Abhi 2.0 on Technology

Abhimanyu Radhakrishnan’s Tech Archive: Columns, reports and video

Posts Tagged ‘laptops

Tech Tonic #2: Smile Please! Say Eee

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Tech Tonic 2

Until someone from Taiwanese computer giant Asus told me that the three Es in Eee PC stood for the incredibly unimaginative “Easy to learn, Easy to work, Easy to play”, I was hooked onto the name. Although it’s pronounced just E-P-C one can’t help but get excited at the sight of so many ‘E’s and conjure up a dragon stance aka Bruce Lee all the while shrieking “Eeeeeee PeeeCeeee!”. Its a laptop straight out of Pokemon world and the name is so much better than DV3244SX or some similar variant of the alpha-numeric combination disease that the laptop business seems to suffer from. The Eee PC is a “subnotebook” that’s light, sleek and surprisingly good looking with a nice metallic glossy finish. The specs are bare bones – a low end Intel chip, 512 MB of RAM, a 7-inch screen, basic ports for LAN, mic, headphone, VGA output and three USB jacks. Memory cards can be inserted into an external slot and there’s even a VGA webcam in the model that I tested out. There’s no hard drive on the Eee PC but a flash memory based ‘solid state’ disc ranging from 2GB to 8GB – my model had a 4 gigs. This ensures lightning quick startup and shutdown, lesser risk of data loss and much lower power consumption. The battery manages to consistently give just over 3 hours with Wi-Fi on throughout.

However the make or break in a low budget PC was always going to be the operating system and this one comes bundled with a Linux distribution called Xandros. I’ve mentioned before in this column that I’m a Linux-skeptic as far as consumer PCs are concerned. However the one very smart thing that they’ve done is to load a very simple tab-based version of Xandros as the default rather than the full fledged interface. In fact it looks very similar to good old Windows 3.1 with folder groups and nice large icons. You can see lots of familiar stuff such as Firefox, Skype, Google Docs, a PDF reader etc. on the opening screen. One of the most unnerving things for a first time user about firing up Linux is to see these tons of programs with ultra geeky sounding names like Konqueror, Amarok, Phonon etc. It could make you feel like you’ve been abducted and placed on an alien planet. The Eee PC is the first machine running Linux that I would recommend even to people with nothing but the most basic knowledge of Windows. It opened all websites flawlessly, detected external hard drives, played most common audio and video files and opened all documents that I threw at it.

It’s not without its flaws though. There’s too much wastage of space around the screen. Shifting the stereo speakers from either side of the LCD seems as if it would easily allow for 25% more display. The button below the touch pad which serves as both left and right mouse-key is hard and often unresponsive. External volume controls should have been provided. There are tons of  kinks in the software too. For instance the Wi-Fi setup is a tad complex (an average user should not be left wondering whether he uses WEP or WPA as his security protocol) and refuses to remember your password forcing you to enter it every time. Also, good luck on installing something like an iPod or a digital camera – its a pain getting Linux drivers for most hardware. None of the cellular providers who make USB modems have bothered to throw in Linux drivers, which is a pity since Wi-Fi is not very ubiquitous in India and having this logged on through GPRS would have solved the connectivity problem once and for all.

However in the final analysis, the Eee PC is a winner. I’d still not recommend it to power users for whom their notebook is the critical, primary machine. You don’t want to be stuck ploughing through Linux forums on the net when push comes to shove. However for those of you who have a primary desktop at home or work and just want a portable add-on sort of notebook for infrequent travel or even mobile usage within the home, I vouch for this baby.  If the Linux bit is making you a bit queasy relax – it supports Windows and in the US at least, Microsoft has agreed to sell Windows at a super-subsidized rate of $40 with the Eee PC. The Eee PC is currently available in white and black though light shades of metallic pink, blue and green will be on the shelves soon. At Rs. 18,000 it’s definitely a bargain and more importantly, for some, looks way more expensive than it is.

Written by Abhi 2.0

February 24, 2008 at 6:17 am