First Look at the Asus EeePC X101 – MeeGo or NoGo?

With the hugely successful release of the Asus Transformer and a great lineup of laptops, Asus is truly stepping it up this year, and definitely living up to its motto “Inspiring Innovation. Persistent Perfection.”.  And the Asus EeePC X101 is no exception.

101x sized up with the 15

What a brilliant piece of hardware engineering! This is the first netbook I have ever used that has truly intrigued me. It’s incredible thinness (17.6mm!) and featherweight design is unbelievable. The battery life is awesome (4-7hrs). The keyboard is actually very usable (I am typing this article entirely with the X101), the processor is snappy (latest Intel Atom), and the white color and textured cover take it to the next level.

10

I can finally walk into a room and impress people with this netbook. The hardware is so sleek, so smooth, and so refined.

But there is one downfall.

As you probably noticed, I haven’t talked about the software yet. The Asus X101 I am using comes pre-installed with MeeGo, a Linux operating system first developed by Nokia. Don’t get me wrong, the idea behind MeeGo is great, build a lightweight Linux operating system for netbooks that utilizes a simplified interface for more productivity on a smaller screen. The real problem, as in most failing OS’s, is the support. Nobody makes applications for MeeGo because it’s not widely used. Asus has attempted to fix this by having an “app store,” but so far I have yet to see any productive software available aside from what comes pre-installed.

Even with the different problems in the OS, the social integration is great. It actually includes a Twitter and Facebook app that generates a feed for you that is really nice. OpenOffice is installed as well, which gives you the ability to do just about anything you’d do in Windows. And Chromium is always great, so the software isn’t unusable, it’s just not future-friendly.

101x vs. Transformer

And that brings me to another point. Asus did a great job making sure the pre-installed software did what 95% of people do with computers; browsing and word processing. On this front, Chromium, the open-source browser on which Google Chrome is built, is the only pre-installed browser and does a great job utilizing the small 10.1 inch screen. Tabs are minimal and there is no utility bar taking up extra space.

A great color choice
Clothed in White
The Asus EeePC X101 with MeeGo is rumored to be priced at $200 USD , which would put it at an incredible price point. The question is, would MeeGo be a stumbling block for most users? If you think it would be, I would ask you to consider installing Ubuntu on the X101. Ubuntu has just released it’s redesigned Unity user interface that was built for small netbooks just like the X101. So, buy the X101 for $200 with MeeGo, then install Ubuntu 11.04 and you have an incredibly light, fully capable and fast machine! At $200 bucks, you can’t buy a better netbook.
Check out Engadget’s coverage for more information.

Five Great Gift Ideas for Public Transportation Commuters

At my previous job, I took the train from the suburbs straight to Union Station in downtown Chicago. The train ride would leave me with about 2 hours each day to do whatever I please, as long as it could be done on a train. Thankfully, technology has drastically increased the number of entertainment options the typical day-commuter has for the boring trips to and from the office. Whether your loved ones take the train, bus, or carpool with others, here are five great gift ideas that they are sure to love.

5) Amazon Kindle

Reading is probably the most old-school of activities one could do during a commute to work, or any time, for that matter. Old-school or not, people still enjoy reading during their free time more than any other pastime. Thankfully, with technology, it is no longer necessary to drag along your library books.

An entire book can be loaded on to this device, which is much smaller than your standard paperback novel. When you finish one book, there is no need to go to the library or the store to find a new book; one can browse for and download a new book from the Kindle Store, straight to the device itself. They even come equipped with 3G and WiFi, so the busy individual can acquire new reading material on the go. Available for purchase from Amazon.com, this gift is perfect for any commuter on your list that enjoys reading.

4) MP3 Player

There are all kinds of MP3 players on the market, most of which are quite capable of playing a large collection of music on the go. Perhaps the fact that there are so many options out there is what makes this such an attractive gift. But buyer beware, not all MP3 players are created equal. The right gift for that special someone can vary greatly based upon their own personal tastes.

Personally, I still love my iPod Classic, but I know many people that prefer their iPod Shuffles, iPod Touches, or even the iPhone. In my mind, the iPod Classic plays my music, and plays it well. I don’t personally care about the other features and apps of newer MP3 players, but many do, so it is important to take that into consideration when shopping for the audiophile on your holiday shopping list.

3) Netbook

How could one possibly go wrong with a laptop? They can do simple word processing, browse the internet, send email, watch video, and a seemingly countless amount of other tasks, all from one device. Add a 3G or 4G mobile device, and all of this can be done on the go. It’s literally the gift that can do it all.

Sure, it’s quite a bit larger than an iPad or similar tablet device, but personally, I wouldn’t trade in my laptop for anything. During my long commutes, I would actually write code and design websites, which would be much more difficult, if not unfeasible, to do on an iPad. A netbook or laptop is the perfect gift for the IT nerd on your list, or for the individual that wishes to perform many tasks from one device.

2) Android Smartphone

The single greatest advantage to the Android smartphone platform is the variety of different options available to the consumer. If you go with the undoubtedly solid iPhone, that is more or less your only option. Apple has a monopoly over the iOS, so you get whatever Steve Jobs says you’re getting.

Android, however, has many different flavors, and is available on many different networks, including the most dominant carriers, Verizon and AT&T. Consumer choice is the ultimate benefit of the Android platform, providing the perfect smartphone for anyone on your list, no matter their tastes.

1) Sony PSP Go!

This device is my personal favorite. I spent countless hours playing games such as Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness, God of War: Chains of Olympus, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, LittleBigPlanet, and even some PlayStation Minis. All of the games are downloadable from the PlayStation store, which features hundreds of titles spanning every genre known to man.

The PSP Go!‘s small size makes it easy to fit in your pocket, or backpack, or even your lunch bag. The possibilities are virtually endless, perfect for the avid gamer on your holiday list.

Images courtesy of Amazon.com

Jolicloud: A Fresh Netbook OS

With the increased popularity of netbooks in the last year, most PC manufacturers started producing their own line of netbooks, trying to condense high resource systems into small form factors.  Many users began looking for a way to get the most out of the sometimes limited system resources with netbooks.

The first instinct many netbook owners have is to upgrade system resources with a larger hard drive and more memory.  Although this is probably the best option for most users, there is an alternative – changing your netbook’s operating system.

Jolicloud is a recent contender in the netbook operating system market.  Still in the pre-beta stage, Jolicloud offers a promising netbook OS alternative with features such as support for small screens and an easy-to-navigate user interface.  If this sounds like the netbook OS for you, than keep reading to find out more.

Getting Started

To begin using Jolicloud, download the latest version from their website.  Jolicloud offers users two ways to install the operating system.

Option 1: If you’re looking to keep your current OS, you will want to download the Jolicloud Express installer.  This will install Jolicloud while keeping your current OS installation, leaving the data untouched.

Option 2: If you want to install Jolicloud as your primary OS, than you will need to download the Jolicloud Pro Install ISO.  Use the Jolicloud USB Creator to make a bootable USB drive from which to install Jolicloud from.

User Interface

If you switch your netbook to Jolicloud for any reason at all, that reason should be the easy-to-use user interface.  Show below is the first screen shown from a fresh Jolicloud startup.  As you can see, the larger icons are easily seen on an 8″ to 10″ netbook screen.  The placement and grouping of the icons and other menus is similar to most other operating system, making the switch to Jolicloud easier.

Drilling down through the left sidebar, you can see programs are categorized into related software groups.  Many common application categories are available.

Configuration of your netbook with Joicloud is easy with the inclusion of many administrative tools seen in other netbook operating systems.  More Administration applications are available through the My Jolicloud interface.

Below is a running example of the System Monitor application from the Administration menu.  As you can see, running applications use as much of your precious netbook screen as possible.  Only the top horizontal header remains when an application is running.

On the right sidebar of you Jolicloud desktop is an included easy-to-navigate file management interface.  Here it is possible to do the common drag-and-drop file operations.

If you have multiple windows or applications open, Jolicloud keeps track of these in the top-left corner of you screen.  Any applications that are open are shown by their icon.  More information on each running application can be found by hovering your mouse over the program’s icon.

Installing Applications

To fully take advantage of the Jolicloud operating system you will need to create a Jolicloud ID by clicking the blue Jolicloud logo in the top-right corner of you screen.  Creating your Jolicloud ID will allow you to configure and install applications, install updates, and more.

Once you have logged in to My Jolicloud, you will be brought to the Dashboard where you can see information regarding updates.  Clicking the App Directory button will allow you to install more software.  Software can be found in the category menus or by using the search box.  As you can see from the image below, many popular applications are available for you to install.

Newly installed applications are marked on the main interface with a yellow star on the program icon, as shown below.

Not all applications in the Jolicloud software repository are full applications but are really web shortcuts.  For example, I recently installed the Gmail application as shown above.  When opening the icon I find the familiar Gmail web interface shown below.  Adding these icons to your Jolicloud interface makes for a smoother user interface.

Quitting Jolicloud

When you are finished using Jolicloud, clicking the Quit button in the bottom-right corner will show the shutdown menu shown below.

If you’re looking for a change in your netbook OS and feel like trying something other than Windows or standard Linux distributions, I highly suggest you give Jolicloud a try.

Do you have Jolicloud on your netbook?  What are your thoughts of the OS so far?  Let us know in the comments below.

Netbook Review: Asus EeePC 1005HA

The ASUS Eee PC 1005HA is a 10.1″ netbook featuring Asus’ new “seashell” design, and boasts 10.5 hours of battery life.  This netbook offers some high-end features as well as a small, light form factor.

Color Options: Blue, pink, white, black.

In the Box: Laptop, 6-cell removable battery, Eee laptop sleeve, power cord and charger, 1 disc, user manual and warranty card.

Complete Box Contents
Complete Box Contents

Specifications:

  • Windows XP
  • 1GB RAM DDR2 (expandable to 2GB)
  • Atom N280
  • 160GB HDD (Separated into two data partitions and one recovery partition)
  • 802.11 B/G/N
  • Bluetooth
  • 1.3 megapixel camera.

A Few Caveats

Before I start, I need to mention that I made a few modifications to the netbook before I began using it.  When I purchased the 1005HA-P it came bundled with a 2GB Crucial DDR2 RAM stick which I installed almost immediately after receiving the netbook.  I did use the netbook with the stock 1GB for a few minutes, and I didn’t notice any issues with speed.

I also immediately replaced the pre-installed Windows XP with Windows 7 before conducting any tests.  I had read that people were having great success installing Windows 7 as their primary operating system on this netbook, and I can agree that it runs incredibly well.  With 2GB of RAM, I notice absolutely no performance problems.

Since this netbook doesn’t come with an optical drive, I had to install Windows 7 with a USB flash drive, which I previously wrote a guide about.

Screen

Toys 019 (Medium)The WLED screen on the 1005HA-P is bright and very glossy.  This creates vivid, high contrast images in normal lighting but can cause a lot of glare around bright lights.  I used this computer for several hours with the afternoon sun over my shoulder, and at ¾ screen brightness I did not have a hard time browsing the internet and reading documents.

The glare does not make the screen unreadable, but it definitely can be a distraction.  The screen is also a fingerprint magnet (just like the rest of the device), so I recommend getting a screen cleaning kit if possible.

While the seashell design allows for a smaller form factor, it does come at the cost of preventing the screen from tilting completely backwards.  The seashell cover can extend to approximately 100 degrees before coming into contact with the base of the computer.  This doesn’t make the computer unusable, but it does mean you’ll have to reposition yourself if you are reclining in a chair or couch.

Keyboard

Toys 027 (Medium)One of the biggest factors in picking a netbook is typically the keyboard since it usually must be reduced in size.  The 1005HA comes with a 92% sized keyboard (meaning the netbook’s keyboard is just about 10% smaller than a standard keyboard without the numeric keypad).

The keyboard on the 1005HA is fantastic and I can type on it just the same as I do a regular keyboard.  All keys are in their standard locations (including the Delete key which so often gets relocated on laptops), and the keyboard also features two full-sized shift keys (previous versions had a very tiny right shift key).

Toys 038 (Medium)
1005HA next to a standard desktop keyboard.

The keys are fairly quiet and provide very good feedback so you definitely know when you’ve pressed a key.  A special Function key allows you to activate many useful shortcuts across the F1-F12 keys, which is how you can brighten and dim the display, change volume, enter sleep mode, etc.

For a brief usability comparison, I was able to type 119 wpm with 95% accuracy on the 1005HA which is very close to what I type using a standard computer keyboard.  This entire review was written on the 1005HA’s keyboard and I experienced no typing fatigue.

Multi-touch Touchpad

Toys 028 (Medium)In my opinion, the touchpad is where the 1005HA really shines.  This netbook features a multi-touch touchpad, meaning that you can use more than one finger simultaneously to achieve different functions.  The touchpad is seamlessly integrated into the chassis of the netbook, so there is no discernable difference between the plastic of the laptop and the touchpad other than small raised dots.

Before I talk more about the multi-touch, here’s an important tip if you have this netbook: the 1005HA doesn’t seem to ship with the most recent drivers for the touchpad, meaning it is missing some useful functionality (especially for multi-touch gestures).  Visit the Asus driver download page and download the touchpad drivers for the 1108HA model.  Installing these drivers will unlock several new features.

From the factory, my touchpad was set to scroll vertically by dragging a finger down the right side of the touchpad and horizontally by dragging a finger across the bottom of the touchpad.  Because the touchpad is seamlessly integrated into the laptop chassis, I found it incredibly hard to find the right spot to place my finger (especially in the dark).

To fix this problem, I enabled multi-touch scrolling which was included in the newer version of the touchpad drivers.  This allows you to place two fingers on the touchpad and drag them vertically or horizontally to scroll, which I found to be much more effective than the scroll regions.

Another useful gesture is pinch-to-zoom.  When you want to zoom in on a picture, webpage, or document, simply perform a “pinching” motion to zoom in.  To zoom out, do the opposite.  This functionality is very similar to the zoom features of the iPhone and iPod Touch.

The touchpad is highly customizable and I recommend checking out the settings yourself to get an ideal customization.  To do this, locate the Synaptics Pointing Device icon in the system task bar, right click it and select Pointing Device Properties.  Click the Device Settings tab and then click Settings to adjust your touchpad’s settings.

Battery

The 1005HA-P comes equipped with a 6-cell lithium ion battery which has a listed 10-hour life.  This netbook comes with a utility from Asus called the Super Hybrid Engine (explained later in the Processor section) which allows for dynamic overclocking and underclocking of the CPU and helps conserve energy.

With my testing, the laptop easily gets 9 hours while being actively used (meaning running several programs simultaneously) with the screen at half brightness and the CPU set to Power Saving mode.  Turning up the brightness to its highest setting and overclocking the processor will definitely cause a decrease in battery performance, however.

One thing to note is that Windows typically does not provide an accurate battery life meter when it first starts up.  Windows 7 usually lists my battery life as 5 hours when I first turn it on, then quickly jumps to over 9 after a few minutes of use.

Power Supply

The included power supply is very light and small (in fact, it came with the smallest power “brick” I have seen).  The wall socket connector is only two-prong, which is nice if you don’t have access to grounded outlets.  The power brick does have a ridiculously bright indicator light which is a huge downside, I have to face it against the wall at night because it lights up my entire room.

Seriously, this thing is aweful.  Do we really need this bright of an indicator light?
Seriously, this thing is awful. Do we really need this bright of an indicator light?

The connector that plugs into the netbook is small and feels very secure.  One important thing to note is that you have to push the plug until it clicks, otherwise you may have charging problems.

Toys 037 (Medium)

Hard Drive

The hard drive came partitioned with two data partitions, which is somewhat of an annoyance if you want to keep your files all in the same place.  I opted to use free software to repartition the hard drive with two partitions: one 100GB partition for the operating system and one 60GB partition for data.

Processor

The 1005HA-P comes equipped with a 1.67 GHz Intel Atom N280 (this is where it differs from the standard 1005HA, which comes with the N270).  Atom processors are specially designed for mobile applications and provide a tremendous amount of number-crunching power while being highly energy efficient.

Asus includes some very useful software called the “Super Hybrid Engine”, which is marketing jargon for software that can underclock and overclock your processor on-the-fly.  The Super Hybrid Engine allows you to switch between three different power modes: Super Performance (overclocked to 1.8 GHz), High Performance (stock 1.66 GHz), and Power Saving (underclocked to 1.2 GHz).  A fourth Automatic setting is available that dynamically underclocks the processor while on battery, and changes to the stock clock once the netbook has been plugged in.

Webcam/Microphone

This is the first computer I’ve purchased that came with a built-in webcam/microphone, so I was very excited to try it out.  While it does a great job of transmitting video and audio, it is much lower quality than a standard desktop webcam/microphone.  For a netbook, though, the 1.3 megapixel camera is an improvement from the standard 0.3 megapixel cameras.

Toys 021 webcam

General Usability

The 1005HA packs a huge amount of power in its hardware so I’ve never been stopped from doing something I could do on my desktop computer.This netbook is small enough to be put in the secondary pocket of my backpack, which is exactly where I keep it every day.  I typically am away from home for 10+ hours, so this little guy is all I use during the day when I need to work on homework, browse the internet, or well – do anything.  The 1005HA packs a huge amount of power in its hardware so I’ve never been stopped from doing something I could do on my desktop computer.

Sure, there are a few downsides.  Even at 10.1 inches, the screen is still pretty small and can make typical tasks a chore (especially if you’re used to multiple widescreen monitors).  Netbooks also seem to induce a hunching posture when working at a table, and it can definitely become uncomfortable working on the device for long periods at a time.

That being said, I do work on the device for long periods at a time.  This netbook comes to the library with me for all-night study sessions, and I never think twice while running Microsoft Office, Firefox, OpenPandora, and many other programs at the same time.  I use it to watch movies and lectures and have never worried about the battery running out.  The 1005HA runs very cool and I haven’t had any problems keeping it on my lap for extended periods of time.

Final Thoughts

The 1005HA is small and light enough to be carried everywhere and has a battery that can keep you going the entire day.  Since it is capable of running Windows XP (or Windows 7, in my case), I can use all the software I use at home without being tethered to a desk.  This netbook is a direct replacement for a full-sized laptop and proves that even small devices can pack an incredible punch.

For more photos of the 1005HA, check out the gallery below.

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