Asus Eee PC 4G
Laptops are invaluable accessories for the digital photographer. While you’re out on a shoot or away on holiday, they let you backup your photos, check them on a larger, high resolution screen and of course email or upload them to their next destination. You can also start the editing and cataloguing process before returning to your home or office, saving valuable time and while the images are still fresh in your mind.
The big question though is which model to go for. If you like to travel light, ultraportable laptops are great, but they’re generally expensive. In contrast, affordable laptops tend to be pretty hefty affairs which may offer a lot of bang for the buck, but aren’t exactly convenient to lug around. Occupying a middle ground are PDAs and even smartphones to some extent, which offer portability at a low price, but are lacking the required connectivity and functionality to be really useful.
It’s a classic catch-22 which involves compromises in size, price or functionality, but in November 2007, a leading Taiwanese electronics company delivered an affordable ultra-portable laptop which may have been originally targeted at kids, but quickly became adopted by both enthusiasts and mobile professionals. Following a raft of positive reviews, the Asus Eee PC became the must-have gadget at the end of the year, even selling-out for Christmas.
Now the initial hype has died down – not to mention the panic of getting hold of one for Christmas – it’s worth asking whether the Eee PC really is as good as the reports, and crucially for readers of Camera Labs, whether it’s an ideal companion for a digital photographer.
I’ve been using an Eee PC since launch, reporting on its potential for road warriors and enthusiasts for my columns in Personal Computer World magazine in the UK. Since there’s already plenty of reviews of the main unit itself, this article will concentrate on its suitability as a photographer’s tool. But first, a brief run-down of the system itself.
Asus and the Eee PC’s secret
Asus may not (yet) be a household name, but is well-known to PC enthusiasts as one of the major Taiwanese manufacturers of motherboards and other computer parts. Asus sells under its own brand along with producing components and even complete laptops for a number of very big names in the industry, so there’s a good chance your own desktop PC or portable already includes key parts manufactured by this company.
Asus has long-produced laptops under its own brand, but the Eee PC is a different concept. Measuring 225x164x35mm and weighing 0.92kg, it’s head-turningly compact, yet costing just £219 GBP or $399 USD, it’s priced closer to a PDA or a smartphone than a laptop.
The secret behind the Eee is its choice of hardware and operating system. Its driven by a 900MHz mobile Intel Celeron, sports a 7in screen, has 512MB of RAM, and rather than a hard disk, the Eee employs a solid state drive with a relatively modest 4GB capacity. All would ring alarm bells for typical Windows installations, but Asus has cunningly avoided both the licensing cost of Windows and its heftier hardware requirements by installing a custom version of Linux instead.
This itself would ring further alarm bells for anyone who wants the familiarity of Windows, but Asus has delivered an alternative which works surprisingly well. Under the hood, the Eee may run a customised version of Xandros, but you don’t need to be a Linux expert to use it. Instead Asus has designed a friendly desktop interface to access a wide variety of useful pre-installed applications.
These applications are presented as large icons under one of six tabs: Internet, Work, Learn, Play, Settings and Favourites. Under Internet and Work you’ll find programs including Firefox and the Open Office suite, but they’re labelled with generic names like Web, Documents and Spreadsheets. This approach reveals the Eee’s original purpose as a kids laptop, but behind the simple icons lie the same powerful versions of the applications you’d use on a desktop.
So Firefox gives you a proper web browsing experience, complete with support for things like Flash, allowing you to watch YouTube videos including Camera Labs’ own reviews. Open Office lets you do serious work complete with Microsoft Office file compatibility.
Skype is one of the few pre-installed programs labelled by its own name, but again it’s the full version, allowing you to make internet phone calls – and with the latest Beta version for Linux – even do video calls with the Eee’s built-in webcam.
The Eee may be small, but it’s very well-connected with an SD memory card slot, three USB 2 ports, a VGA port for an external monitor, and a 10/100 Ethernet port, along with wireless b and g including support for WEP and WPA.
The processor, disk and RAM may be modest, but the system feels responsive in use and starts-up and shuts down quickly. Our model took just 27 seconds to start from cold and connect to a wireless network, and a mere 1.5 seconds to shut down. Try timing a Windows laptop or even a Windows desktop in comparison.
Now on page two, we’ll get down to the real purpose of this article – seeing how practical the Eee is for digital photographers.