Excuse us for a sec, OK? We'll start the review momentarily but just need to switch into our Professional PC Critic Veteran Reviewer Voice Omigod! That is like the cutest thing EVER lemme see lemme see! Oh I so have to get one of these RIGHT NOW only two pounds could you DIE? Four C's you WISH, come on no way WAY, $400? Omigod I am like losing it right here. Hello? Paper bag? Breathe into?
Ahem. The Taiwanese tech heavyweight Asus, best known here for motherboards and other desktop components, has introduced a $400 laptop with most of the capability of a $2,000 Sony or Fujitsu subnotebook; the convenience and usability missing from members of Intel's Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) club; and the goofiest name of the year.
The Eee PC -- named for "easy to work, easy to learn, easy to play"; you may also enjoy the Asus motto "Rock Solid, Heart Touching" -- is a two-pound traveling companion for anyone who'd like basic office productivity and WiFi Web and e-mail access in a system slightly bigger than a stack of three DVD cases (about 6.5 by 9 by 1.4 inches).
Does it really compare to a status-symbol slimline notebook? Feature for feature, of course not. Instead of an 11- or 12-inch LCD, the Asus has a bright but bitsy 7-inch display. If you want a CD or DVD drive, you'll have to plug in an external USB model.
And instead of a roomy hard disk, it has no hard disk at all -- the 4G is named for its 4GB solid-state (flash memory) drive, only 1.4GB of which is available after Asus installs the operating system and 40-odd applications. For extra storage, you must plug an MMC/SD card into a slot or a flash drive into a USB port.
But can your Vaio or XPS shrug off the bumps and jolts of travel with the no-moving-parts panache of a PC without a delicate hard drive? Can it boot from a cold start to be ready for work in 25 seconds? Or shut down in 10? Is its AC adapter a seven-ounce, palm-sized plug?
The reasons why the Eee is sensational are simple: Other notebooks as easy to carry cost a lot more than $400. And other notebooks that cost $400 weigh a lot more than two pounds.
Asus provides drivers for users who want to install Win XP and will offer a higher-priced Eee with Windows -- surely not the hardware-hungry Vista, given the 4G's humble Celeron processor and 512MB of RAM -- next month. But many users will neither notice nor care that the Eee uses a customized version of Xandros Linux. Its friendly graphical interface is that good.
The OS appears as a series of tabs -- Internet, Work, Learn, Play, Settings, and Favorites -- offering large, one-click icons to launch programs such as the Mozilla Firefox browser and Thunderbird e-mail client; Skype for Internet voice calls; the Pidgin instant messenger; Adobe Reader 7.08 for viewing PDF files; a multimedia player; Xandros Anti-Virus; links to Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, and AOL webmail; an e-book reader; and a handful of educational programs and games such as Solitaire, Sudoku, and the snappy Penguin Racer.
The Eee can play YouTube videos and MP3, WMA, WMV, WAV, and MPEG files out of the box. A photo manager and video manager help organize snapshots and home movies, while a music manager makes quick work of creating playlists. There's a generic webcam above the screen for video phone calls.
Word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation tasks are handled by the open-source OpenOffice.org 2.0 suite, which offers seamless compatibility with some 90 percent of Microsoft Office documents (the exceptions are files with ultra-complex formatting or macros or the non-backward-compatible Office 2007 format). There's a link to Google Docs if you prefer productivity applications inside your browser.