Initial thoughts on using a netbook

This is the second part of a series detailing my experiences with netbooks.  All products mentioned were purchased at retail by the author. Part 1 is available here, with details on why this particular model was chosen.

The first thing you notice right out of the box is how small the Eee PC 901 is. Take a standard 8.5"x11" piece of paper, fold it in half, and that's approximately how big it is.

The keyboard takes up most of the netbook's width, going almost right to the edge. The 8.9" screen has a little bit more of a bezel. At a resolution of 1024x600, I find myself constantly scrolling down for most applications I'm writing. 1024x800 would be great, but the 1.3 megapixel camera at the top takes up too much room.

You will have to adjust your typing style to suit the smaller keyboard, which has keys that are 17% smaller than regular keys. Instead of using the pads of your fingers at an angle on a full size keyboard, you have to type downwards using the tips of your fingers. It can be quite an adjustment, but no harder than learning to type on a Blackberry.

There are two drives recognized by Windows. The first is a 4GB boot drive, courtesy of a single 32Gb NAND flash chip soldered to the motherboard. It is enough for Windows XP Home, but install Microsoft .Net 3.5 and you'll start to fill it up fast.

Most programs and data will be installed on the second SSD, a mini PCIe 8GB SSD drive made by Phison. Writes are very slow at 15 MB/s, but read speeds are surprisingly fast at 40 MB/s. It actually feels faster than my laptop at times, no doubt due to the near instantaneous access times afforded by using flash storage.
There are third-party mini PCIe SSD upgrades available, up to a capacity of 64GB. Some users have also reported being able to install a 1.8" SSD for much greater speed, but ASUS chooses not to go that route due to cost, weight, and power consumption.

Most of the weight is in the rear, where the large six cell battery is located. Total weight is 2.5 pounds, or just over a kilogram. It feels a little bit more than I expected, and it does make my jacket sag when I put it in the pocket. But that's okay with me, since large battery capacity is one of the reasons I picked this model.

I've been able to write on it for more than the eight hours advertised by ASUS. That, for me, was worth the price of admission to the netbook club.

Coming up: More on portable usage, plus future technologies in netbooks.

"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher
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