December 20, 2010

Breaking tradition-A review of my Asus Eee PC netbook, a great tool for the Cloud

by Cary J. Calderone

Over the past year and a half I have written about the move to the "Cloud" but covered primarily the Cloud providers and the move to hosted applications.  Now, as I sit typing away on my ASUS netbook, there is another reason to move my data skywards. This computer is so small, sometimes I have trouble finding it on my cluttered desk and I worry about leaving it behind at the coffee shop!  I would not feel safe carrying this around unless my data was stored someplace else, like the Cloud.  Let me disclose, I have no connection to ASUStek Computers, Inc. or ASUS.  I do not want to start reviewing hardware and software products or become the Walt Mossberg of the West. While many of you may not recognize the ASUS name, I know it to mean quality computer components. I used ASUS motherboards when configuring clone desktop computers in the 1990s but I have not been in that business since 1999.  Since an article I wrote in 1995 for Law Office Computing Magazine, I have not reviewed a hardware product.  So,why am I breaking with this tradition?  Because this netbook was inexpensive (under $400), surprisingly powerful, has an advertised 10.5 hours of battery life, and I love it!

Back when I reviewed the first “component laptop” with upgradeable features like RAM, micro-processor and hard drive, upgradeable meant it could serve you longer before becoming obsolete.  This could save you money. From today's perspective, 1995 was still the dark ages of laptop computing.  Think about a weapons dealer describing how effective his pointy stick would be back in 1995, and today describing the range of unmanned drones equipped with missiles. That is what the leap feels like between my review of a $2100.00, 386 20 Mhz Kiwi laptop then, (abstract of the article here) and this ASUS Eee 1005HA model equipped with an Intel Atom N280 1.66Ghz processor now. It also has a quiet 250G hdd, and the typical built-in networking and USB ports.
  • It has worked reliably for a year. Yes that is correct. I purchased this unit in December of 2009. So this is not the typical review one week after somebody gets their new electronic toy and is in the honeymoon phase. I used this netbook almost every day for the past year.
  • When I blog at a conference, the battery lasts me all day. I never have to worry about finding an outlet or resorting to paper and pen. I know I have used it on battery life for 8 hours before running low.
  • Unlike an iPad, I can use it like any full-sized laptop. It can sit on my lap, on a table, or, on the counter at the coffee shop. I felt I had the superior work tool while I typed on my Eee netbook while sitting next to someone whose iPad was teetering precariously on the multifunction cover/stand and would fall over frequently while he was reading it. My netbook stayed put!
  • Touch pad controls to scroll, zoom or shrink fonts and pages depending on your mood. (Think of shrinking or enlarging your view on an iPhone or iPad simply by moving two of your fingers closer or further apart) How do I know I like this feature? When I am on my full-sized laptop connected to my desk monitor, I find myself trying in vain to use this feature and it does not exist on my other computer. Fortunately it usually only takes a few seconds of trying before I realize this, and then I think fondly of my netbook.
  • The keyboard is large enough to type on. Some netbooks really make your fingers feel cramped.
  • Inexpensive and free offerings for cloud storage for your backup or data. Nice to have for those who have not yet tried other cloud options.
  • Better video resolution would be nice but if it shortened the battery life too much, I am not sure I would like the trade-off. 
  • Tried video chatting and it worked, but was not even close to a typical desktop video chat experience. Will look to see how newer Eee models can improve this.
  • When it is not plugged in and is working in battery mode, it is noticeably slower. Once again, this has to be balanced against increased battery life.  
  • It took a while to get used to the touch pad features that I now love. When you have fairly large hands, you may have one or more pieces of your hand or thumbs accidentally touching the touch pad. So it is occasionally frustrating to be working and have an unexpected zoom or shrink of the page.
On balance, I had high hopes for this Eee PC, and they have been exceeded.  It proved to be a fantastic tool that helped me work more effectively and efficiently, in the Cloud.

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