There have been plenty reviews of the Eee PC – and its various rivals – but, having had one for the last week, I thought I'd add one that deals less with the technical side than the experiential.
I was very kindly lent the Eee 900 and carried it around in my bag all week to see: a) how useful it is, and for what; and b) what it's like carrying a laptop around with you at all times. I know a lot of people are always encumbered – and I am too at times – but I've never been carrying around a laptop that's meant to be carried around at all times, if you see what I mean. The Eee is small and weighs less than a kilo, so part of the attraction is being able to throw it in your bag and forget about it.
First off, I'm one of those people who tends to travel between machines. I have one at work and one at home, and I have a phone for checking email and Facebook when I'm in between. So, there is no real need for someone like me to have a subnotebook, even if it is cheap. I'm personally quite wary of what Nortel likes to call "hyperconnectivity" – I like some time to be human, and I felt a twinge of shame when I went to a friend's house for dinner, only to sit there tapping away at the Eee instead of helping prepare the food. (Just a twinge, mind you)
Still, it did come in handy at times. I used it to type out an interview I was doing, in real time. This worked for me, I suppose, because – although I'm a reasonably fast typist, at around 65wpm – I don't touch-type. On a keyboard this small, using four fingers to peck at the keys works out OK. An experienced touch-typist would be completely thrown by the spacing.
Now, battery life. Not good. This should be improved upon by the very imminent launch of the Atom-toting Eee 901, but what's in the Eee 900 is going to fail all but the most sporadic users. I note that Asus is now offering a cheapish upgrade on the battery for us poor UK users, who got lumped with the 4400mAh version (why, Asus, why?), but those using the default are going to be seriously disappointed. Full use gives you less than 1.5 hours. Even just leaving the thing on, without firing up anything but the background apps, gives you just under 2 hours. Pitiful, and useless for the business user.
Still, as I say, the new low-power chipsets should change that. Hopefully.
I don't want to sound negative about the Eee and its ilk. First off, they still get impressed looks from passers-by. They don't weigh you down. They work nicely at what they do – my one was quite zippy, really, considering the spec of its processor. They're good for casual use in front of the TV (ideal for this ADD age, in other words). But – and here comes a dealbreaker, folks – there is one more problem….
If the idea of such a device is to carry it around with you all the time, then you need it to withstand real life. I had mine in my bag for a week. On Saturday morning I had a look at the thing and, oh dear, the screen was cracked. It still works, but it's one of those splashy-LCD-screen-cracks. I don't recall hurling my bag at anyone (not this week, anyway) or jumping up and down on it or anything like that. I must have simply set my bag down indelicately at some point. As you do, in the course of real life.
As far as I can see, none of these subnotebooks is ruggedised. Yes, we are used to paying a lot more for ruggedised gear, but if it's in your bag all the time… well, cheap electronics aren't tough. Maybe they should be. It seems an obvious point to make but, as I say, it is a dealbreaker for me at least.
So should you get one? Dunno – it depends on how much money you have, what you need, how you're going to carry it, and how many PCs already clutter your life. The novelty factor is great, though.