-like accuracy.
Connectivity on the T91 is a little different to that of most netbooks. The right side is home to Ethernet, USB and microphone jacks; the rear has a D-Sub video output; and the left side houses another USB port. That's all fairly ordinary stuff. The big difference is that it uses not one but two memory-card readers -- one at the front and another on the left side, behind a flap labelled 'disk expander'. The former is designed for connecting cards from a digital camera and the like on an ad-hoc basis, while the latter is designed to expand the storage of the machine via a semi-permanent SDHC memory card, sold separately.
The T91's 8.9-inch, 1,024x600-pixel, touch-sensitive display works fairly well, despite the finger-unfriendly Windows XP operating system doing its best to spoil the fun. It responds to both finger inputs and the bundled telescopic stylus, which nestles in the front right-hand edge of the chassis. The screen is of the capacitive type, meaning users don't need to apply direct pressure in order use it -- a simple tap will do.
Finger inputs are best reserved for launching applications and the general manipulation of application windows, while the stylus comes into its own when prodding at smaller icons, such as those in the Windows XP system tray. Asus deserves credit for enabling the 'large fonts' and 'large icons' options in display properties, both of which make it slightly easier to operate the T91 with your fingers. The company also deserves praise for providing a screen that delivers decent picture quality.
Asus has supplied a couple of bespoke graphical user interfaces, designed specifically for poking about in. The first of these, Touch Gate, provides finger-friendly access to a range of commonly used applications, including Internet radio, a calculator, a photo app, Notepad and Internet explorer. The second GUI, Touch Gate Widget, displays -- you guessed it -- widgets, or mini applications, including an event calendar, stock information and so on. It's fairly useless, since these apps can easily be launched from the start menu, but some users may get value from it.
Asus has let the T91 down slightly with its choice of CPU.
Whereas the majority of Eee PCs use 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPUs, the T91 has to make do with a 1.3GHz Atom Z520. We found this chip's performance to be fairly ponderous during everyday use, and extremely frustrating when running even moderately demanding applications.