Asus’ latest Eee PC, however, veers away from this safe ground more than any netbook we’ve yet seen.
The Eee PC S101, to give it its full name, instantly appears to be a classier proposition than every other netbook on the market.
The lid is finished in an attractive, glossy ‘mocha’ brown with a hint of glitter, and the brushed-metal wristrest is reminiscent of Asus’ luxurious business ultraportables, albeit without the mottled leather.
The elegant design is carried over to the trackpad, which is large and responsive – something of a boon compared with the more cramped pads on the MSI Wind and previous varieties of Eee PC.
The mouse button is a single, gleaming rocker, rather than two discrete keys, but it’s light, responsive and easy to use.
And, aside from the executive-pleasing style, the chassis is superb. The panel is the usual 10in LCD with a native resolution of 1024 x 600, and is as clear, sharp and accurate as those in previous incarnations of the Eee have been. At this price it would have been nice to see a slightly higher resolution for business multitasking, although we admit that’s something no netbook so far has included.
The keyboard is similar, again, to those on previous Eee models – with an added coating of glitter to keep up the luxury feel. The keys are of a reasonable size, and almost all of the Eee’s width is used to ensure that the Ctrl, Function and Enter keys are of decent sizes, rather than being slimmed down, so it won’t take long to get to grips with typing on the S101.
As well as excellent design, build quality is beyond reproach. There’s hardly any flex in the 10in panel and the wristrest was similarly unbending, despite our concerted efforts.
For a netbook, then, the Eee PC S101 is a remarkably sturdy machine. Despite this, it’s lighter than the Eee PC 1000H – 1.1kg compared with 1.45kg – and easier to slip into a bag.
While the new Eee PC is a well-built machine and looks fantastic, it seems that Asus’ budget for revamping its revolutionary netbook hasn’t stretched to the specification. A peek under the S101’s hood reveals that barely anything has changed.
The processor is the familiar Intel Atom N270. Its single core runs at 1.6GHz and, when coupled with the standard 1GB of RAM, propelled the S101 to a score of 0.40 in our 2D benchmarks – marginally quicker than the MSI Wind and Eee PC 1000H, which scored 0.38 and 0.31 respectively with similar specifications.
It’s a slight improvement, but not enough to take the latest Eee beyond the realm of basic applications, or make the S101 feel significantly quicker than the competition.
This slight performance boost can be attributed to the only part of the Eee’s specification that’s seen any real change – the internal storage. Instead of a mechanical disk you get a solid-state drive, although the capacity isn’t great at 16GB. At least Asus has made an effort to make up the shortfall, including an 16GB SD card to boost capacity.
The rest of the spec is identical to the Eee PC 1000H. There’s 802.11bg and draft-n wireless, Bluetooth, an 0.3-megapixel webcam and 4-in-1 card reader, and a 4900mAh battery. In our benchmarks, the power pack managed a decent 4hrs 37mins – a little less than the Eee PC 1000H, but still respectable. Under intensive usage, the S101 lasted for just over three hours.
One somewhat startling omission is the lack of 3G – surely a must-have in a netbook with pretensions above its station. It’s the one inclusion, besides the fantastic looks, that may have possibly begun to justify the sky-high netbook price of $1000 – a price that is beginning to tread on the toes of full-blown laptops.
Unfortunately, though, there’s little here besides the styling to convince us that the S101 is worth so much more than its rivals. It may be worth the money if you’re determined to have the most stylish netbook around, but at this price we’re unable to give it a wholehearted recommendation.
Fantastic looks but a high price for what is, essentially, the same old netbook under the hood.
• ASUS: www.mwave.com.au
• Price: 1000 • CPU model/brand: Intel Atom N270 • CPU speed: 1.6Ghz • Memory capacity: 1GB • Flash drive capacity: 16GB SSD • Graphics type: Intel GMA 945 • Screen size: 10" • Screen resolution: 1024 x 600 LCD • Weight: 1.1kg • Dimensions WDH: 262 x 182 x 26mm • Ethernet: Yes • Wi-Fi: Yes • USB ports: Yes • Operating system: Windows XP home • Manufacturer: Asus • Supplier: Asus • Warranty: 2yr C&R