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Travels with the Asus 701

The Asus 701/eee PC. What a piece of kit! I don't usually suffer for technolust, but the June announcement set my pulse racing. Since then I've reviewed all the reviews, viewed all the videos and photos, and read most of the blogs: European, North American, and Asia-Pacific. Then there was the announcement of five UK suppliers, plus RM; three of which I've done business with, and the release date of November 12.

PC World was the shower we've come to know and expect. Neither the Farnborough nor the Guildford stores knew anything about the 701. “Oh! That must be an Internet only offer...”. The PC World web site was equally devoid of information. Ebuyer and Dabs both briefly had the 701 in stock. Both sold out. Dabs is showing “Due in 3-4 weeks” and Ebuyer 0 in stock. I managed to snag mine from Dabs on Wednesday, between the Monday-Tuesday: “Due in 1-2 days” and the Thursday: “Due in 3-4 weeks”.     UPDATE: Now available from PCWorld Business

First impressions: My four year old Sony Vaio is bigger than the box the Asus came in. The box is thicker, but the the Vaio beats it in the other two dimensions and as one would expect the Vaio weighs more than the Asus and its box, power supply, battery and manuals combined. A quick trip to the Camberley Post Office shows a combined weight of 0.920Kg with the battery making up 0.225Kg of that, or in old money, 2 pounds 0.45 ounces of which nearly 8 ounces is for the battery alone.

First application: Skype I know. I know: there are better/freer VoiceIP applications, but it was already installed and I have a SkypeOut account, so a cheap call to my Dad in the US of A was the first real test. Voice quality both ways was clean. No drop-outs. It just worked. I didn't try the internal mike but instead used a headset with its own mike.

I noticed that Alt-Spacebar displays the applications 'System menu' but both 'Move/Alt+F7' and 'Resize/Alt+F8' are missing from the menu, although both work. You just need to remember the keystroke short cuts. This may be a “feature” of IceWm.

I put a couple of YouTube videos and a couple of other Flash files on a memory stick to transfer them to the 701. The thumb drive auto-mounted, but I couldn't get the Asus to play any of the files. More on this later.

Many of the reviewers of the 701 have complained about its storage capacity and only having 1.3G of free space. Checking Project Gutenberg, Tolstoy's “War and Peace” weighs in at 3.13M, so you can store about 415 copies of it on the Asus's internal SSD.

aaah! There's no text editor! revised: kwrite is ok, but not visible from the desktop. kwrite doesn't exit cleanly when started from xterm. ....and vi for old farts like me!!! (sorry no emacs)

All the models I've seen for sale in the UK are the 701-4. There is a 701-2G Surf which has 2G of SDD, 256M ram, no web cam, and a 3 cell battery pack rates at 2.8 hours vs 3.5 for the 4 cell model 4 pack. It retails in the US for $299USD.

On Thursday Nov. 22, the 4G was announced. The specification of the 4G is similar to the 701-4, but it dispenses with the built-in web cam and is supplied with the 2G, 3 cell battery pack. It retails for $349USD so the reduced specification 'saves' you $50USD.

ctrl+alt+t will start xterm, but:
    sudo update-alternatives --config x-terminal-emulator
Then select konsole from the list of alternatives. It should be number 1 in the list. This will make konsole your preferred x-terminal-emulator. konsole will will be used when you press ctrl+alt+t to open a terminal and for any other launcher or menu entry that is configured to open a "terminal" without specifying which one.

Sunday, I took my 701 to my local sailing club (M-25,M4 nr. Heathrow) for a live fire exercise. The club has Wifi, so it was a good chance to give it a test drive in real world conditions. BTW, the locals should really secure their home Wifi. Looking down, so to speak, from a 30m. embankment, the 701 could see 4 non-secured wireless access points in addition to the two that are inside the club rooms.

I found a corner and was editing this document when someone I had spoken to about the eee Pc asked if “this was it”. I closed down OOo, pulled out the USB thumb drive and started on the first of a number of demonstrations. These included power down and power up timings so the Asus wasn't running all the time. After one of these demo's, Nigel's wife started to nag him about getting one for their son. I explained that the current stock was sold out and the only machines available to buy at present have a surcharge/premium. Nigel didn't care and we used my 701 to “Buy It Now” off eBay.

All this kicked off about 10:00 and as I said above the 701 wasn't powered up for the entire time. Just before 2:00, during one of the few quiet periods, the 701 informed me that the battery was getting low. I shut it down and put it away. When I got home it went on the mains charger. With the system shut down, the battery was fully recharged in about 90 minutes.

Was browsing the eeeUser forum and found this amazing photo. I haven't been able to find anything else about the photo, but I'm definitely up for purchasing the travel battery and the headset. I did find a similar headset, the Plantronics .Audio 440 Stereo Headset, and am waiting on dabs.com to get them back in stock.

I've decided to stick with IceWm for now rather than install a different window manager. I won't bore you with the details of customizing IceWm and removing the 'Easy' Asus interface. Elsewhere, I've referred to it as the “Fisher-Price training wheels of GUI's”, which gives you and idea of how it fits my personal needs. Don't get me wrong. The Easy interface is great for someone that doesn't have any Linux experience, or is new to computing. It's just that I started with Unix back in the Hyperborean age before X-Windows and have different needs and expectations.

Although I have had mine for more than 10 days now, other work and life in general has limited me to about 1 full day of using the 701. My eyes have always needed correction for myopia and I've needed reading glasses for the past 10 years, so I do find reading the small screen a bit difficult. Getting out the measuring stick, there is about 0.9 inches on both the left and right of the screen and a bit more 0.6 below the screen, so there is room for expanding the screen while keeping the within the existing case design. If all of the room were used, it would increase the screen size about 50%. Looking at: http://www.tweaktown.com/popImg.php?img=eeepc16_l.jpg there is a fair bit of space in and around the LCD screen. It may not be possible to use all this area, but there is room for improvement in the screen size without a major case re-design.

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