The little-notebook-that-could just cannot be stopped. Riding the red-hot wave of success created by the Eee PC 701
(now known as the Eee PC 4G), Asus has released a slightly lower-end version of its popular ultraportable--the Eee PC 4G Surf--that ditches the webcam in favor of a more wallet-friendly price of $349 (see our photo gallery here
). It's far from perfect, but the 4G Surf is still one of the best value-priced notebooks around.
Small, But Not Too Small
Measuring a travel-friendly 8.9 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches and weighing just 2 pounds, the Asus Eee PC 4G Surf (available in Pure White, Blush Pink, Sky Blue, Lush Green, and Galaxy Black) is the perfect companion for the coffee shop crowd. The 7-inch, 800 x 480-pixel display is probably as small as you'd like a notebook screen to be to maintain a decent level of comfort.
We had no problems reading the top headlines at Google News using the included Mozilla browser, but sites with wider layouts (such as YouTube) required some horizontal scrolling to take in the entire page. We'd love if Asus remedied this by offering future iterations of the Eee PC with a larger, higher-resolution display; 10 inches would probably be that sweet spot of portability and usability (as of press time, 8- and an 8.9-inch systems have been confirmed by the company, and these should roll out sometime in the second quarter).
Unfortunately, the 4G Surf's small build will cause lion-pawed typists to get cramped quickly during extended computing sessions, but they should do fine in shorter stints. The tiny touchpad and flimsy mouse button will likely prove annoying to users across the board, however.
Excellent Interface and Software
Asus has wisely decided not to tinker with its infinitely simple-to-use user interface, which hides the Xandros-based Linux operating system. Six easy-to-understand tabs (Internet, Work, Learn, Play, Settings, and Favorites) offer fast access to some rich applications, including OpenOffice, Pidgin, Skype, Thunderbird, Wikipedia, and quick links to the most popular Web-based e-mail services. Asus also tosses in a handful of edutainment games starring the Linux penguin. This only-what-you-need desktop is refreshingly free of clutter and bloatware.
Eee PC 4G Surf Performance and Features
The system occasionally lagged when we cycled through photos, but the paltry 512MB of RAM may be to blame for that. For the most part, however, we enjoyed a smooth computing experience while playing music, surfing the Web, and working in documents. Be forewarned that with the small but peppy 4GB solid state drive, you won't have much storage capacity for large video files. A nice array of ports (three USB 2.0 ports, VGA, and a 2-in-1 memory card reader) mean you can add plenty of peripherals and accessories.
Asus' simple, homegrown media player produced solid audio when we loaded up The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony" from a SanDisk Cruzer thumb drive, and the sound was much louder than we expected. The volume is good enough to fill a cubicle or small office nicely. Photos and video clips looked respectable, but, once again, we would have liked a higher resolution to do them justice (future iterations of the Eee PC will have resolutions as high as 1024 x 600).
The Eee PC 4G Surf's $349 price tag comes with a small sacrifice: no embedded webcam. But that's okay with us; the original Eee PC's webcam lacked the drivers to function properly within Pidgin and Skype, so there's no huge loss in terms of videoconferencing.
Schizophrenic Wi-Fi, Decent Battery Life
Our one major gripe with the Eee PC 4G Surf is that it occasionally has trouble connecting to secure Wi-Fi networks. We encountered two secure home networks that the 4G Surf wouldn't connect with until we deleted them from the list of preferred networks and entered them manually. The 4G Surf had no problem recognizing our office router or open networks. We saw close to 3.5 hours of battery life while performing our day-to-day productivity chores. That's less than the usual 5 hours of endurance we've seen from other ultraportables, but this runtime is acceptable for a machine designed as a secondary PC.
Like the 701 that came before it, the Asus Eee PC 4G Surf is a marvelous device that would make a good secondary machine for those times when you don't want to deal with the bulk of a full-size notebook, or when you just want to hop online in a pinch without having to wait for Windows to load. Even without the webcam and occasional lag, the Asus Eee PC 4G Surf is one of our favorite notebooks.