I've never been terribly cutting edge when it comes to my own personal electronics. Our TV is old school. We use a rotary telephone in the...

Share story

I’ve never been terribly cutting edge when it comes to my own personal electronics.

Our TV is old school. We use a rotary telephone in the kitchen.

But the little laptop computer I bought recently turned heads at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month.

It felt a bit like pulling into the parking lot of a big auto show in a DeLorean. Or walking into a nightclub wearing the latest Stella McCartney.

People, my gear was cool.

In fact, my white Asus Eee PC was so state-of-the-art it was mentioned not once but twice in the official opening news conference as a hot, new tech item displayed at the giant convention. Later, a tech reporter saw me working in the press room and came over to ask questions for an article he was writing about the low-cost, lightweight machines.

Often called a subnotebook or ultraportable, this latest generation of laptop PCs is making waves.


The initial drive to manufacture a low-cost, easy-to-use laptop came from the One Laptop Per Child initiative (which is a fantastic effort to get low-cost computers into the hands of children in developing nations). Asus’ Eee line appears to be targeting children and older people, but as more than one reviewer has said: Don’t be fooled.

The $399 Asus Eee is a feature-rich laptop that runs on Linux, and so far it’s done everything I’ve needed — and more. It’s the kind of tool that will appeal to many business travelers, students and those looking for an inexpensive laptop.

A big part of what first attracted me to investigate the PC was the 2-pound weight — I was about to leave for the West Coast for almost three weeks, mixing a long family trip with a business trip. Lugging stuff for myself and my kindergartner, I was looking for a way to cast off extra weight.

The little Eee slipped into my carry-on, and I barely knew it was there. It fit neatly on my airplane tray table with room for notebooks and pens on the side. It accessed Wi-Fi hot spots whenever I needed them.

As someone commented on the tech Web site Engadget, the Eee is a “full-fledged wireless Internet machine,” and that was all I needed.

I wanted to write (it comes with OpenOffice.org 2.0), get online, surf the Internet and send e-mail, and my laptop accomplished it all flawlessly. Because it’s Linux-based, you bring up the laptop’s preinstalled programs using tabs, but trust me, it’s easy to use and very stable. In fact, I might venture to say it’s the first computer I’ve ever used that’s approaching idiot-proof.

They’ve included as many inputs and outputs and connections as you could want. There’s also a fine little camera, built-in speakers, a microphone, and you can use voice commands to tell it what to do.

Research, links

They’ve included links to Skype, Google Docs and Wikipedia among others. There’s a periodic table and planetarium software.

What’s not to love?

Well, the keyboard is small and takes some getting used to. I thought I wouldn’t like the touch pad but it worked better than any I’ve used with larger laptops. Asus claims the battery life is 3.5 hours, but I got a bit less.

And one more thing: Sometimes you have to scroll to see an entire Web site. I got used to this quickly. If you crave a big screen monitor on your laptop then this isn’t the machine for you.

But if you’re cost conscious and want a small, versatile laptop that will do any basic task that a bigger laptop will do, then consider the Asus Eee.

Many people are, apparently. The Taiwan company reportedly exceeded expectations in the past quarter, shipping 350,000 Eees out the door.