The Asus Eee 1000 -- more power, still portable

The latest iteration of Asus' groundbreaking mini-notebook adds a faster CPU, a larger display and a better keyboard.

It often takes high-tech vendors three tries to get a product right. Microsoft is the best example of this rule of three. (Think of how buggy and insecure Windows XP was until 1Service Pack 2 came out. Upstart mini-laptop maker Asustek Computer, it turns out, is another.

The first Eee PC, released last year, was a US$400, 2-lb. marvel. By selling 2 million Eees in nine months, Asus proved to a skeptical industry that less can be more.

But as piping-hot as the original Eee -- since renamed the Eee 701 4G -- was, the tiny notebook wasn't fully baked when it emerged from Asus' oven. The screen, keyboard and 4GB solid-state drive were frustratingly small for many Eee users, while the Wi-Fi was unpredictable.

And for a device meant for on-the-go use, the 701's battery life was too short, despite the vendor's attempt to extend it by slowing the Eee's CPU by a third without telling buyers.

Asus addressed some of these problems with its second series, the Eee 900/901, boosting battery life in the 901 by swapping out the Celeron-M processor for the new, power-saving Intel Atom, and expanding the screen and storage size in both models.

Now, with the new US$700 Eee 1000, which started shipping around the middle of July, Asus has come tantalizingly close to delivering the ideal netbook. Nearly everything that troubled me about my Eee 701 has been improved in the Eee 1000, if not outright fixed, including the screen, keyboard, storage, battery life, Wi-Fi, webcam and more.

The chief improvement is in the design. The original Eee 701 weighed 2 lb. and sported a 7-in. screen with just 800-by-480-pixel resolution and a tiny keyboard for a cost of US$400. It was cute as a bug, distracting users from the real reason Asus used such small components -- because they were cheaper.

The trade-off in usability was heavy, though. Surfing the Web on the Eee 701 requires users to drag the bottom tool bar left and right in order to view the entire width of a Web page. That move gets old very fast. So do the typos the Eee 701's minuscule keyboard tends to elicit from all but the most painstaking of typists.

The US$700 Eee 1000 sports a 10-in., 1024-by-600 widescreen display that nicely accommodates the modern Web page. The screen is bright and fairly sharp, though colors aren't rich because of the video driver's 16-bit color depth.

The Eee 1000's keyboard is also bigger. It's now 92 per cent as large as an average laptop keyboard, up from the Eee 701's 75 per cent. The keys themselves remain shallow. Still, touch typing, while not a dream, is no longer the nightmare it was with the Eee 701. There are also four new Instant Keys located above the keyboard. Two control the LCD backlight and its resolution, while the other two can be programmed by the user to launch applications such as Google Mail or Skype.

Naturally, the Eee 1000 is bigger and heavier than its predecessor. Whereas the 701 is the size of a fat quality paperback novel, the 1000 is equivalent to a stack of four issues of National Geographic Magazine. At an ounce under three pounds, the 1000 is nearly a pound heavier than the 701.

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Eric Lai

Computerworld
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