Asus and its Eee PC have always been at the forefront of Netbook development. After all, the company practically invented the market, and virtually owned it for some time, as Dell, HP, and others dithered over whether to get into Netbooks at all.
Asus also makes some of the best Netbooks, with excellent battery life, good keyboards and touchpads, and higher-end models with dual-core CPUs and Nvidia’s Ion GPU. One thing Asus hasn’t had is a simple, solid Netbook at the magic $299 price. Most of the company’s basic models have come in just above that, at $350 or so, while upstarts such as Acer have been able to swoop in and capture entry-level customers.
To put it another way, if you’re looking for a Netbook with the standard loadout of an Intel N450 CPU, 1GB of RAM, Windows 7 Starter, and a 160GB hard drive, there’s no reason to pay more than $299 for it. That’s why we’re pleased that the Eee PC 1001P hits all those marks for $299, giving Asus an entry level Netbook that doesn’t cost any more than the competition. Even better, it doesn’t feel or look especially cheap, and even though it uses a slightly older version of the Asus keyboard and touchpad, it’s just as good as any nonpremium Netbook (such as models with HD displays or video accelerator ships) we’ve used.
The design of this Eee PC is very similar to that of Asus Eee PC 1005PE that we’d consider the line’s current flagship (and which was the first Intel Atom N450 Netbook we reviewed). With a slight taper towards the front lip and gently rounded edges on the lid, it’s a sleek, mainstream-looking clamshell system.
Instead of the typical glossy black, this specific version has a matte checkerboard pattern on the lid, which gives it a sophisticated look that belies its budget status. If anything, it looks fancier than its more expensive shiny cousins.
Other recent Eee PCs have widely spaced island-style keys, similar to what we saw on the excellent HP Mini 5102. The 1001P, however, has an older Asus keyboard design, which uses flat-topped keys packed closely together. If given a choice, we’d prefer the version on the more expensive Netbooks, but the difference is minimal and largely a matter of personal choice.
If anything, we like the touchpad on this model better than the touchpads on Asus’ more expensive Eee PCs. The Eee PC 1005PE has a touchpad made of the same plastic material as the rest of the wristrest, demarcated by a field of tiny, raised dots. It’s usable, but not our favorite, and some people don’t like the feel of the tiny dots. The 1001P, on the other hand, has a traditional touchpad surface, made of a smooth, slightly resistive material. It’s just easier to use, and more reminiscent of touchpads in full-size laptops. Both examples, unfortunately, have a single metallic rocker bar instead of left and right mouse buttons–something that always annoys us.
The 1001P has a typical 10.1-inch display at 1,024×600. For a $299 Netbook, that’s fine, but it feels cramped, especially when scrolling down long Web pages or office documents. If you’re looking to spend about $100 more, you can find models with 1,366×768 screens, sometimes in a 10-inch display, but more often in an 11-inch one.
This is where the budget price starts to have an impact. Many only slightly more expensive Netbooks support the faster 802.11n Wi-Fi standard, instead of the (still more common) 802.11g speed. You also miss out on Bluetooth, which is especially handy for portable mice.
The current Netbook standard–Intel’s 1.66GHz Atom N450 — has an advantage over the older N270 and N280 Atom chips in terms of power efficiency, but doesn’t move the needle much in actual performance. That means you’ll get much longer battery life than last year’s Netbooks, but the performance will feel about the same.
Our standard Netbook advice applies here–systems such as the Eee PC 1001P are fine for basic Web surfing, e-mail, and light multimedia playback, but any real attempt at multitasking will slow the single-core CPU to a crawl, and even basic tasks can seem to stutter at times.
This is especially obvious when you compare a Netbook to a device such as the Apple iPad, which, despite having an even slower CPU, uses software specifically built for it, rather than running the same version of Windows (albeit Win 7 Starter vs. Win 7 Home) meant for mainstream laptops with dual-core CPUs.
Battery life is one of the 1001P’s strong points. The system ran our video playback battery drain test for 5 hours and 3 minutes–not the best in the Netbook category, but certainly a respectable showing that will last through a full day or mixed use.
Asus covers its laptops with a standard, one-year, parts-and-labor warranty, and it offers online Web-based help and a toll-free phone number. The company’s confusing mix of support Web sites is a bit of a mess, but after digging around on three different related support subsites, we did manage to finally dig up the U.S. 24-7 toll-free support number, which is 888-678-3688