Monday, January 07, 2008

Review: EEE PC

Now that I've had a chance to use the Asus EEE PC on an extended trip, I can write my review.

First off, my configuration: One of the first things I did was to get my brother to install a 2GB DIMM on it. There's a little sticky note on the back of the machine that warns of voiding the warranty, but that's not enforceable under California law, so I was in no danger there anyway. The default Xandros installation, however, was configured to only recognize 1GB of RAM, so the next step was to ditch it and install Windows XP. There were a few good reasons to install XP anyway, since (1) the wireless connection manager for Xandros is horrible, requiring you to type in your WPA password every time, and never remembering your wireless settings, and (2) Picasa, the killer app for organizing photos only runs on Windows. For external storage, I found an old 1GB SD card and stuck it into the machine. Using Portable Apps, I installed OpenOffice and a surprisingly large number of applications to it.

One of the big questions is battery life. To a large extent, I think this is a red-herring --- once spare batteries become widely available, the EEE PC's batteries are so light that carrying one or two extra just won't be any burden whatsoever. In the mean time, though, I am happy to report that the battery lasted me a full 4 hour flight from Puerto Rico to Washington Dulles with time left to spare, despite someone else having used the machine prior to check e-mail.

The screen, small as it is, is plenty big to watch several episodes of The Queen's Classroom in bed at our hotel. How did I get the movies into so little storage? It turns out that the ipod is the ideal external hard drive for the EEE PC. Of course, if you're watching movies off the ipod's hard drive, you need the EEE PC to be tethered to a wall socket --- otherwise, the ipod will happily suck all the juice out of the puny battery. With iTunes installed, the EEE PC will also happily play any music from the ipod on its speakers.

With WiFi availability in our hotel, Lisa used Yahoo! messenger to make phone calls back to the US. None of us had friends with video cams attached to their machines, but if we had, video skype or yahoo messenger would have worked for us as well.

All through the Virgin Islands trip, every time we stopped at a port that even had a hint of internet access, the EEE PC was a fought over by members of the crew so they could check e-mail. While lots of people make comments about the small keyboard, except for one person I didn't really hear any complaints about the size of it, and I had no trouble adapting to it or writing relatively long documents on it. (A friend borrowed it to do some urgent work during the trip) I never felt cramped for storage --- though if you're traveling with friends I would definitely recommend setting up a guest account so your friends can check e-mail without you having to log in for them.

When folks had pictures in their digital cameras they wanted backed up, we backed them up onto the ipod. A tip --- you can also use Picasa directly to view the photos on the SD card without copying them to external storage, use the "Add Folder to Picasa" option, and Picasa will display those pictures and allow you to manipulate them directly on the SD card. (By the way, Picasa made converts of even the Mac fanatics amongst my crew, one of whom kept bugging me to do something to bring Picasa to the Mac)

All in all, this is the first laptop I've ever paid for with my own money, and now that it is easily purchased and widely available, I can say, "Highly recommended." It truly is a go-anywhere, fully featured machine with lots of capability. For the price ($400, which hardly anyone believes), it does as much as my much more expensive work supplied Thinkpad X61, but at one quarter of the cost, and 25% less weight. It is the first laptop I'll consider bringing on my next bike tour.
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