eee: eee!

Yesterday’s post brought me two toys:

Toys

The ‘brella is mine. The laptop I’m setting up for a friend. But this is no ordinary laptop, this is an eee pc. Alice of the wonderful Wonderland got one a while back, and her initial possible-typo thought has been ringing around my head for 48hrs, because it sums the thing up perfectly: IT TITCHY! Here’s a better picture, actual size1:

eee

See? It titchy! I’m in love. It’s 23 x 17cm and in its case weighs 976g, which isn’t much more than a large book, or my camera. It has wifi, 512mb RAM, three USB slots, a 3hr battery, a VGA port, an SD-card slot, two speakers and a webcam. It runs linux, boots in 15 seconds, shuts down in 5 and comes with OpenOffice.org, Firefox and Skype. Best of all, it only cost a shade over £220 – brand new.

Clearly there’s a compromise somewhere, and it’s mainly in power and disk space. It’s not at all fast – 630Mhz – and the hard drive is only 4gb2. Plus, the screen resolution is only 800×480, being as how it’s only 7″ on the diagonal. But if all you want to do is surf, type and chat, you don’t need any more than that. Couple this thing with an apparently-compatible Huawei PAYG Mobile Broadband stick and you’ve got 1mbps internet access you can throw into your bag just in case. Is brilliant.

The keyboard is obviously tiny tiny tiny, and takes some getting used to. But it’s at least a standard layout, and I adapted pretty quickly. The mouse ‘buttons’, it has to be said, are godawful, but thankfully the trackpad supports tapping. The machine recognised my USB drive straight away and I was able to transfer files from my XP machine without issue3. The screen is just large enough that text is readable without straining, but it’s close.

The menu system is fairly unexceptional, and buries the good stuff in with a load of less-than-useful programs, but does the job. It’s not officially editable, but activate the ‘advanced mode’ and you’ve got the full configurability4 of linux. About which I know nothing, but I had a crack anyway. The machine is popular enough that the eee wiki has many, many guides on unlocking advanced features without screwing everything up, and I went through a few step-by-step. The instructions suffer from the usual crowd-sourced documentation problems in that they can veer from incredibly useful to ‘oh, and before you do the next step you’ll need to rebuild the kernel – once you’ve done that…’, but are on the whole good. It has a problem out-of-the-box that prevents it from connecting to wireless networks that have WPA keys containing spaces; I was able to fix this by overwriting a couple of system files. I also tidied up the default layout, upgraded to OpenOffice.org 2.3, and enabled the option to boot into KDE. You can do much more – and for £40 you can upgrade it to a touchscreen(!) – but as it’s not mine I stopped there.

I’d be saving up for one, but it’s no use at all for anything photographic. Sure I could probably shove the GIMP on there, or even try XP and Photoshop if I thought I could handle the speed, but the 4gb drive is just too small. My camera’s memory card is twice that, so it’d be no use for backing up ‘in the field’, and I can’t imagine that editing a 3888×2592 file on that screen would be much fun. The eee has inspired a whole host of other micro-laptops, but they all seem to be coming in far more expensive, sadly.

My friend spends 4hrs on a wifi-enabled bus every day, but gets fed up of lugging a full-size laptop around. This should be a perfect solution, and I have to hand it over tomorrow. I am sad. I’ve named it and everything. Still, at least I have a ‘brella.

  1. not true []
  2. although it’s a blindingly-quick solid-state drive []
  3. although god only knows how you find the drive in the xandros open/save menus if you don’t click ‘open in file manager’ immediately []
  4. is this a word? []