With its latest release Asus has answered all obvious criticisms of its original Eee PC ultraportable laptop. This, the 'big screen' Asus Eee PC 900, packs nearly 9in rather than 7in of display, and has much more native storage.
There's been plenty of interest in a new breed of ultraportable laptops since Asus unveiled its original Eee PC last year. And with good reason - who wouldn't want a micro-sized notebook, small enough and light enough to slip into one hand? With a widescreen display, webcam, wireless, all finished in a clean Apple-esque white finish?
And then there is the real attraction: in contrast to the usual £1,000 ultraportable offerings, the original Eee PC was an affordable £220. (See our Asus Eee PC 701 review for more details.)
Well, the original was certainly a taste of things to come, and Asus has answered practically all its obvious criticisms with this, the ‘big screen' Eee PC 900, packing nearly 9in rather than 7in of display.
The Asus Eee PC 900 is sold by RM as the RM Asus Minibook, to avoid confusion in this review we refer only to the Asus Eee PC 900.
The pearly casework remains the same, since the Asus Eee PC 900 simply fits its new screen more elegantly within the available screen bexel.
Another shortfall that's been addressed is storage space. Where the original had 2GB or 4GB of ‘hard disk' - actually solid-state memory - the Asus Eee PC 900 comes with a healthier 12GB or even 20GB. That SSD memory means no spinning disk, for quieter and more robust operation. And if you find yourself running short, there's always the option to piggyback more storage with a few gigabytes of cheap SD card storage.
But the killer feature for many prospective buyers is the Asus Eee PC 900's option of Windows XP instead of the scary, or at least unknown quantity, of Linux.
Not that the Asus Eee PC 900's chosen Linux distro should scare off the command-line-phobic. We tested the Linux model, and Asus' adaptation of Xandros Linux is entirely based on a graphical user interface (GUI), although a Console is installed for the CLI itchy-fingered.
So the Asus Eee PC 900 includes Firefox for web browsing, Thunderbird for email, Pidgin for network-agnostic IM chats; and OpenOffice to take care of Word docs, Excel spreadsheets and Powerpoint presentations.
And with the Asus Eee PC 900's 1024x600 screen, working on such documents is a little less eye-straining and claustrophobic than it was at 800x480.
For music playback, the Asus Eee PC 900 has Music Manager, based on Amarok, although we weren't successfully able to set it up for use with an iPod as the software promises.
Two new versions of Asus Eee PC 900 are offered, the full 20GB model running Linux, or the diminished capacity 12GB form, preinstalled with Microsoft Windows XP.
Both Asus Eee PC 900s carry the same price tag of £329. And if you have a spare licence for Windows XP, you can always get the 20GB model and install Windows yourself, with the help of the supplied Windows drivers CD and an external USB optical.
The Asus Eee PC basic spec remains the same: an Intel Celeron processor clocked at 900MHz, integrated graphics chip, three USB 2.0 ports, 100Mb ethernet, audio in and out through 3.5mm jacks. There's even a built-in mic and stereo speakers (now underneath) to help webchats. But Asus has made other tweaks to enhance the Asus Eee PC 900 model. The built-in webcam is now up to 1.3Mp, making it an even better proposition for passport snaps and video chats (Skype is included), and the trackpad has an element of multitouch control to it.
One gripe must be with the wireless service. While the Asus Eee PC 900 is equipped with 802.11b/g and can connect to WEP or WPA networks, the Eee PC 900 must be manually set to the correct encryption type. This wouldn't be so bad if the Asus Eee PC 900 could remember which network it connects to and its password. But no, at every boot, you must type in all details again.