ASUS Eee PC: Laptop, UMPC, or Something Else?by Jarred Walton on November 30, 2007 4:00 AM EST
- Posted in
The User Experience
Okay, so ASUS created this svelte little laptop that's available at a reasonable price - assuming you can find it in stock, which is currently difficult. What's it like to use the Eee PC on a regular basis? This is where things can get a little difficult to quantify, as we're dealing with the user experience and a subjective evaluation. Let's start with some quick benchmark numbers, for the interested.
|ASUS Eee PC 4G Performance Testing|
|Battery Life - Web Surfing (minutes)||162|
|Operating System (seconds)|
|Restart and WiFi||49|
|Application Load Times (seconds)|
|Open Office Documents||6|
|Open Office Calc||8|
|Open Office Presentations||6|
|Web Browser (Firefox)||5|
Start/shutdown, suspend/resume, and application load times are all reasonable. This definitely isn't a superfast laptop, but for casual use it's more than sufficient. Of course, if you start loading more than one application, things might get a little less snappy in terms of performance. Upgrading the memory to 1GB addresses that problem, but that would of course increase the price and void your warranty. (Yes, we are aware that it may not be possible for ASUS to void the warranty for memory upgrade; how that plays out remains to be seen.) We should also mention that Open Office load times increase by around five seconds the first time you run on OOo program. Open Office uses Java, so there's an additional delay the first time while the OS loads Java into memory. Why the dictionary application takes so long to load is something of a mystery, but most people will probably never use it anyway. (Most other applications load in a second or two.)
Battery life is decent but not great, coming in at just under three hours. However, note that we are running the display at maximum brightness (as we usually do with any laptop that we're using), and we are generating near constant traffic over the wireless adapter. If you want to turn down the brightness level and you're not surfing the net, it should not be difficult to reach the 3.5 hours of battery life that ASUS lists in their specifications. That's the good news; the bad news is that it seems to take almost as long to recharge the battery.
While performance is generally sufficient for the intended use, where things can get difficult is when you actually start trying to use the Eee PC on a regular basis. For one, the keyboard is tiny - really tiny. Maybe this is great for kids, but after using the keyboard for several hours I personally found it extremely uncomfortable to use. My hands aren't large, but neither are they small - pretty average I would say - but while I can adapt to using the keyboard on a 12" laptop, the diminutive keyboard on the Eee PC really won't work for me as anything more than a temporary solution while I'm away from the office. Other people likely aren't as picky about keyboards - Blackberry devices, iPhones, and SMS messaging are all things that I try to avoid typing on - so this is definitely an area where personal opinion matters - a lot!. If you're like Anand and can type like a demon on your iPhone, the keyboard almost certainly isn't going to be a sticking point.
On a similar note, the touchpad isn't the best that we've encountered. Double-tapping in order to execute a click, or a double-tap followed by a drag, just didn't work as well as we're used to. The buttons below the touchpad also have a mushy feel. Trying to adjust the properties of the touchpad and the settings screen didn't help matters. It's not that the touchpad is unusable, but it's just not as precise as we would like. Again, personal opinion will likely play a role in terms of how important this is. When you aren't on the road, you can of course plug in a keyboard and mouse and eliminate the input device as a point of contention, but that's not really the point of an ultraportable.
We are full of criticisms right now, but let's get them all out of the way at once. The display is plenty bright and not too hard on the eyes, but the native resolution (800x480) is low. We like widescreen displays as much as the next person does, but mostly when we're already talking about larger displays and higher resolutions. An 800x600 display would have been better; there are times when a dialog box will open and you can't see the "OK" button on the bottom because of the lack of vertical screen size. Most operating systems (Windows XP and Vista for sure) are designed for 800x600 or higher resolutions. Plugging the Eee PC into a separate display gets around this problem, but that's not something most people will do.
Another issue is with the wireless support: WPA encryption works, but only if the passphrase doesn't contain spaces. This is something that ASUS can easily fix with a driver update, but so far they have not done so. In fact, they have taken a different approach, as ASUS now states that WPA support is "unofficial" and that the end-user is on their own. For our own network this wasn't a problem, but if you're frequently on the road or trying to use the Eee PC on corporate/school networks this is almost certainly unacceptable. We also had frequent occurrences where the Eee PC would disconnect from our wireless network, particularly after a suspend/resume. We could then manually reconnect without trouble, but why the auto-connect setting would fail at times isn't clear.
All of the above probably makes it sound like we hate - or at least dislike - the Eee PC. Remember how we said evaluating the Eee PC is one of the more challenging reviews we've done? This is part of the problem; the Eee PC doesn't really target the computer enthusiast, and it's difficult to place ourselves in the role of the target market. For us, the Eee PC is not a great choice as a primary computer, but it can work well in a secondary role. Many of the above concerns also deserve a rebuttal, so that's what we'll do.