What's the Future of Portable Computing?

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I’m quite surprised with the number of reactions we received after the unboxing of the Asus Eee PC. I received an email from Gordon that was thought-provoking, and thought we should discuss what he has to say.

I just watched your ASUS EEE review on CNN. It costs 400$. Have you ever compared it to the iPod touch? You might be wondering how can they possibly be comparable. When in China, I found out an unintentional usage for my iPod Touch: it’s a mini computer. When I got homesick, I’d find a wifi hotspot, and surf the web with my iPod Touch. I’d also write email, and check on my MySpace to say hi to friends. Even at home, when I’m eating chips or drinking beer, I can lean back on my sofa and surf the Web, as opposed to walking to my computer. When I visit my friends’ houses, I don’t have to kick them out of their computer to use the internet. I just pop out my iPod Touch, and surf away without making anything inconvenient for my friends.

Now that I think about it, it’s not comparable to an iTouch… it’s comparable more to an iPhone, due to the hardware capacity. I think the future of portable computing is more geared towards things like the iPhone, more so than a device such as the Eee. For one reason, the iPhone fits in your pocket. The Eee has a full-on keyboard, and can run Windows.

What do you really need from a portable computer? You’ll surf the web, check your email, maybe create or edit some documents. Gosh… why can’t we just use the iPhone? It’s easier and smaller… much better portability.

With great timing, Julian also sent an email to me with his top five reasons for using an Eee PC.

  • Cost For what you get, the Eee is a complete bargain in my view. I have the 701 4G, which came with the Xandros system loaded on it. I have replaced that with XP. However, there is a temptation to add extra memory, and also large SD cards. Once you have spent extra money on those components, you are heading towards the price of a reasonably well-featured, full-size laptop. If you do this, then think carefully about the uses you want to put the Eee to, as the small form factor may not be reason enough compared to a ‘proper’ laptop.
  • What operating system? Linux or XP? Try Xandros first before going to XP. If you are a regular Windows or Mac user, the temptation may be to ignore Linux altogether. Don’t. You will surprised at how functional Xandros is, and find that open-source applications may work fine for your needs. Buying, say, a copy of XP to put onto the Eee also questions the overall cost. For me, the small size and portability is key so these extra costs are acceptable. But this will not be true for all users. There are plenty of resource websites to help you look at alternative operating systems, such as Ubuntu.
  • Why do I want one? Before buying, sit down and write a list of your needs for such a machine. Do you only want it because of the “coolness factor”?Once the novelty has worn off, you may be left with a computer that has no more function than to collect dust. Key motivations may be a first PC for a child, portability whilst on the road, quick email and internet access, or portability around the home. Make sure you are going to have a real use for it.
  • Which versions to get? Buy the 4 gig version. 2 gig is ok if staying with Xandros, but for XP in particular… 4 gig is a must. Newer models are now available with 8 gig, and 9 inch screens. Apart from that, they are the same as older models. There are a couple of really nice utilities available for free. Astray Plus allows higher screen resolution with some loss of quality. Be careful not to overdo it though, as you are effectively forcing the machine to operate in a manner it was not designed for.
  • Battery life The battery life is ok, but I’m a heavy user of Internet and Wifi, which will drain the battery fairly quickly. There are larger capacity batteries available, but be careful what you buy. Some restrict the ability of the lid to open all the way back, and of course adds weight and size to the overall machine. A standard spare battery may be sufficient, but is something else to carry around.


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