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Asus Eee PC S101 review

Verdict

Fantastic looks fail to conceal the S101's fatal flaw: it's the same old netbook underneath.

Review Date: 16 Oct 2008

Reviewed By: Mike Jennings

Price when reviewed: £346 (£398 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Netbooks tend to adhere to an incredibly precise blueprint: cram an Intel Atom processor, relatively small hard disk, wireless internet and a 10in screen into an off-white chassis that looks more toy than trend-setter and watch them fly off the shelves.

Asus' latest Eee PC, however, veers away from this safe ground more than any netbook we've yet seen.

The Eee PC S101, to give it its full name, instantly appears to be a classier proposition than the majority of netbooks on the market.

The lid is finished in an attractive, glossy 'mocha' brown, and the brushed metal wrist-rest is reminiscent of Asus' luxurious business ultraportables.

The elegant design is carried over to the trackpad, which is large and responsive - something of a boon compared to the smaller, more cramped pads on the MSI Wind U100 and previous varieties of Eee PC.

The mouse button is a single, gleaming rocker, rather than two discrete keys, but it's light, responsive and easy to use.

Aside from the executive-pleasing style, the chassis is superb. The panel is the usual 10in TFT with a native resolution of 1,024 x 600, and is as clear, sharp and accurate as those in previous incarnations of the Eee have been. If we were being picky, it would have been nice to see a slightly higher resolution.

The keyboard is similar, again, to those on previous Eee models - with an added coating of glitter. The keys are of a reasonable size, and almost all of the Eee's width is used to ensure that the Ctrl, Function and Enter keys are of decent sizes, rather than being slimmed down.

As well as excellent design, build quality is beyond reproach. There's hardly any flex in the touchscreen, and there was hardly any give in the wrist-rest.

For a netbook, the Eee PC S101 is a remarkably sturdy machine yet, despite this, it's still lighter than the Eee PC 1000H - 1.1kg compared to 1.45kg.

While the new Eee PC is a well-built machine and looks fantastic, it seems that Asus' budget for revamping its revolutionary netbook hasn't stretched to the specification. A peek under the S101's hood reveals that barely anything has changed.

The processor is the familiar Intel Atom N270. It runs at 1.6GHz and, when coupled with the standard 1GB of RAM, powered the S101 to a score of 0.4 in our 2D benchmarks - marginally quicker than the MSI Wind and Eee PC 1000H, which scored 0.38 and 0.31 respectively.

It's a slight improvement, but not enough to take the latest Eee beyond the realm of basic applications or make the S101 feel significantly quicker than the competition.

This slight performance boost can be attributed to the only part of the Eee's specification that's seen any real improvement - the hard disk. If you choose the Linux model, a 32GB SSD is included - but if you'd prefer Windows XP, then there's only a 16GB SSD on offer. To make up the shortfall, Asus includes a 16GB SD card.

The rest of the specification is identical to the 1000H. There's 802.11bg and draft-n wireless, Bluetooth, a 0.3mp webcam and 4-in-1 card reader - and a 4,900mAh battery. In our benchmarks, the power pack managed a decent 4hrs 37mins - a little less than the Eee PC 1000H. Under intensive usage, the results were more encouraging, with the S101 lasting just over three hours.

One somewhat startling omission is the lack of 3G - surely a must-have in a netbook with pretensions above its station such as this. It's the one inclusion, besides the fantastic looks, that may have possibly begun to justify the sky-high netbook price of £375 exc VAT.

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