the Asus eee-book reader

I’ve swooned over the Kindle before, but still haven’t found myself willing to take the plunge. Sony has been going after Amazon’s Kindle with sexy new versions of its own e-book reader, but the main problem with the ebook market in general is that the readers are still just too expensive, not to mention stuck in a technology slow-lane with black and white text, no color support, and the non-intuitive physical form factor of a single slab.

Enter ASUS with the first real innovation we have seen in this market – a dual-pane reader with color screens, genuine computing/web surfing abilities, and most importantly a low price:

ASUS eeebook
ASUS eeebook
The world of ebooks is about to start a new chapter with the arrival of the cheapest digital reader on the market. Asus, one of the world’s biggest consumer electronics businesses, confirmed last week that it is planning to shake up the market in the same way it did when it launched the first netbook — the low-cost alternative to the laptop.

(…) Unlike current ebook readers, which take the form of a single flat screen, the Asus device has a hinged spine, like a printed book. This, in theory, enables its owner to read an ebook much like a normal book, using the touchscreen to “turn” the pages from one screen to the next. It also gives the user the option of seeing the text on one screen while browsing a web page on the other. One of the screens could also act as a virtual keypad for the device to be used like a laptop. Whereas current ebook readers have monochrome screens, the Asus would be full colour. The maker says it may also feature “speakers, a webcam and a mic for Skype”, allowing cheap phone calls over the internet.

The ability to read on one page and surf on the other is a big deal – imagine having Wikipedia, Google and Evernote handy while reading a book! You could really enhance your comprehension and note-taking that way, all on the same self-contained device. The key to success here is the connectivity, with both WiFi and 3G essential. ASUS is poised to transform the ebook reader market the same way they did the notebook market with the introduction of the EEE PC. It’s about time.

no WiMax for the nextgen EEE

oh, well:

Although Asustek Computer’s CEO said in January that the company planned to integrate WiMax technology into its next generation Eee PCs, recently it has decided to make WiMAX available only as an option to contract customers, according to industry sources.

I can understand this decision to drop WiMax from the upcoming Asus EEE, since WiMax adoption probably won’t be widespread until next year. If Asus wants its successor EEE model to really dominate the market the way the current generation have, they need to drop the excess baggage and keep the price near $500. WiMax can wait, though if they were to add Bluetooth in its stead, that would be pretty awesome.

the Atomic EEE

There are a number of products that seek to compare with the EEE, including the Everex Cloudbook and the new HP 2133 Mini-Note PC. Unfortunately, these all try to improve on the EEE by offering more hard drive space, larger screens, larger keyboards, etc. That is unfortunate, because then in order to compete on price they invariably use the Via processor instead of the baby Celeron that the EEE uses. The Via comes in a higher clock rate than the Celeron (in the EEE, its downclocked to 600 MHz, though you can get it to run at its native 900 using a BIOS upgrade). However, it’s performance just doesn’t keep pace. Plus, these competitor products have to use 4200 rpm hard drives due to the small form factor (they are too small for standard 2.5 inch notebook drives) and so they really suffer performance wise, especially compared to the solid-state disk of the EEE. Ultimately, the only true competitors to the EEE (on price and performance) will appear when Intel officially launches its new Atom processor in June, which is a truly state-of-the-art chip designed for mobility.

I find it surprising therefore that Asus is rolling out its successor to the EEE later this month, without the Atom processor. They moved up the release date purely as a response to all these Via-based units being rolled out. This is a mistake in my opinion. If you are in the market for a new EEE or similar device, my advice is to either buy the original version (which can be had with Windows XP preinstalled now) or wait until June for the upgraded model.

dreaming of an EEE Tablet

It seems that the next generation EEE, which will have a 9-inch screen and Windows XP preinstalled, will also feature a resistive touchscreen LCD. The unit may also include GPS though this has not been confirmed.

This is pretty intriguing news, though not in itself enough to make me lust for one. The inclusion of GPS is a great idea, it’s a fairly cheap chipset and will add tremendous functionality. But the touchscreen LCD is more promising because it suggests that a tablet EEE is not too far in the future. Tablets tend to be expensive and midsized, which are both disincentives to pulling them out in public and using them in tablet mode. But an inexpensive EEE tablet would be revolutionary. Imagine a tablet that you could truly hold in one hand, with a touch screen, and sporting GPS to boot. Coupled with WiMax you’d basically have the ultimate device. That’s something worth waiting for, as long as they keep it in the $500 range.

upgrading to 250 GB

WD Scorpio 250 GB PATA UltraATAMy T42 Thinkpad came with an 80GB Hitachi Travelstar hard drive. I’ve been living at 95% maxed out capacity for well over half its lifetime, surviving by migrating a lot of files to an external disk (mostly personal video and raw data from my MRI research). The Thinkpad is also starting to show its age in terms of cruft; my new Asus EEE is much easier to use in some ways because I’ve installed only a core set of software that I use often (limited by it’s tiny 4 GB SSD). A clean XP install – nlited to save me the hassle of installing service packs and software – is clearly necessary. So, an upgrade was clearly (over)due, despite my tightwad constraints. Winning a $30 Amazon voucher from Read/Write Web spurred me to action; I’ve just placed an order for a Western Digital 250 GB Scorpio drive.

Since my Thinkpad is older, it only has an Ultra-ATA interface instead of the newer SATA ones. Hence, my choices were limited and I had to choose between 250 GB for $130 or 160 GB for $90. WD is the only manufacturer which makes a laptop drive at 250 GB capacity with the Ultra-ATA interface, but I am satisfied that the drive is worth the cost (partially offset by the Amazon voucher to boot). The performance of the SATA version is reputed to be excellent, and I doubt the UATA lags it much (as it happens, SATA requires slightly more power consumption, so what I lose in marginal performance, I will regain in marginal battery life).

I am planning to stay with Windows XP for the time being, most likely Service Pack 3 (which is not an official release yet, but you can download it as a release candidate from Microsoft). I’m not sure how well my Thinkpad will run Vista, since it’s only got a Dothan chip instead of a Yonah (aka Core Duo). Steven’s travails are also a cautionary tale.

My plan is to also order a cheap external 2.5″ case to house the old drive, so I can more easily transfer the data off (and of course reserve it in case I ever need to boot back into my old setup). Now I need to think about something a bit more rigorous for backup; at present I have the external disk I mentioned, but it would be better to invest in a NAS like a Linkstation Pro. Sigh. A print server would also be nice… argh! It never ends.

9 inch EEE

The big news yesterday was the release of the 9-inch screen version of the Asus EEE PC, here shown alongside its little brother:

eee pc 9incheee pc 9inch

As you can see, the screen displaces the speakers that surrounded the screen on the original. I wonder how that affects sound quality – I’ve been surprised by how good the speakers are on the EEE thus far. Also, the new model is slightly larger, with a heavier hinge and deeper footprint. It also comes in your choice of the Linux or XP OS, though there still isn’t any word on US pricing.

The screen resolution is 1024×600, with the same pixel density as the 7-inch version. That is really appealing, but price remains the key – I wouldn’t want to pay more than $500 for an EEE because then I lose the value proposition over a regular laptop. I assume that ASUS will follow the Apple model and drop prices on the low end models as new ones come out. My expectation is that the new 9-inch will be in the 600 range, which is just too expensive for my usage model, but would still be appealing to a traveling business type.