Sunday, May 11, 2008

Asus PC EEE 4G (701) : Review

It was in the last Bangkok Comtech exhibition (April 08) that I first saw this gadget for the first time. Interestingly, at that time, the sales persons were not really keen to sell this product. I think the main reason was perhaps they hadn’t yet met the exhibition sales target so they were focusing on selling the normal (and lot more expensive) laptops.

At the moment, there are 2 models available in Thailand, the Asus EEE 4G (701) and 4G SURF, the difference is that the SURF model doesn’t have an integrated webcam and it’s 1000B cheaper (US 29). I never seen the earlier model EEE 2G, and the newest model EEE 8G has not yet arrived (as per April 08). EEE is an acronym for Easy to learn, Easy to work and Easy to play, a concept further developed from OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) program sponsored by a global non profit private organisation.

I bought the black (the other colors are white, pink, light blue, light green) Asus EEE PC 4G (701) at 11,700B (US 334) in Pantip incl.1 year local Asus warranty. Even now you can buy this gadget at Carrefour at the same price. The original package comes with a manual book, a support DVD, travel charger and a nice soft case.

Main Features
Main features of the 4G (701) model are; Intel Celeron processor, 512MB RAM DDR2, 4GB solid state hard drive, 7” TFT LD monitor, 2in1 card reader, 3 USB port 1,3MP webcam, 10/100 LAN port, VGA port, and Wifi. It doesn’t have built in optical drive and bluetooth. The normal telephone dial up port RJ11, is also optional. Please request if you need one.

The size of this ultra mobile PC is tiny, even the whole box is about the same size of Nokia E90 communicator box. Basically you won’t realise that you but a laptop. It’s lightweight at only 0.9kg, small enough to carry around. Compares to regular sized 14”in ThinkPad R51, Asus EEE 4G is half the size.

Asus EEE has a taper design perhaps for ergonomic reason, so that the keyboard is slightly inclined towards the screen.

On the right side, you will find MMC/SD card slot, 2 USB slot, a 15pin VGA out and a Kensington lock port.
On the left side, you will find LAN port, Dial Up Modem port (optional), 1 USB slot, mic and head phone jacks. The rear side is only for the DC power input jack. There is also a built in mic port located in the bottom side just below the touch pad buttons.

7” Screen
There is no mechanical lock to open the screen, just lift it up carefully. The screen is tiny 7”, but reasonably clear. It doesn’t occupy the whole frame, but leave a lot of space inside the frame considering that it’s a 10” frame. On the left and the right side of the screen are the internal speaker outlet, and at the top middle side there is the webcam. I think most people will choose to have a bigger screen, ideally 9”, and relocate the internal speaker outlet somewhere else.

The 7” screen with 800x480 aspect ratio creates a little inconvenience in viewing a page, since we often need to scroll up-down to see the full screen. If using Windows XP, you need to set the Task Bar to auto hide, otherwise it’ll block the view. Also, Windows XP cannot adjust the screen resolution properly, so you need to adjust it using the Asus EEE PC utility program (provided).

The keyboard size is reduced, but still reasonable for typing. Any size smaller than this will not be convenient. Some keys have multi functions (+[Fn]) to reduce total number of keys.

The touch pad left and right buttons are combined together in one long silver bar, making it rather hard to press. The touch pad scroll up and down function somehow is not working in Windows environment, I still need to check why.

On the right bottom corner there are 4 lights indicator for power, battery, harddisk and Wifi status.

Operating System
Asus EEE comes with preinstalled Linux OS including several Linux based programs to work (document, spreadsheet, presentation, mail, PDF reader), learn (science, language, math) and play (media player, music and video manager, games). Mozilla web browser is also provided.

Asus EEE can also run under Windows XP (and XP only) environment which I did, but with only 4GB harddisk space we need to choose minimal installation and install only what we need (using Windows remove program/component utility), otherwise the system will be slow. The news says that Asus will launch the Windows XP version later with the 8G model.

I then bought a 8GB SDHD card and put it permanently in the card reader as the secondary harddisk. Then I moved “My Document” and “Internet Temporary File” folders to this card and leave drive C: only for Windows and essential program. We can also turn off “System Restore” monitor to save space, but note the consequences.

Another solutions is to connect to an external HD and or external optical drive using the USB slot. However, according to Asus manual, you need to check the compatibility first before buying an external peripherals (eg. external webcam etc).

I had this gadget for about a month now and only use it only for leisure purposes, such as browse Internet, chat, and blogging. Asus EEE PC boot sequence under Windows XP is relatively quick, even quicker than ThinkPad R51 (Pentium Centrino 1.6GHz, 512MB RAM, 40GB HD). Connecting to internet using its Wifi is very quick, within seconds it will connect to pre-assigned hot spot. This is much better than the R51 which has weaker and slower Wifi reception. The webcam also works well under Yahoo Messenger (please check compatibility under Linux software).

Due to its limited storage capacity, I haven’t tried it to download huge >10MB file from internet, but so far I did not notice any lag compares to R51 (but Asus EEE is not faster either).

I also have no issues working with the MS Word, except the screen size. I didn’t try the MS Excel, as I have no intension to do serious stuff with this gadget. I opened the Excel once and looked at the small cells displayed, it turned me off (now I’m wondering how much smaller it will be on the Nokia E90 communicator, do people really use it?).

Since Asus EEE is considered as an UMPC, off course its storage ability, compatibility, expandability is limited hence it may not be suitable for working as our primary computer/laptop.

It’s not as strong and as solid compares to normal laptops with Core 2 Duo processor, 1GB RAM and 80 GB HD to do heavy stuff with lots of multimedia processing, but its price is also a lot-lot cheaper.

There are even many mobile/smart phone/PDA phone a lot more expensive than the Asus EEE. More over, it works perfectly for regular internet browsing and normal office document processing. Except for its tiny 7” screen size (which make your normal 14” a giant screen), Asus EEE 4G (701) is worth every Baht I paid.


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