Clad in brushed metal and adorned with Swarovski crystals in its hinges, the ASUS Eee PC S101 is the best-looking mini-notebook on the market and, at less than one inch thick, one of the thinnest, too. But despite its fashion-forward design, the $699 Eee PC S101 shares almost all the same internal components of its cheaper predecessor, the $479 Eee PC 1000H, including a 1.6-GHz Intel Atom processor and 1GB of RAM. While we were impressed with its thin stature, LED-backlit display, and multi-touch trackpad, we’re not sure if those features merit a $220 premium, especially since you can’t outfit this netbook with a six-cell battery and it offers less storage.
The Mercedes-Benz of Mini-Notebooks
Measuring 10.3 x 7.0 x 0.7 inches and weighing 2.4 pounds, the S101 is the lightest and thinnest netbook to grace our testing lab. When placed next to the Eee PC 1000H, the S101 is noticeably thinner (the 1000H is 0.8 inches thicker) and lighter (the 1000H is 0.8 pounds heavier). When stacked up with the MSI Wind, HP 2133 Mini-Note, and Acer Aspire one, the Eee PC S101 was hands-down the the most svelte. After we slid the S101 into our purse we almost forgot it was there as we walked around New York City; with the AC adapter it has a travel weight of a mere 3 pounds.
But slim isn’t the only design aspect in which the S101 hits home. The glossy copper brown (also available in Graphite) lid is accented with a new Eee logo in flowing cursive. The lid picked up fingerprints easily, but the included cloth helped keep the case glistening. And with the chrome trim and Swarovski crystals in the groove of the hinge, this high-fashion netbook is bound to turn heads.
Spacious Keyboard, Improved Trackpad
The premium design on the S101 continues under the hood to the brown, brushed-metal palm rest and a silver power button that looks like a cuff link. Even the keyboard has a subtle speckled treatment. The layout is spacious and comfortable for long typing stints; however, the Shift key is awkwardly placed to the right of the Up arrow key, which makes capitalizing many words more difficult than it should be.
The touchpad has been remolded for the S101; it’s coated in a brushed metal, which gives it a smooth yet textured feel. The dedicated left and right buttons from the 1000H have been replaced with a single bar that’s more comfortable and easy to press.
The touchpad also supports the latest multi-touch controls and drivers from ElanTech. It supports the typical pinch-and-zoom functions in pictures and Web pages, but it can also recognize other gestures, including two-finger scrolling and three-finger swipes, which can be programmed to launch specific applications. You can also magnify certain parts of the screen by holding a finger on one part of the pad and double-tapping another; this creates a small magnifying glass that you can pan around the screen.
The S101 has two USB 2.0 ports on the left side and another USB port on the right side along with the mic and headphone jacks. Because of the thin profile, the VGA port, Ethernet jack, and even the memory card reader are all located on the back of the S101, which can be inconvenient.
Sharp LED Screen, Decent Audio
The 10.2-inch, 1024 x 600-pixel, LED-backlit screen allowed us to keep two windows open side-by-side and browse Web pages in full size. The thin matte display looked sharp from a variety of angles when we watched the beginning parts of My Own Worst Enemy on Hulu.com, but colors were still somewhat muted. When we watched the same clip on the 1000H, colors were brighter but the image on the S101 was crisper. Vertical viewing angles on the S101 were decent; tilting the screen caused only a bit of glare.
Above the display is a 0.3-MP webcam, and though not as high a quality as the 1.3-MP camera on the 1000H, it still provided clear, if somewhat muted, images in a Skype video call.
While the S101 lacks the Dolby-branded speakers that the Eee PC 1000H offers, its speakers still produced a decently loud and steady sound. However, in a side-by-side comparison playing Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” on both the 1000H and the S101, the 1000H produced a much fuller sound. Nevertheless, the S101’s speakers are loud enough to fill a bedroom.
SSD and Online Storage
The 16GB solid state drive in the Eee PC S101 combines a decent boot time and protection from damage due to its lack of moving parts. The drive, which isn’t partitioned into two sections as ASUS has done in the past, booted the system in a decent 34 seconds (6 seconds faster than the 1000H took to open its Windows XP Start screen). However, we expected the drive to have faster read and write times: it took 9 minutes and 43 seconds, a rate of 8.4 MBps, to copy a 4.97GB folder of mixed media. This was significantly slower than the hard drive on the MSI Wind (8:32 minutes/10.0 MBps) and the 80GB drive on the Eee PC 1000H (7:03 minutes/12.1 MBps). [Editors’ Note: Since our review of the 1000H, the 80GB model has been replaced by a 160GB model, which costs $479.]
For those who find the 16GB drive too limiting, ASUS bundles the mini-notebook with 30GB of free online storage using the EeeStorage service. A shortcut to EeeStorage is located on the desktop and requires registering with a username and password. After we logged in, our EeeStorage account appeared as another drive on our system and we were able to drag and drop files into it. We had no problem accessing our files from another computer; you simply download the EeeStorage client and log into your account.
Solid Atom Performance
The S101’s 1.6-GHz Intel Atom processor and 1GB of RAM provided solid performance. On PCMark05 it notched 1,679, which is 243 points higher than the similarly configured Lenovo IdeaPad S10. Similarly, our hands-on experience was snappy. Such preloaded programs as StarOffice Writer opened quickly, and we saw no performance lag while conducting video calls over Skype, surfing the Web, and when playing music in Windows Media Player. The system didn’t get all that hot either during heavy usage; the bottom of the system and the keyboard registered at a cool 89 degrees during our battery test.
The integrated graphics scored 489 on 3DMark03 (which tests DirectX 9 performance), which is 48 points lower than the category average, and 250 points lower than the 1000H. However, the system can handle streaming video without a hiccup; we were able to load Second Life and run the graphics-intensive virtual world smoothly.
Like on the Eee PC 1000H, the S101 has a button on the top left corner of the keyboard for ASUS’ Super Hybrid Engine (SHE) switcher. This feature allowed us to quickly cycle through power saving (1.2-GHz), auto–power saving (1.2-GHz, default), high performance (1.6-GHz), and super performance (1.8-GHz) settings. We didn’t notice any change in performance while switching modes, but you may want to engage this feature just to save battery life.
While we were happy with the power-saving options, the S101’s two-cell battery can supply only so much juice compared with netbooks with six-cell batteries. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi) the S101 lasted 3 hours and 32 minutes. This is higher than the mini-notebook average of 2:27 but 2 hours shorter than the 1000H, and it doesn’t come close to the MSI Wind NB’s high-water mark of 5 hours and 13 minutes (with a six-cell battery). The S101’s battery doesn’t slide into the back edge of the system; rather it is buried on the bottom, so users won’t be able to use a standard Eee PC battery. ASUS says it has no plans to offer an extended battery for the S101.
Sporting a 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi radio, the Eee PC S101 provided a strong connection for working in the cloud. The S101 zipped data at a rate of 20.3 Mbps at 15 feet away from our access point, and 19.9 Mbps at 50 feet. Both figures are drastically higher than the category average (15.4 Mbps at 15 feet, and 11.7 Mbps at 50 feet), as well as the Eee PC 1000H (10.4 Mbps at 15 feet) and the MSI Wind (7.7 Mbps at 50 feet)—however, those systems are equipped with 802.11b/g radios. Bluetooth is also included on the S101.
Software and Extra Features
Our Eee PC S101 came preinstalled with Windows XP Home. ASUS also bundles the mini-notebook with Sun StarOffice Suite. A Xandros version of the S101 will also be available, but not in the United States. ASUS backs the system with a one-year limited warranty and 24/7 toll-free tech support.
Eee PC S101 Verdict
How much are you willing to pay for style? The Eee PC S101 ($699) is hands-down the best looking mini-notebook we have seen, and its thin size and small footprint make it a machine that you’ll want to show off to the world. However, the chunkier but cheaper Eee PC 1000H ($479) features a longer-lasting six-cell battery and a much larger 160GB hard drive. Similarly, our category favorite, the MSI Wind (street-priced as low as $479) also sports a better six-cell battery and a larger hard drive, plus a better keyboard than either Eee PC.
Some may prefer the ASUS N10, which, though not as thin or light as the S101, offers a handsome design, a better-looking glossy display, and discrete Nvidia graphics for the same $699 price. But if a stylish netbook is what you’re looking for, the Eee PC S101 will meet your needs.