Belated Introduction to the Newest Member of my PC Family

10:54 pm PHT

For this post, I’m going to be talking about my ASUS Eee PC 701 netbook. Yes, this is a pretty late topic and totally out of date but it’s my blog and I can write whatever the hell I want, right?  :-) I won’t do a review since there are plenty of them out there (most are over a year old), but I’ll just write down my personal insights and observations from the more than eight months that I’ve been using this little baby. (I’m actually typing this entry using it.) The Eee PC has joined my PC family, together with my desktop and my laptop—I’ve definitely skewed the computer-per-capita figure in my household. Hehehe.

I bought the Eee PC way back in late June 2008. (I even plurked about it.) I’ve been meaning to buy one almost ever since this new class of mobile computer came out back in October 2007. In fact, I’ve written an ASUS Eeenvy post a year ago to explain my longing. The expense of buying yet another PC wasn’t in my initial 2008 budget so I held off buying the 701 until the middle of last year. Yes, other nice netbook models were released by that time, like the ASUS Eee PC 901 and the HP 2133 Mini-Note PC, but I’ve gotten a chance to try using the 701 and I thought that it was serviceable for my needs. Markku’s post saying that he’d actually been using his Eee for coding convinced me that the 701 really is good enough, and having thought long and hard, I didn’t think that the additional niceties in the newer models outweighed the additional cost. So I stuck with the 701 and I’ve gotten a pretty nice deal in Greenhills and bought this baby for only 15,200 pesos.

Truth be told, if I knew back then that Acer would be releasing their Aspire One model a few weeks later, I might have held off purchasing the 701. The Aspire One is practically as nice as the Eee PC 901 but came at a much cheaper 18,000+ pesos. Oh well, that’s the nature of the consumer electronics industry.  :-P

Anyway, the single biggest beef I have with the 701 is the screen resolution. 800x480 is simply not large enough to comfortably do many things, most especially viewing the majority of websites. For instance, Google Maps is simply unusable unless the browser is set to fullscreen, and before Google Reader changed their layout to have collapsible side panels last December, I had to bump down the text size a notch or so in order to see more of my feed subscriptions in the side panel. If I could have only the nice 9″ 1024x600 screen from the 901 and nothing else, I’d be pretty contented.

As for the keyboard, I find that it is definitely small but it’s not really uncomfortable and I am able to type easily with it. There two things I don’t like, however. First is that the keys seem too soft. I don’t know if it’s just my particular unit or if it’s a problem with the model but even if you have the tactile feedback of pressing keys, sometimes the keypresses don’t register at all. This is most observable with the ‘S’ key. It’s easy to demonstrate that if you press on the right half of that key, no letter S appears. You have to press at the center of the key to be sure that the keypress will be recognized. This problem often puts a crimp on my typing since I often have to backup to add the missing S’s in my text.

The second thing I don’t like about the keyboard is its layout. Yes, the small footprint of the device means that you don’t have much room, but they didn’t have to shift the whole numeric row half a key to the left! I sometimes find myself typing ‘2’ when I meant to type ‘1’ since the ‘2’ key has encroached on the space where I usually hit the ‘1’ key. Another thing that threw me off was the lack of dedicated Home, Page Up, Page Down, and End keys.

I also have no great love for the Wi-Fi management features of this netbook. It’s extremely quirky and I’d try to explain it but I think it would require another post just to discuss it. But, I kinda like how I can see the log messages as the Eee PC attempts to connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot; it helps in debugging stuff and I wish Windows had the same kind of visibility.

I’m using the stock ASUS-customized Xandros Linux OS and had never bothered installing a different one like Ubuntu. Aside from the absence of the GIMP (and it’s not in the standard ASUS repositories, so I haven’t been able to install it at all), I don’t sorely miss any Linux application that’s not on this machine especially given my particular needs. I haven’t even upgraded the browser to Firefox 3!

Two power-saving tricks that I’m using to maximize my Eee’s battery charge is to turn off the Wi-Fi receiver whenever it’s not needed and to turn down the screen’s brightness. I usually set the brightness level to the third darkest level, which I find bright enough in most ambient light situations. And I’m using the CTRL-T combination to bring up a terminal shell to quickly launch applications; I find clicking the user-friendly menus too cumbersome.  :-P

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