The new Asus Eee PC 900 has hit the shelves. But is it worthy of your cash? To help you make your mind up, we’ve got together two of our writers who vehemently disagree about the usefulness of the sub-notebook. So sit back and let the fireworks begin. Should you buy an Asus Eee PC?
"YES," says Dan Grabham, computing editor
You should buy an Asus Eee PC, no question. It’s the type of product that will be remembered in years to come, up there with the iMac and the BBC Micro as computers that perfectly suited their zeitgeist. The Eee is a machine in that category.
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But we’re not just talking about the Eee here, we’re talking about a whole new range of notebooks boosted by the impending launch of Intel’s Atom platform. The key upshot of this launch is that these machines will experience even better battery life despite the diminutive size of the cells themselves.
These machines are ideal for use on the move, especially if you commute and know you’re only going to have a seat-back table to use. Atom will also take these little wonders into the realms of multimedia marvels. Yep, so an iPhone might be tidier - but you can’t work on it.
The sub-notebook then, is the ultimate multi-purpose gadget. Like it or not, you still can’t beat a full keyboard and proper screen for function. So many have tried to do better. Intel’s latest ad for its Mobile Internet Devices campaign brands them good for both entertainment and work, but how can something with no proper keyboard be good for work?
What’s more, there will be increased competition in the sector – and that’ll create a price war. The new XP-toting Eee PCs might not be cheap, and the VIA-powered HP Mini-Note and first Intel Atom-based machines such as MSI’s Wind won’t be either. But in a few months we’ll start to see prices tumble, and I’d expect to see £249 and even £199 becoming new battlegrounds for your cash.
So if you were thinking of going out to buy a laptop over the coming months, think carefully about what you need and consider waiting for a few months. Why buy a more expensive laptop with power you’ll never need? Unless you want to game or perform graphically-intensive tasks such as video-editing, the new raft of sub-notebooks will be exactly what you want.
"NO," says James Rivington, reviews editor
Sub-notebooks are small and fiddly. Typing on the Asus Eee PC 900 gives me agonising brain-ache because it’s just so awkward to use. And frankly, if my spindly digits find it hard to plot an accurate course to the return key, I can’t imagine how hard it is for people with fat fingers.
Trying to have IM conversations on the Eee PC is a right pain in the neck, too. And even though you do start to get the hang of it after a while, as soon as I go back to my main PC with full-sized keyboard it’s a blessed relief.
The screen is also too small. I’ve got pretty good eyesight and don’t require glasses. But looking at the screen on the Asus Eee PC 701 makes my optic nerves feel as though they’re being pinched by an army of a thousand tiny eye-crabs. Maybe I’m spoilt by the dual 22-inch monitors I’ve got plugged into my main PC, but that tiny screen has got to be a pain even for the most forgiving notebook users.
And of course, you may say that the Eee PC 900 has a larger screen than the original. But it’s also well over £100 more expensive. Asus has strayed way too far across no-man’s land and is at risk of blundering across the border into proper notebook territory.
You can get fully-featured Windows Vista notebooks for a little more than what the Eee PC 900 costs. Some people might need a second PC that they can fit in a small bag, and to them, the Eee PC is ideal. But for all others, it’s an impractical expense when you look at the market more closely.
The novelty factor is a dangerous thing. The Eee PC is a fashion item. The coolest gadget since the iPod. And while that’s great for Asus, it’s not great for end-users. Because it’s all too easy to get caught up in the hype.
And when the novelty value wears off (it always does), you’re left with an impotent and awkward little PC that can only perform the most basic of functions. Why would I want one of those? Portability isn’t enough of an excuse in my book.