A Philosopher's Blog

First Impressions of the EeePC as a Travel Laptop

Posted in Technology by Michael LaBossiere on June 4, 2008

I recently purchased an Asus EeePC.  There are several models now-I bought the black Surf 4G. My main reason for buying it is for when I travel. While I do already own a few obsolete laptops, the ones that are reliable are bulky and either have non-working or very limited batteries. I could buy new batteries for some of them, but the batteries would actually cost more than I paid for the laptops. I do have a once very nice Gateway subnotebook. But, it has seen some brutal days in the hands of the previous owner and sadly cannot be relied upon to work regularly.

My main reason for getting a travel laptop is that I anticipate getting stuck at the airport due to cancelled flights and delays. That seems to be an annoying fact about travel today. Having a laptop makes such stays more tolerable. I just finished loading seven full length movies onto a SD card and they should help ease the pain of sitting in those airport chairs listening to the announcements of cancelled flights and the weeping of my fellow travelers.

Since I bought the EeePC for travel, my impressions are based on that purpose. In this regard, the EeePC has a lot going for it.

First, it is small and light. Its largest dimension is 8.9 inches and it weighs about 2 pounds. As such, it is ideal for travel.

Second, it has an SSD (Solid State Drive). Put in simple terms, the drive has no moving mechanical parts. This makes it fast, light and very shock resistant. A conventional hard drive is more vulnerable to jolts and jarring, making laptops equiped with them less ideal for travel. On the downside, the drive is small. On my version (the Surf 4G), the drive is only 4 GB.

Third, it boots and shutsdown very quickly. This means that you can turn it off quickly when you have to rush to your gate when they undelay your previously delayed flight.

Fourth, it has built in wireless networking so there is no external card to carry around. The wireless range is quite good-it can pick up routers in my neighborhood that my old iBook’s Airport card can’t detect. If you are stuck at an airport with wireless, you can surf the web and search for a new flight. Or write snarky blogs about how air travel is horrendous these days.

Fifth, it has all the basic software needed. For work, it has Open Office and can read and write Office files (2003/2004 and earlier). For web browsing it has Firefox. For dealing with boredom, it has music and video players. I tested it with the MPEG-1 movies (ripped from DVD years ago) and they worked just fine. The speakers are adequate, but I prefer using earbuds.

Sixth, the battery life is okay (a bit shy of 3 hours) and the adapter is compact (and has just two prongs).

Seventh, while the processor is an older and slower model the laptop is very responsive. Mine has 512 MB of RAM, which can be upgraded (1GB if you stick with the default OS, 2GB if you change the OS). I decided to stick with just the 512. That is plenty of RAM for most tasks.

Seventh, it has three USB 2 connectors and an SD slot so you can plug in extra media. I have two 8 GB SD cards for extra storage. The version I have, the Surf 4G, only has a 4 GB drive, so the extra storage is important. So, you can load up on music, movies and work to keep you occupied and take your mind off the fact that you are stuck in Atlanta or a similar airport.

Eigth, there is the price. My 4G was $350. You can get a 2G for $300, but the extra $50 gets you 2GB more hard drive space as well as the capacity to upgrade the RAM. Smartphones and PDAs sell for more and actually deliver less functionality. For the price, the EeePC is an amazing deal.

There are some downsides to the device. However, most of these arise from the qualities that make it ideal for travel.

First, it is small and hence has a small ( 7 inch) screen and a small keyboard. I got used to the keyboard quickly and found the monitor acceptable. It does have an external VGA port so you can plug in a monitor-but that is not a feature you’d use while in the process of traveling. However, the smallness is also an asset. Before you buy one, you might want to see if you can actually try typing on one. I suspect that some people will find the small size annoying. You can, of course, add a mouse and keyboard. But, for travel that is just more stuff to carry. If I was willing to carry that much stuff, I’d just pack one of my old laptops.

Second, the operating system is a modified version of Xandros. I rather like Linux, but this means that you cannot run Windows software (you can, perhaps, install Wine and run some Windows software). You can install Windows XP on the EeePC-Asus thoughtfully includes all the Windows drivers on a CD.

Also, the default setup is kind of a Fisher Price interface-with big buttons for all the functions. This makes it easy and simple to use, but I know I will feel shame if anyone actually sees me using such an interface. You can switch to a normal desktop, but you have to do some tweaking. Asus really needs to make switching to a real desktop an easy option.  You can install other flavors of Linux, such as Ubuntu. Naturally, the results can vary quite a bit. Since I want a stable, reliable travel laptop that just works, I’m going to resist my normal urge to tinker with the OS. For now.

My overall impression is that the EeePC will be an ideal travel laptop, although I suspect I will find the operating system a bit limiting. If you are looking for a small, light travel laptop,  you’ll probably be very pleased with the EeePC.

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6 Responses

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  1. Jason said, on June 7, 2008 at 10:42 am

    What format were you movies in? I’m thinking of getting one of these for my 3 year old. He enjoys youtube and some basic games, and with flash cards I think its an ideal replacement to the travel DVD player. Most of my movies on my Media PC or 2GB each, and I’m just curious what format, resolution would work OK on this to maximize the use of 4 or 8GB cards.

    Thanks.

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  3. Michael LaBossiere said, on June 9, 2008 at 8:23 am

    The movies are in MPEG-1 format. I converted these specific movies in 2003-2004 and these are the only ones I had time to test on the Eeepc. You can install Window XP on it and thus use any format supported in Windows with no problems. Linux also supports these, but you might have to tweak a bit to get some to work.

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  5. woody said, on June 19, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    Wow, you seem to have hit all the same points I have with my first impressions. I just switched it on for the first time, after letting it charge. Boot was fast — except for the first boot setup screens. Wifi looks to connect right away, and I have to say I’m impressed. It’s spunky, yet small enough to fit in a bag. With a SSD, it’s pretty rugged. Mind you, it’s not a full service Laptop — but it’s not meant to be. This thing will go with me when I travel. I got the 900, so it was a bit more pricey. At USD 550.00, it was just at the point where I would hesitate to buy….but having done so, I have no remorse. It would have been GREAT at 450.00. Mine came with 12Gb on the SSD, divided in half to create two drives. the C: drive is at 50% capacity right out of the box with XP home loaded. I do not intend on loading it up with much more than office 2003 and maybe quicken, so it should be a fine unit for my needs for a few years.

  6. Rangera33 said, on June 20, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    I also bought the 4G surf and have loved the change from hauling around a full-sized notebook. I and my family do a fair bit of international flying and you really notice it on 20 hour plus traveling marathons. Not only do you notice the weight difference, but it’s just easier to take out quickly and put away. I changed over to XP and used a free program called Nlite to get the install down to 1 GB. I have two small kids and I loaded up an 8 GB SD card with Pixar movies that I ripped from DVDs to mpeg 4 at about 300 to 500 MB each. It works very well as a portable DVD replacement using VLC media player (free). A video-out port instead of the D-sub would have been nice. My wife, who did not initially understand why we needed a fifth computer, is now a believer after one trip. The $350 price point also helped.


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