It's nigh impossible to talk about netbooks without giving at least a passing nod to the original Eee PC 701. Asus started the netbook ball rolling with that machine, and from our experiences during this Eee PC T91 review, it's set to achieve a similar feat with affordable touchscreen netbooks.
We've managed to get our hands on a pre-production sample prior to its full launch at the beginning of June, and while it's not quite finished, it's close enough for us to get excited about its potential.
This then is the next serious evolution of the Eee brand: a touch-sensitive display. It's a resistive interface, which means that you don't need to use the supplied stylus to interact with it; the end of your finger, or fingernail, will do the job just as well.
This does sacrifice some accuracy when compared to capacitive displays, but this is clearly aimed at the more affordable end of the market, and makes much more sense as a general interface improvement as opposed to an artists dream.
It's difficult to judge the Asus touch screen interface, as this is the one major element that still needs work, but from what we've seen, Asus are working on an intuitive and attractive interface that really shows off the machine's potential.
Even so, you'll probably just rely on prodding and poking your way around the standard Windows XP interface anyway. And, it's amazing how quickly, and how naturally, you start moving around this well known OS with the end of your finger
Screen works as tablet
The 8.9-inch screen rotates and flips round to cover the keyboard in a standard tablet way, although it's stiff enough to simply stand up as an A-frame too, which means you can comfortably watch films on a train or plane should the moment take you.
The shiny screen does show up finger marks, so you're going to have to get used to cleaning the little blighter. It's a fair price to pay for the increased usability that a touch screen offers up though.
There are no surprises in the machine's core specification - this may be a funky new machine, but its still a netbook at heart, and the presence of a low power Intel Atom processor proves this as much as any other item.
Low powered Atom Z520
It's not the standard N270 that can be found elsewhere though – this is the even lower powered Z520, which boasts a top thermal design power of 2W (as opposed to 2.5W).
It's clocked slightly slower at 1.33GHz, but the presence of the US15W chipset means that this isn't too much of hindrance. This new chipset boasts hardware accelerated video decoding, which is why the machine's so happy to handle 720p HD content where others have struggled.
The rest of the specification is par for the course too – the presence of a 32GB SSD for instance keeps things running smoothly, and has enough room for your essential files, but you're not going to be carrying around your video library with you.
Likewise, the 1GB of DDR2 RAM is enough to keep Windows XP ticking over, but you'll undoubtedly want to upgrade to 2GB in time
A quick performance benchmark, using a system-thrashing X.264 encode of 720p video, put the machine slightly behind other N270 based systems, but it's a close call, and in day-to-day use you'd be hard pushed to spot the it.