Life on the EEEdge: Daily life with Asus' tiny laptop

6 annoying things (and 3 great ones) about Asus' ultraportable

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When Asus conceived the Eee, it may have sincerely believed that cute-obsessed young women and children -- both demographics whose fingers tend toward the Slim Jim rather than the kielbasa end of the continuum -- were the one true market for the Eee. That was a misread of the market. With projected sales of 350,000 Eees by year's end and between 3 to 5 million in 2008, the mainstream is eyeing the Eee. (One sign the Eee has lost the stigma of being "too cute": The salesman in the Taipei computer mall who sold me the Eee said that most of his buyers were young salesmen who wanted a way to carry their contacts and presentations to sales meetings.)

2) The Eee's battery life is mediocre. PC makers exaggerate many things, but on battery life, they pull out the stops and lie like rugs. Asus is no exception, claiming that the Eee can go for up to 3.5 hours on the 5,200 mAH (milliamp-hour) lithium-ion battery. Apart from one outlier session in which I logged 2:45, my Eee mostly wound down around the 2:15 mark. By comparison, my old HP Omnibook could run 5 hours on one charge, and that could be extended using four AA batteries.

I'm chalking much of that up to cooling. The Eee runs pretty hot, and the fan kicks in a lot, especially if it's in my lap. (Perhaps Asus overestimated how much cooler the Eee's 4GB solid-state drive would be versus a conventional, spinning hard disk drive?)

Two-plus hours wouldn't be so objectionable if we were talking about one of those supersized desktop replacement laptops with a 20-in. screen, speakers worthy of a small home theater and a shoulder-sagging 15- to 19-lb. weight, but it negates much of the Eee's portability promise.

Standby-mode performance was even less impressive. We expect smaller electronic gadgets (for instance, mobile phones) to last for days when we put them in standby or sleep mode. In standby, my Eee goes fully charged to fully drained in one night. That's no better than a regular laptop -- though in practice, the Eee's instant-on/off feature mostly mitigates the need for standby mode.

The Eee uses a white 100-240-volt AC adaptor that is the size of a mobile phone charger, rather than the black bricks of most laptops. While petite, its output -- 9.5 volts and 2.3 amps, or about 22 watts -- is also nonstandard. Trying to use your phone or other laptop charger as an ad hoc replacement could be risky to your Eee's health, though some Eee users say they've successfully substituted a charger from a portable DVD player. A universal car charger might be the better solution for owners in urgent need, but don't expect to walk into your average big-box retailer if you need a fast replacement.

3) The screen is too small. The Eee's 7-in. horizontally stretched (I hesitate to call any screen this small a "widescreen") 800-by-480-pixel screen boasts more than double the pixels of the old Mac Plus. But users now are accustomed to much larger real estate -- and most Web pages are coded so as to display properly only on monitors of 1,024-by-768 resolution or greater. For the Eee, that means the viewing experience isn't just nostalgic; it's cramped.

Surfing in particular was frustrating, since every time I downloaded a new Web page in Firefox, I had to click on the bottom toolbar to re-center the screen if I wanted to see the right-hand text and/or links. Shrinking the text size in Firefox -- which otherwise works great on the Eee -- doesn't help, because the column grids don't shrink correspondingly.

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