Asus – Eee PC 701 review

small format, low cost, Linux-based portable computer
Photo of Asus – Eee PC 701

The Eee PC has caused quite a stir since it was first announced late last year. Asus has, on paper, come up with something of a Holy Grail. A small format, easy to use, low cost computer that eschews Microsoft Windows is not something you hear about every day. In these days of Ultra Mobile PCs, could it be that the traditional laptop style design will knock the competition for six?

Well, on the face of it this is a really compelling little computer, simply because it looks like a laptop but is dinky and light (225 x 165 x 21-35mm and 920g). It has a proper keyboard, unlike the screen-only Ultra Mobile PCs that are pushing at the door, and it is far less expensive than an Ultra Mobile PC too.

Moreover, the capabilities are persuasive. A built-in camera and SD card reader, Wi-Fi, three USB ports, Ethernet, external monitor port and a huge amount of built-in software that runs to things like word processing, spreadsheeting, presentations, PDF reading, music, photo and video playback. There are links to Internet services like Google docs, Web-mail, Skype and Internet radio too, to name but a few.

The Eee PC doesn’t run a familiar operating system, instead being based on a version of Linux. Asus has tried to keep things recognisable, though, and if you’ve a modicum of computing experience you should get to grips with it quickly.

Certainly if you have used OpenOffice on your PC then you have a head start, as that is the word processor, spreadsheet and presentations manager used here. The built-in applications are divided across four tabbed screens: Work, Learn, Play, Settings, Favorites and Internet.

So far, so good, but here come the ‘buts’.

Storage could be an issue as there was just 4GB of space in our review sample. This storage is solid state – no moving hard drive to crash about – but it isn’t exactly vast.

The screen is necessarily small at just 7 inches corner to corner, offering 800 x 480 pixels. If you are used to a bigger screen then viewing documents as you write them might feel like a fiddle. In a similar vein, it can make Web browsing some sites – particularly those that default to a larger character size – rather testing.

The keyboard is tiny, too. If you have large hands it might simply be too small to work with, though we found it as comfortable as others on ultra portable laptops when it came to touch-typing.

The trick with the Eee PC is not to think of it as comparable with an ordinary PC, but to think of it as something different entirely. Do any readers remember Psion’s superb netBook or Series 5? That is the kind of territory the Eee PC is in, and as a first attempt it is a pretty good effort.

Company: Asus

Contact: 0870 120 8340

I'm not sure I'd want to recommend the Eee PC as your first and only computer. It is more a second machine, maybe for travelling with, and only then if you can cope with the small keyboard and non-familiar operating system. I'd also say ‘watch this space', because I'd like to think Asus can do more with the concept.