Several of the Thali are Asus EeePC users. We thought we’d compare our impressions of the eee pc , especially from the perspective of using it in the library environment. But first, what are we talking about?
Asus eee pcs are tiny, ultra-portable, cheap computers. There are now three sizes (7″, 9″ and 10″ or close to, and why don’t they advertise these in centimetres in Australia?) available and a choice of operating systems, Windows XP or Linux. The Linux ones come with a simple user interface especially designed for the eee pc.
What is your eee pc setup?
[Peta] 7″ using standard issue Linux operating system. I purchased a small Techworks wireless mouse and Phillips earphones/microphone set. I also use a wireless presenter’s device with it. It did not require any special set up or drivers.
[Fiona] We have the 8.9″ model, or rather my spouse purchased it for us to share so he got the Windows model. I would have preferred Linux. We don’t have any special accessories for this particular laptop.
[Morgan] I bought the green 7” eee. I didn’t really like the OS which it came with out of the box, so I used the tweak described here to enable the “full desktop” mode of the Xandros Linus OS.
[snail] I bought a black 7″ 4G eee a day or two after they came out locally. Like Morgan I’ve enabled full linux desktop mode (Xandros with KDE). I’ve added a 2G SD card for extra storage (32G SD cards are due out this month) and 2G of RAM (required a kernel modification to recognise the extra RAM).
[Kathryn] Mine was a “surprise” 40th birthday present, purchased in March after much hinting from me. It is a black 7” with standard Xandros linux. I’ve added an 8G storage card. I’ve bought a 3 wireless modem with the $15 per month plan that I use to extend the eee when I’m not at home or work.
Is it actually useful or just a toy?
[Michelle] Its very useful although I don’t use it a lot. I use it sometimes at home when I want to work on something whilst watching TV or supervising the kids doing something. I use it mostly to take with me to training, seminars, conferences etc, for note-taking, live-blogging etcv
[Peta] Although one of my colleagues likes to joke about my ‘calculator’, he also wondered if it might be used with a barcode reader for doing asset management work – but we didn’t test it. I use mine more often at home for personal use, but it has been put to use for work purposes on numerous occasions. I have used it for taking minutes, connected to projector for presentations, note taking and blogging at conferences and other events, transferring images from SD card via email to a shared drive (not ideal, but it’s an alternative to finding a card reader to plug in). And I’ve also used Skype for an international conversation with a consultant.
[Fiona] For a long time we’ve wanted a computer that was ‘disposable’ enough and portable enough to take away when we travel without really worrying all the time “where’s the laptop?” We travel regularly, but always to budget hotels and places where wifi in the hotel is rare. The EEE works for us because it’s easy to put in a backpack for the day and not have to worry about weight or security as much as we would with a regular laptop. If I lost my MacBook which I have relied on while living overseas, that would be awful. If we lost the EEE which we deliberately save nothing crucial on, it wouldn’t be so bad. We also use it for Skype on the road and watching videos that we convert and put on a USB stick.
I do not see the EEE replacing a full sized laptop at conferences just yet. If I’m presenting I need to have access to more apps than I can run on the EEE (eg I use Keynote now).
[Morgan] I wish it was more of a toy! I must look into downloading some better games for it. I use it for one main thing really, word processing. I have a long train commute and so I can use the eee for journaling, drafting blog posts and things like that. It works well, writing in OpenOffice and then saving it as Word and then using a USB drive to transfer it to my desktop computer. I’ve also used it for reading blog posts, using the Google Reader’s offline function. That’s been ok, although it’s frustrating not being able to follow the links in blog posts I’m reading.
[snail] I’ve used mine for taking notes at conferences, ended up typing several thousand words at a conference earlier in the year. Also use it to jot down ideas on papers I’d like to write. As mine weighs about 900g, it’s light enough to take anywhere. It’s always in my man bag and travels with me everywhere. Also handy for checking email and web browsing while in cafes with wifi. I’ve used it to demonstrate database access for my company at a conference. Plugs into a big screen and displays fine. I’m hoping to supplant my work laptop altogether when I travel but at the moment I still need both.
[Kathryn] It goes where my laptop never went. I use the eee first thing in the morning to read my email, twitter, Friendfeed, RSS and all the links pushed out by those services overnight. I’ve taken it shopping with me so I could use the wireless modem to check product reviews and alternative prices. It sits in the kitchen with last.fm tuned in as a radio while I cook. I’ve loaded Audacity on it, so I’ve used it to unobtrusively record audio with other people. I’ve used the webcam and Skype to give my family a “guided tour” of my hotel room when I’ve been away travelling.
What is the best and worst thing about using an eee pc?
[Michelle] Best thing is its portability – its small and light and easy to carry. Worst thing is the keyboard is small (I have the 700) and it takes a bit of time to get used to using it.
[Peta] I have to agree with Michelle about portability. It is so conveniently sized it can fit in a satchel with other items, rather than needing its own bag like a regular laptop. Worst thing is the size of the screen is too small for some sites, especially interactive sites – where sometimes a button or other control is just not viewable. The keyboard size was a challenge at first, but experience has resolved that, and I’m a touch typist. The touchpad I find a bit too sensitive and sometimes find the cursor jumping about unexpectedly.
[Fiona] The form factor is the only reason we bought it. We got the 900 which has a better screen than the earlier model. They keyboard does not suit me at all, I’m a touch typist and I cannot switch between the EEE and my MacBook or a standard keyboard. It suits my husband perfectly though – he’s a two finger typist so the size doesn’t bother him!
[Morgan] The worst thing is that its sleep mode is quite battery hungry, at least when compared with other laptops I’ve used. It’s a pain to have to go through the full power down cycle every time I need to take a break from it. The best thing is that it’s small and light and cute and generally hassle-free.
[snail] A weight of 900g says it all, though it’s not quite as light as the 300g of my old Psion 5mx. The keyboard took a bit of getting used to but I’m fine with now (I’m somewhere between 2 fingers and touch typing). I do take the eee just about everywhere. The downsides are the screen and the battery life (my 701 lasts about 3 hours). Plus I need to look at installing XP so I can run my work’s VPN on the road. I am considering upgrading to the eee 901 which has an 8.9″ screen and is based on Intel’s new Atom chip which translates to over double the battery life. Unfortunately it will weigh about 1.1kg.
[Kathryn] Best – portability, lightening fast startup and the fact that it doesn’t dominate the social space when I use it around other people – I can put it on a table where others are reading the paper without it dominating like my laptop would. The webcam is a way cool toy on such a little machine. Worst – Small keyboard takes some getting used to. The sceen isn’t *quite* large enough for google reader, so I need to use F11 to maximise the screen before I can scroll through my RSS feeds. I like to write, edit, preview and add a lot of media to my blog posts..so I find the small screen frustrating if i want to write a long blog post.
Does it meet expectations?
[Michelle] Met and exceeded.
[Peta] I had fairly low expectations, so yes they have been exceeded, but there are still some aspects of its use that are a bit of nuisance. Like the unexpected impact of Asus supplied updates. eg. link to Google Mail disappearing, and sound levels diminishing to almost nothing. Both were fixed by going back to factory settings.
[Fiona] It works just fine for what we use it for, but I wouldn’t do much more than that on it.
[Morgan] The computer itself does. The only thing I’ve been disappointed with is that in my commute, free wifi is almost non-existent so I haven’t been able to fully use the eee’s internet functions.
[snail] It’s cute as, ’nuff said At the conference I used it demo work’s databases, I got way more questions about the eee than the databases. I had strong expectations regarding its versatility and those expectations have been met and exceeded. It is a full computer in a pint size packet that I can carry anywhere without breaking my back.
[Kathryn] ‘fraid that “cute” was an attraction for me too. I was surprised how quickly I got used to the keyboard and how much I actually do use it.
How well is it suited to your workplace?
[Michelle] It has worked fine with any wi-fi I have accessed, including my home network. No problems accessing databases, email etc.
[Peta] Works great with wifi. I’ve connected to wifi at work, at home, at a hotel in New Zealand and at Qld State Library and it has been a painless experience. I have installed a Citrix client to access MPOW’s network and it seems to work quite well. I haven’t encountered any difficulties using library resources, or webmail (exchange server) although Exchange only provides a basic interface when using Firefox. Since I am running Linux I don’t have Internet Explorer. MPOW is a Microsoft Office shop, but the supplied Open Office has proved highly reliable in working with MS office files. But it does require a little practice to get used to the slightly different interface.
[Fiona] I don’t intend to use it for work use. I find the wifi range not as good as a standard laptop.
[Morgan] It’s not something I could use at work.
[snail] My job is 100% web based and there are times where the reduced screen size is a bit of a pain. The 7″ screen is a bit too small but the 9-10″ looks about right. It’s been fine for demonstrating products as well as doing my regular work.
[Kathryn] My work uses a Virtual Private Network to access wireless, so after a lot of faffing around my husband installed the client for me. It’s not particuarly straightforward and my knowledge of the underbelly of Linux is low. Once installed, though I can access my work’s wireless network easily. It is fantastic to take into meetings for notetaking without feeling like I am putting a wall between myself and other participants. I will often use it to check a fact or a site mentioned during the meeting. I’d *like* to say that I’ve never snuck a peek at my email or twitter with it during a meeting.
How does it compare with other similar products?
[Michelle] Haven’t tried anything similar.
[Peta] I haven’t tried any that can really be compared, but in contrast to a tablet pc I once took to a conference, the eee pc is much, much lighter and much, much cooler and its battery lasts longer.
[Morgan] I’ve just bought an iPhone and I’ve learned that although the eee’s keyboard is not ideal, it is a lot easier to use than the iPhone’s touch screen keyboard. The iPhone is ok for writing short emails or texts or twitters, and that’s about it. So the eee will remain my choice for writing when on the go.
[snail] I’m currently interested in trying out the Acer Aspire One as it has a 9″ screen but still manages a weight of around 900g. It’s also based on Intel’s Atom chip so the battery life looks promising. When the eee came out last year there was nothing else to compete with, now there seems to be a bunch of contenders so I’m keeping an eye out.
[Kathryn] I received my XO laptop last week, which I bought in December with hope to use it like I do the eee. I find the eee superior in everything except rugged unbreakability. There is a comparison of the two here: OLPC vs EeePc.
Would you recommend others to purchase?
[Michelle] Depending on their needs – yes!
[Peta] Yes, but despite Asus claims that these are incredibly easy to use, I think potential users need to consider their tolerance level for quirks, their willingness to adapt to a different operating system if they want to customise the set up, and they need to be aware of the limited storage on the device.
[Fiona] Sure, if you are really serious about only having a limited amount of expectations. Don’t buy it for web browsing for instance, and then expect to write a thesis on it.
[Morgan] I’ve already recommended it to a friend of mine who’s a student and needs a computer and is on a very tight budget. If all you need to do is draft essays, the eee would suffice. Although this would work better with the larger screen version and a separate keyboard.
[snail] My model, the 701, is now selling for under $350. For a fully functioning computer that can be taken anywhere, that’s a staggering price. At $500, it remains a good buy. I’d probably suggest going for a 9″ screen and preferably one based on Intel’s Atom. This is a machine you’ll want to take anywhere which means decent battery life is crucial. The main machines I’m considering at the moment are Acer’s Aspire One and the ASUS Eee 901 though I’m remaining watchful for new entries in this market.
[Kathryn] Absolutely. Word of warning – don’t expect to store anything on it or get too attached to any configuation or tweaks if you don’t know much about Linux. I needed to reinstall the factory presets a couple of weeks ago when I innocently chose to upgrade to the most recent version of the BIOS. Fortunately, apart from VPN, then was very little customisation that I had done or needed to do. This is a stark comparison to my laptop, where I would need to spend a couple of days customising and reloading software and browser extensions to get it how I like it.
Thali member Con also has an eeePC (New toy for Christmas). She didn’t add her two cents worth as she is currently jaunting around Europe, accomplishing the amazing feat of only taking carry-on luggage – so no eeePC.
If you have an eeePC, please leave a comment about your experience. Does anyone have a Windows version?