The Asus EeePC got a very positive review in my house. It is small, light, well-built, and started up fast. Yes, the display is a bit cramped, as is the keyboard. And yes, it runs yet another weird variant of Linux. But it has a real browser, connects effortlessly to the internet, and comes with a pretty broad suite of applications. It is available in a variety of colors. Battery life is OK – no worse than a typical laptop. The girls at the high school where my wife teaches think it’s really cute – a good thing if you’re Asus.
What doesn’t the Eee have? For starters, it doesn’t have a high price. The entry-level model is a mere $299. It also doesn’t have a hard drive, high-speed CPU, boatloads of memory, or the latest graphics processor. It doesn’t show you a sequence of coming attractions of corporate logos when you turn it on. But what it does, it does well – certainly, well enough to make you think – “Hey, for this price, why not?!” It wasn’t designed as a replacement for a desktop or traditional laptop machine. It was designed to fill some of the gaps where a big bulky expensive laptop was inappropriate or unfeasible – for example, a kid’s computer, or an on-the-go companion device.
The Eee adheres to some of the core tenets of the ultra-mobile PC – a low-cost, highly mobile, full-fidelity companion computer. In fact, the Eee PC hits one of the key UMPC targets dead on; there’s one place where all of the other UMPC products missed – price. People expect mobile devices to be affordable! Asus’s R2H UMPC launched at a price point two to three times higher than the Eee, but the basic technology backbone was similar, with a 7” display, low-end Intel CPU/chipset, standard PC I/O and hardware compatibility. Sure, the R2H also has a hard drive, GPS, Bluetooth, a fingerprint reader and runs real Windows but the additional features don’t justify significantly higher cost. A $1000 companion device will have few takers regardless of functionality.
Good product design is ultimately as much about what to leave out as what to include. And with the Eee PC, Asus got a number of things right that they got wrong with their R2H. It’s small enough to toss in a backpack or bag, light enough to carry all day, inexpensive enough to afford as a secondary computer.