Review: ASUS Eee PC 4G is the little laptop that deserves to be huge

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You gets what you pays for, right? Which is why if you want an ultraportable laptop with a decent battery life and wireless capabilities, you pay through the nose. Until now, anyway. The ASUS Eee PC is a small, light Linux-based laptop selling in the UK for £219, but with features you’d expect to see in something double its price.

The question is whether its small size means a too-cramped keyboard, whether it’s powerful enough to run all the applications you’d want, and whether its battery life is up to the job. Does it deliver? Read on for my verdict on the 4G model.

PROS

First thing’s first: the Eee is startlingly small and light. It’s basically the size of a small hardback book, and not much heavier at 0.92kg. I’ve been slinging it into a bag to carry round all week, and my shoulder is feeling the benefit. Happily though, this small size doesn’t mean it’s a toylike device: the black model I reviewed (it’s also available in white) looks sleek and feels solid – certainly not something to be embarrassed about using in public.

The reason the Eee PC impresses is because in almost every area, it delivers more than you’d expect from a laptop this size. Ports is a good example: you get three USB ports, a video-out socket for an external monitor, an Ethernet port, plus mic and headphone sockets. Oh, and you get an SD/MMC memory card reader, which is excellent for adding storage capacity.

There’s also a built-in webcam – another feature traditionally restricted to more expensive laptops – and even though it’s not particularly high-quality, it’s more than fine for grabbing quick stills or simple videochatting. Wi-Fi is also on board, which was what attracted me to the Eee in the first place, allowing you to use it around the home, or perched in a coffee-shop or airport.

Battery life is pretty good, at a claimed 3.5 hours that judging by my use of the laptop, is about right. Obviously, dimming the screen and turning off Wi-Fi when not in use helps, but as someone used to seeing my venerable iBook die after an hour and a half of liveblogging using Wi-Fi, the Eee was a step on.

What about actually using the Eee though? It’s a Linux-based laptop, with one of the pros being that it’s super-quick to boot up, and fast to use. ASUS has clearly spent a bit of time organising the applications to get users up and running quickly, so they’re divided into five categories: Work, Learn, Play, Settings and Favourites.

You get Firefox for web browsing, Skype is preloaded, and OpenOffice is an impressive alternative to Microsoft Office for all your document needs. Email (Thunderbird), video-playing,a simple photo-editor, and there’s even a few games preloaded too. The Eee has 512MB of RAM, and handles all these tasks without fuss or delay.

CONS

There are negative aspects too. Some users will find the keyboard too small: it took me an hour or two of typing before I stopped hitting the wrong keys, but since then it’s been fine. I’m seeing the Eee as a potential liveblogging laptop, and one concern is that the faster I type, the more mistakes I make – but again, practice appears to be sorting that out.

There’s no full hard drive on board – instead, the 4G Eee has a 4GB solid-state disc. This is a pro and a con – the pro is in the increased battery life, while the con is less space for your files and media. This is where that memory card reader really proves its worth, of course, especially if you invest in a decent-capacity card.

Another con is the Eee’s screen resolution of 800×480, which with the Firefox browser means you have a fair bit of scrolling around to do on some websites (I also had the irritation of some pop-up menus disappearing off the screen on Gmail and other similar sites). I’ve read comments online suggesting Opera can help with rescaling, so may try installing that browser in the future.

Then there’s Linux. Yes, it’s a con too, for some people at least. Personally, I’ve never used Linux before, and while I’ve found the Eee itself easy to use, I’m still a bit intimidated by the idea of downloading other applications for it. What’s a good Linux photo-editor, for example? What’s all this talk about command-lines?

These aren’t insurmountable problems, of course, but from my viewpoint, they’re aspects that are more intimidating than if the Eee was just a Windows-based laptop. You can install Windows XP, but frankly the process sounds too complicated for my liking, and I’d worry about sluggishness. Interestingly, ASUS has announced plans to sell a version of the Eee with “Genuine Microsoft Windows” installed later this year.

A few other niggles: I’m still not sure if I can get my Vodafone 3G USB modem working with the Eee, but in future, a 3G-enabled model would be welcome. The buttons below the fingerpad are a bit stiff, and Bluetooth would have been nice. But these aren’t big flaws by any stretch of the imagination.

VERDICT

Judged by paragraph length alone, the above review might make you think the Eee is good and bad in equal measure. That’s not true though: for the price, it’s an excellent device that delivers nearly everything you’d want to use it for.

Some of that is airy-fairy stuff too, like the weight, or the comfort of using it on your lap in the evenings, rather than a bigger, hotter notebook. You could see the Eee as a second, more portable laptop, but I’m seeing it as a perfectly adequate replacement for my (admittedly getting-on-a-bit) primary laptop.

Assuming my typing continues to improve on its keyboard, it will also make the perfect liveblogging machine, thanks to its size, wireless capabilities and battery life. It seems to have been popular already, with ASUS reporting a sale every six seconds on Taiwanese shopping TV channels, while when I popped into a few retailers stocking the device in London last week, they were selling like hot cakes.

With the £219 price point, ASUS has created a new and exciting laptop niche – one that will appeal to casual users as well as geeks like me. And if you want the ultimate recommendation? My review unit goes back this week, but as soon as it does, I’m buying my own.

MORE INFO
Asus Eee PC website

By Stuart Dredge | November 19th, 2007





Stuart DredgeReview: ASUS Eee PC 4G is the little laptop that deserves to be huge
  • http://www.shinyshiny.tv Katie

    I’m using one at the moment and really loving it. It has quite a few niggly things wrong with it, but they are mainly due to the small size so it’s kind of something you just have to live with. I think it’s more than worth it just for the small and handy size. And you can’t really complain for that price!

    Oh, and I don’t find the keyboard that small, thanks to my small lady-hands.

  • tumb

    That doesn’t make sense.

    You don’t want Linux because you’ve never tried it, and you are scared of it. (Fear of the unknown)

    You don’t want Windows, because you assume it’ll be sluggish.

    You don’t want to install Windows, because the process of installation is too complicated.

    So what is a manufacturer to do?

    And then you conclude you will buy it anyway?

    Yeah, good one.

  • Tree

    Finally someone who admits that this machine ‘may be’ sluggish running Windows. Thank God! Practically every reviewer says “there may be a Windows version coming soon.” Geez! There are multiple reasons why they choose Linux, speed being one. No only would Windows dog it down (OMG especially Vista!), but there are no ‘lite’ versions of XP or Vista that I know of; Linux has had space optimized versions out practically forever.

    Folks, try this machine with Linux before complaining. Don’t be afraid of the unknown, and don’t insist on something comfortable but inferior.

  • http://www.digitaljotter.com Andrew

    I have an Eee PC and I don’t even think about the OS during normal use. Its interface is so simple to use that even the least technical types can start using it straight away. I know this because I let lots of people play with my Eee PC and they hardly need any instruction at all.

    If you are inclined to start installing other software and are not familiar with Linux, a read of the eeeuser.com forums will get you started. I have installed Apache, PHP and MySQL on mine so that it is a portable Web server.

  • http://www.techdigest.tv Stu

    Hi Tumb, I appreciate your point – but I’m just being honest. Eee being Linux will put off some users (several friends have said they want one but will wait for the Windows version).

    Fact is, I’m buying one, but I am a bit nervous of Linux. I don’t see why I shouldn’t write that in the review – the conclusion should make it clear that it hasn’t put me off.

  • graham

    I also have an eee and am in a real quandary about whether to install XP or not? A cursory first use revealed the pre-installed media player couldn’t play Quicktime movies, and immediately to install codecs and new versions of software required command line usage and much time-wasting on the ‘net. This is just a really steep learning curve and is NOT easy or straightforward to do.

    XP is the only OS capable of running the UK’s TV catch-up services from the BBC and 4OD which are killer-apps for me, so it looks like I’ll have to go down the XP route – even though I don’t want to.

    Put simply Linux needs to be easier to use (full GUI for instance – this is 2007!) and (although not the Linux community’s fault) better supported by the industry.

    Hardware wise, though, the laptop is fantastic…

  • M Young

    I’m running XP on the eee. The install is simple. The manual that comes with the eee tells you how, and all the drivers are provided on the CD. It also runs very fast, it’s not sluggish at all. The spec of this machine is well in excess of machines that XP was running on fine just a few years ago. If you need windows apps, like I do, go for it.

  • colleen mckay

    only problem iv had but hasnt been mentioned is that sky boadband dont support lenux.

  • Logan M.

    Thank you for writting this review. There is no problem that anyone is put off by linux. And there is absolutely no problem that anyone would still buy it even though it’s not windows. In the end it costs the user so much less without that bulky fee of 350$ for windows… This version of Linux is custom tailored to be easy. And yeah some learning is involved if you’d like to use the command prompt and to install things further, but a lot of it could be found in Linux forums. They show you what to type word for word. So no need to fear. And upgrading if XP runs slow isnt out of the question.

  • kevin dickens

    We’re a local history group doing presentations, slides etc and have an Optoma digial projector, linked by a VGA socket. I’m assuming that that ASUS Eee PC will run our projector. Am I right?

  • http://www.riverdogproductions.net Riverdog Pro

    I think people just need to relax about Linux.
    Take a little time – DO a little research – don’t buy into the “it’s not Windows” hype…

    5 minutes with this little champ and you’ll forget all about the environment. I thought about loading Windows – but that’s the exact environment I want to get away from. Need a program to edit pictures? Load it up! Need a music player? Load it up!

    I use a mixture of Mac, Windows and Linux everyday. I’m running the ‘true’ version of Xandros ‘desktop mode’ that came with the EEE and LOVE it.

    No, I’m not doing DV editing on this little tyke. No, I’m not editing my RAW picture files on it either. That’s not what this is made for. But, I AM pulling it out every 5 SECONDS at work and home to check email, play games, edit small pictures, watch You Tube, Transfer files, etc, eetc, EEETC!

    Trust me – The little 701 is PERFECT for mobile use – I’m glad I bought one…

    You will be too.

    WOOF! Riverdog

  • spice

    well ive been running linux since i bought my new laptop which is an hp dv6000 and the main reason i run linux is cos i completely hate windows vistas security how its constantly asking for your permission to allow access to the net and to upgrade its just dumb but im totally gonna check out this lap top it looks sweet and as far as the small memory on it it makes no difference to me cos i use 3 external drive all of which are linux ready so i have lots of memory to waste