Asus Eee PC 4G Review: Page 2

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Everything is simple enough for kids and newbies, with the command-line complexity of the operating system well hidden. By default, the 4G's File Manager shows only My Documents and Trash, with subfolders in the former such as My Pictures, My Music, and My Office. (A "Show all file systems" option reveals the legion of folders that is Linux.)

Plug in a flash card or USB flash drive, and a dialog pops up asking whether you'd like to open it in File Manager, Music Manager, or Photo Manager. Plug in a USB printer, mouse, or keyboard, and it works fine, or at least the two or three of each that we tried did.

To be sure, what Asus calls Easy Mode has its shortcomings for power users. First-time-boot screens prompt you to enter a user name and password, avoiding the damage possible when a novice signs in as a root user or administrator, but functions such as Add/Remove Programs are sorely limited: The latter works only when online and offers only a scanty list of software updates from Asus' servers (lacking, for instance, the considerably improved OpenOffice.org version 2.3).

Happily, fan sites such as EeeUser have already posted relatively simple instructions for switching between Easy Mode and Xandros' normal, Windows-style KDE desktop, along with tips for using apt-get and Synaptic to add new software, installing Ubuntu Linux, and more.

Small But Not Too Small

The MMC/SD card slot is on the Eee's right side, next to two USB 2.0 ports and a VGA port -- connect an analog monitor, and you can see a presentation on either or both screens, with external resolution up to an impressive 1,600 by 1,200. A third USB port is on the left, as are microphone, headphone, and Ethernet jacks (and a dial-up modem port left empty in the 4G configuration).

It's a snap to join a wireless network using the system's Atheros 802.11b/g adapter, but two other wireless pathways are absent -- it would be great if the Eee had Bluetooth, and even greater if it had 3G wireless broadband for surfing when there's no hotspot in sight. Asus says it'll address the issue with add-on cards, scheduled to ship along with accessories such as spare battery packs early next year.

The Eee's Intel Celeron M 353 processor -- a 900MHz single-core CPU with a 400MHz bus and 512K of Level 2 cache -- was obviously chosen for its frugal 5-watt thermal design power instead of its screaming speed. But the solid-state disk helps the Asus feel peppy enough when loading and switching among programs; the bulky OpenOffice.org loads in 15 seconds. Nobody's going to edit high-resolution video on the Eee, but everyday applications feel perfectly fine and responsive.

Also adequately responsive is the Asus' keyboard. It's small, but it's bigger than it looks -- the Q through T keys span 3.1 inches, closer than many subnotebooks and all UMPCs to the 3.5 inches of a desktop keyboard. We admit that it's crowded around the edges; the Tab key is teeny weeny, and during our first few hours we found ourselves occasionally overshooting targets (hitting 4 instead of R, say) and consciously taking care to type more precisely than usual.

But the keyboard layout has no unpleasant surprises, and its typing feel is close to first-class -- maybe the tiniest bit rattly but, like the rest of the Eee, firm and not flimsy. Within a day, we were percolating along at fairly close to our desktop speed.

We were less content with the Eee's tiny touchpad, which sometimes balked at registering taps and double-taps; we got better results using the chrome bar below the touchpad, which works like a rocker switch for left and right mouse clicks. The pad's right edge offers rapid but handy vertical scrolling.

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