Taiwanese manufacturers are not known for inviting the world’s press to fancy product launches, but this afternoon in rainy Taipei, Asus put on a little fashion show to launch the latest Eee PC, the S101. This is a cut above the previous models in being thin and stylish, and Asus reckons it’s “a successful melding of fashion and functionality” that puts it at the “pinnacle of netbook computing.” And while it comes at a higher price — $699 — it’s much lighter (1kg) and cheaper than a MacBook Air, it looks nicer, and it has a much more practical specification.
At around 18-25mm, the S101 isn’t as thin as a MacBook Air, but it’s certainly thin enough. And where the MacBook Air makes pointless sacrifices that reduce its practicality, the S101 does the business. It has three USB ports instead of one, it has a built-in 4-in-1 card reader, it has a real RJ-45 Ethernet socket, plus Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. And you can change the battery yourself, without undoing 19 screws. Asus reckons the S101 will run for about five hours, but when the lithium polymer battery runs out, you simply swap it for a spare.
Since the S101 is a netbook rather than a notebook, the screen is 10.2 inches rather than the MacBook Air’s 13.3 inches. However, it does offer similar resolution: you can choose 1024 x 768, 1024 x 600, or 800 x 600.
The first S101 runs Windows XP Home in 1GB of memory and a 16GB SSD (solid state drive), to fit in with Microsoft’s netbook guidelines. Asus is chipping in another 16GB on a memory card plus a free 30GB of online storage. However, two Linux versions, which will follow in a few weeks, are expected to offer 32GB or 64GB of SSD.
In use, the S101 feels snappy, though the spec is familiar enough — Intel Atom processor and Intel 945 Express (GMA 950) graphics with 128MB pinched from main memory.
The keyboard is better than average for a netbook, and I had no problem touch-typing. The only real annoyance is the right-hand shift key, which is unusably the wrong side of the cursor keys.
An Italian journalist here asked if it was a women’s machine, because of the colours (which include Champagne) and the crystals that decorate the ends of the hinges. Asus’s “fashion show” presentation also seemed to suggest as much, and I’d expect it to have that sort of appeal.
However, the S101 doesn’t look any more like a women’s machine than similar models from Sony or even Dell. And unlike the MacBook Air, it also has the practical features that should prevent it from being dismissed as a fashion item.
Update: UK users should be able to buy an S101 in early November for £449 inc VAT. The Windows and Linux versions will be the same price, but the Linux version will have a 32GB SSD.