Better than a full-sized laptop, too!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Two weeks and a day ago, I ended a month and a half of fence-sitting and took the $500 plunge on an ASUS Eee PC (Scroll down and refer to leftmost column in table here). The prospect of a week of lugging around our heavy Dell laptop at the conference I would be attending was the straw that broke the camel's back, but I had plenty of other reasons for wanting to get one anyway.

Some of those reasons I outlined here and others were related to the fact that I will be living apart from my wife for a few months this summer. Not only will she be using our main laptop during that time, but I will be traveling each month to see her. Having a good traveling laptop will be imperative during that time if I am to be able to make decent use of travel time to work, job-hunt, and generally keep in touch.

So now that have I basically lived and breathed the ASUS Eee 700 for a week, how do I like it? Let me understate this:

A lot.
I knew that, during the conference, I would often want to do such things as look up papers and check my email. I was also finishing work on a project that I would be unable to work on at all without a computer and a decent Internet connection. After being insanely busy ever since learning that we would be moving, I knew that I'd want to -- finally -- start my job hunt.

On top of all that, I would be flitting about between presentations of professional interest on site -- and frequently leaving the convention center for various functions related to the conference. Without a good laptop, I would be in serious jeopardy of getting nothing accomplished that week -- except attending the conference.

My new ASUS Eee PC didn't just save the day. It saved all seven of them! The tiny size and thirty-second boot time meant that even if I had only five spare minutes, I could use them. This happened just before I was due to present and I remembered something I needed to look up. Done.

When I was about to fly home, my wife called to tell me I needed to send something time-sensitive to her. Done within five minutes from me relaxing in a chair with my laptop in the bag.

Nowhere to sit? No problem. This thing is so light that when a question about some conference guidelines arose and I realized I'd left my printed copy at the hotel, I held the PC in one hand while we kept talking and looked it up within a minute.

Its keyboard, although small, even proved to be less of a problem than I thought it would be: I never touched the normal-sized keyboard I packed in case my typo rate never dropped down. Controls for such things as display brightness, speaker volume, and wireless were ridiculously easy to use. The software suite, while not as extensive as I would like (but I'm an odd type of user), was perfectly adequate for everything I needed to accomplish during that week, and more. This worked, as advertised, right out of the box.

And I haven't even had time to play around with its limited voice command capabilities or its webcam, other than to prove that it works! I did get a few questions from others about the computer at the conference, but not, luckily, so many as I was afraid I might. (Yes. This is my idea of a toy, but I did need to work....)

This thing is the best $500.00 I've spent in a long time. And the entertainment value of watching other laptop users fiddle forever with their computers was pure gravy. I found myself thinking things like, "Have fun putting that contraption away!" as seminar times approached and they had to shut down and disassemble things while I kept on going. (Did I mention that my power supply is about the size of a cell phone charger?)

Its main drawback is that the particular Linux installation makes it hard to add new programs, although there may be ways around this. Installing Windows XP is also an option for those who need Windows-specific programs -- or who, unlike myself, do not normally use Linux.

Its other "drawbacks" for me are mostly a result of how I may try to use this computer, and so do not really apply to a sub-laptop. (I may save myself the hassle of buying and moving a new desktop until I'm done relocating by simply attaching my flatscreen monitor to this one at home.) One of these drawbacks does bear mentioning, though: While the Eee 700 does have a "full desktop" mode for use with external displays, it cannot take full advantage of the screen resolution of the one I own.

Besides my own experience, there is little I can add to the uniformly glowing reviews this marvel had garnered over the past year, so I'll close with two excerpts that pretty much say it all.

One review I recall as saying that this laptop "lives up to the hype", and I agree. And Ars Technica ends a very thorough review with this:
The Asus Eee PC offers outstanding value for Linux enthusiasts and good value for a mainstream audience. The laptop brazenly defies the conventional standards of portable computing and delivers extreme mobility at an appealing price.

The basic mode user interface has some weaknesses and lacks visual consistency, but it largely meets the requirements of mainstream users and offers a high level of usability that make it appropriate for an audience that includes students and children. The IceWM and KDE environments are also flexible enough to please Linux enthusiasts who are looking for a cheap platform for developing software while on the go. Asus doesn't attempt to lock anything down, which makes the platform very easy to customize.

The hardware is impressive for the price, and the sheer portability of the system is mind-blowing. Despite the quality of the hardware, the cramped keyboard will be a deal-breaker for many consumers. Potential Eee owners with big hands should try it in person to make sure that they are comfortable with the keyboard before they buy. ... [I don't have big hands, but I did this anyway. -- ed]
And another, by a Mac user who tried the 4 GB version for five days, pretty much shares my sentiments:
If you're on the fence about purchasing an Eee PC, don't be. It's a marvelous little device that will fit excellently into your mobile lifestyle. Let's raise a glass in unison to the low-cost ultra-portable revolution.
Hear, hear!

-- CAV


Jim May said...

Thanks for the review Gus. I'd already have one of these were it not for the fact that I already dropped $1k on a dual-core laptop about a year ago. At least that one is one of the smaller HP Pavilions, robust enough to run Vista (slowly).

I'd have switched it to Linux already by now, but it's got some issues with Ubuntu that I'm just not interested in dealing with right now (thought I've not yet checked 8.04).

Gus Van Horn said...

Regarding the ASUS, you may be in luck. They've just come out with one that has a 9" screen (vs. the 7" on mine) and it's still under 2 pounds.

And for Linux, I'd recommend Novell SuSE the next time you want to give that a whirl. I've used SuSE for a decade now.

(Boy, that makes me feel old!)