Toybox: Light-weight Linux box very useful

The Eee PC has some really cool features, but as a working machine it has its limitations

The little Asus EEE 701 PC has attracted quite a lot of attention from my colleagues here at the Toybox testing lab, smack in the middle of Fairfax Business Media HQ.

On passing by my desk, many people have exclaimed how cute and cool the super light-weight computer looks, but then asked if it is difficult to type on the tiny, tiny keyboard. And that pretty much sums up the Eee 701. It looks very smart in its shiny, ivory coating with silver details, and it has some really cool features, but as a working machine it has its limitations.

I really like this little Linux-based machine, and I would find it very useful in my everyday life for checking email, updating Computerworld’s website and subediting stories from home, and writing quick stories from out in the field. But, sure, the keyboard is not designed for longer stints of typing.

Weighing less than a kilogram, the Eee 701 is so small and light it fits in my small-to-medium-sized handbag, and that is a definitive plus. The machine features a 4GB solid-state drive, 512MB of memory and an Intel mobile processor. Storage can be expanded by using the SD card slot.

Another useful thing is that he Eee 701 comes with a built-in 802.11 b/g wi-fi adapter that automatically detects and connects to the internet where it finds a hotspot.

Although Asus may have had children in mind as the target audience, I can imagine that the Windows XP compatible Eee 701 would come in handy for anyone working in the field, such as sales reps, technicians, vets and others, the only downside being the battery life, which lasts only around 2.5 hours.

The tiny notebook has a 7-inch LCD screen, a built-in webcam, a microphone for chatting or sound recording, and comes packed with games for children learning to spell and type.

While the camera — with a maximum resolution of just 640 by 480 pixels — and microphone are of average quality, the speakers, located on each side of the screen, actually sound quite good.

The Xandros Linux interface, in combination with OpenOffice, Google Documents, Firefox and many other (over 40) applications, works very well. I found the graphical user interface quite appealing, and both fun and easy to use. Navigation is made easy by using the tab and arrow keys.

In addition, the Eee 701 has got more excellent features, such as customisable touchpad preferences for touch sensitivity and short or long tapping, and smart use of the Function keys. Users can use these to, for example, put the computer to sleep, adjust the screen’s brightness, adjust volume and turn the wi-fi on or off.

There is a Home key to the left of the spacebar, which takes you back to the main page of the Xandros interface, and this key turned out to be surprisingly useful. Another great thing is that the Eee has three USB ports.

The Eee 701, which retails for $599, has been immensely popular in Australia and New Zealand since its launch here in November, according to Asus. Dick Smith Electronics was the sole stockist until the end of 2007, but Asus hopes to open sales to all channels in Q2, says a spokeswoman for Asus New Zealand. The Eee is currently available from Dick Smith, JB Hi Fi and Harvey Norman.

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