When I flew to Maine last year, a flight delay left me stuck in Atlanta for about six hours. Expecting that to happen again this year, I bought an EeePC 4G to serve as my travel laptop. I wrote about my initial impressions, which were positive. Having used the EeePC on my trip to Maine, I can now comment more about it.
In general, my experience with the EeePC was very positive. My friends and family rather liked it as well and I suspect I helped contribute a few sales to Asus on my trip.
I had worried a bit about the tiny keyboard, but found that it was actually quite usable-once I accepted its limitations. Since I’m a bit over six feet tall (and have proportional “man fingers”) I knew that touch typing would not be a viable option. Luckily, I am a master of what my mother calls the “Columbus Method”: find a key and land on it. To be a bit more specific, I’m rather good at typing with two fingers and my thumb. While this annoyed my typing teacher in high school, it is useful on the EeePC. I found that as I got accustomed to the keyboard I could type at just about my normal full size keyboard speed. I’m writing a monograph for Chaosium, so I had the chance to do a lot of typing and hence gave the EeePC a thorough workout in this regard.
I found that the trackpad worked well. Since trackpads are worked with your finger tip, size is usually not a critical factor (you just pick up your finger more on a smaller trackpad). The trackpad has a section on the right side that allows you to scroll with your finger-I found this very handy.
I didn’t like the “mouse” button very much. There is just one-you click the left side for the left click and the right side for (obviously enough) the right click. It is silver plastic and reminds me of the silver painted plastic of cheap toys I had as a kid. It took me quite a while to get accustomed to it enough to be able to use it semi-comfortably. Trying to scroll with the button was particularly annoying I hope that later versions have an improved button system. Fortunately, the track pad supports “tap click” and I used it as often as I could.
The screen is, of course, small. However, the quality is quite good and I found it easy to read text and watch movies on it. Since I went through graduate school using Macs with 512 X 342 pixel resolution monitors (Mac Classic, Classic II and SE/30), I found the screen quite adequate. Compared to the Mac I wrote my dissertation on, the EeePC is a powerhouse with a large screen. Of course, those accustomed to only using large, high resolution monitors might take longer to adjust to the screen.
Naturally, the small screen size does impose some limits. You can only see so much text when typing and editing. I found that I could view the full width of a standard page (8.5 inches) in Open Office and still have the font large enough for easy viewing. As such, writing was no problem. Naturally, I could not view the full length of a standard page. This made editing the text a bit slower than on a larger monitor, but it was still quite doable. Obviously, doing full page graphics or layouts on an EeePC will require a lot of scrolling.
For the most part, the screen worked fine for web surfing. The EeePC ships with Firefox and it does an excellent job with most pages. Of course, if I hit an Internet Explorer only site, then there were some problems. Aside from that problem, the only real challenge I faced was viewing web pages that did not allow scrolling. For example, when using AOL web email I found that I could not scroll to actually see what I was writing in response-the top was crammed with ads and the window was “fixed in place”. I solved this problem by starting to write and then clicking to view New Mail (or Old Mail or Sent Mail, etc.). This gave me the option to open a new window that was adequate for writing a reply. In case you are wondering, AOL is my legacy account-I have so much stuff “out there” with my AOL address that I need to keep using it. Fortunately it is free.
While the small size does have its disadvantages, I found that one major advantage is that the EeePC is very easy to use while standing or when reclining. I spent a couple hours writing outside in a reclining lounge chair and the EeePC was quite comfortable to use in that position. It does generate heat, but I never found this to be a problem.
The small size also makes it easy to pack. Rather than use a special laptop case, I opted to use a neoprene laptop “envelope.” This protected the EeePC while still allowing it to fit just fine into my messenger bag. I prefer to not carry an obvious laptop case-people tend to target those for theft. It was also easy to handle the EeePC when going through security-being small and light was a plus when it came to juggling my shoes, boarding passes, carryon and ID.
It is also an ideal size for using in an economy class seat on an airplane. It fits nicely on the tray table and is easy to handle when it comes time to stow it away for landing.
When I went to print my tickets for my return flight, I found that my mother’s Windows 98 PC was not up to the task (dial up connection and only AOL 7.0 as the web browser). Fortunately, I was able to tap into a neighbor’s wireless network and get my tickets. Then I had to print them. The EeePC recognized the ancient Canon printer, but the bar codes on the tickets did not print properly.
I’ve found that many printers are rather finicky about their drivers, so I suspected the problem was with the driver and not the printer. So, I printed the tickets to PDF, emailed them to my mother’s PC. When I printed from her PC, the bar codes were fine. If you plan to print from your EeePC be sure to keep my experience in mind-you can probably print to almost any USB printer, but there might be some unexpected printing issues.
The battery life was as promised by the manufacturer (under three hours), which was fine for me. My longest flight segment was 2 hours and 16 minutes. If you need to use the EeePC longer, the obvious solution is a spare battery. The planes that I’ve flown on the Tallahassee-Atlanta-Portland (Maine) route do not have the power plugs for laptops-so battery power is the only option. Be sure to check the TSA web site before packing spare battery, though. New rules were put in place recently and, of course, things could change. Just as toothpaste was banned for a while, some incident might result in spare batteries being banned. Or laptops. Or clothes. Perhaps someday we’ll have to fly naked, sealed into zip lock storage bags for the duration of the flight.
Overall, the EeePC proved to be a wise purchase. If you travel and use a laptop, there is an excellent chance you’ll find the EeePC a good thing to have.