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The Ultimate Travel Laptop?

A new breed of cheap and tiny laptops are appearing on the market - do these hit the mark for backpackers and travellers? A review of the Asus Eee PC 900 and some alternatives.
10 years ago, October 4th 2008 No: 1 Msg: #50757  
B Posts: 5,186
I helped a friend in Kuala Lumpur search for and purchase a new laptop. At 1200RM we ended up purchasing a Asus Eee PC 900

So - details; starting with the areas where it's a real hit;

Most importantly - size and weight:

It's dimensions are 22.5cm(W) x 17.0cm(D) x 2cm~3.38cm(H) - it fits in a handbag! - the screen is 8.9inch diagonal, and has a resolution of 1024x768 - filling most of the lid area unlike it's predecessors.

Weight - 1kg (or 0.99kg according to Asus! 2.2lbs) - that's very light and as an added bonus the power supply is tiny and light weight as well.

Price - around $400 are the prices shown on Google - ours was a little more because of added Ram and increased storage.

Operating system - Windows XP - I personally like and use Linux - but I know that most people are familiar with Windows - it runs fairly smoothly on the 900mhz processor startup times are a little slow (I'll time it - but 30s is an estimate) - we paid for a 2GB Ram upgrade to aid performance.

Storage - our model came with 30GB mini HD - I'd would have preferred a SSD (solid state device) but they had none in stock - SSD means that it would run that bit faster and in theory be more robust - drops and bumps shouldn't affect it.

Features: web-cam, wi-fi, SD-Card read (SDHC importantly!), 3 x USB2 ports (nice), VGA out for an external monitor, and standard RJ45 network socket.

Doesn't Feature: Dialup socket (no big problem here), DVD player/writer (this is it's biggest limitation - but there just isn't room!)

The battery life is advertised at 2.5hrs - but generally we've seen about 1.5 hrs - web browsing - application work - so 2.5 is problem best case scenario, playing music or something non-intensive - maybe WinXP is shortening it's life compared to Linux also...

Image features, Asus Eee PC 900, power-supply, 320GB 2.5inch western digital Portable Hard-drive, a pen, and a very nice chequered table cloth

Problems - for me the keyboard is virtually impossible to use, trying to touch type on it leads too many double key-presses and missed letters. The mouse pad is also difficult to use.

Conclusion: I may well get one of these as a travel machine despite the problems - but will have to also include a USB - mouse, and keyboard, I have average male sized fingers - and those keys are just to small and temperamental.

For storage - a 320GB USB2 PHD - is a perfect accessory - it apparently works well with USB DVD writers - so if I were travelling longer term with it - I would also invest in one of those. But with all those accessories - wouldn't I be better off with a slightly larger machine with these peripherals?

The beauty of it is - I only take the things I need for the day - hitting the coffee shop to browse email and the web - just the book sized laptop and the power-supply, the peripherals stay in the backpack in the hotel. Watching DVD's on a rainy day in the hotel room - just plug in the USB DVD drive. Backing up photos - plug in the 320GB PHD - and DVD-RAM and copy away.

Alternatives: Acer have a similar sized model - tried in the stores but rejected due to a terrible mouse-pad and a slightly higher price tag, Sony have the TZ-Series - but at 3-4 times the price - and I'm sure a whole host of alternatives will appear on the market as these ultra-portable ultra-affordable machines demonstrate their effectiveness.
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10 years ago, October 4th 2008 No: 2 Msg: #50765  
Asus also do the Eee 1000 - which has a slightly larger screen at 10 inches, which makes the keyboard easier to use. So, you may want to look at the slightly larger machines with 10 inch screens. The Eee 1000 has a 40 GB SSD drive, although if you opt for the windows version rather than the Linux you only get 12 GB.

I'm using the MSI Wind, which has a 10 inch screen and an 80 GB hard disk drive. The reason I like my machine is that the keyboard is usable - I can actually touch type on this keyboard. The battery life seems to vary between 1.5 to 2 hours. My ultra- portable machine weighs I.2 kilos.

Until recently Asus were the only people making these types of machines, but it is now worth doing some research as a lot of new alternatives are appearing on the market.

I wouldn't now dream of travelling with a conventional laptop. These little machines are the way to go for any backpacker.

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10 years ago, October 4th 2008 No: 3 Msg: #50791  
B Posts: 460
I'm currently travelling with a Sony Vaio T270 which I bought just over 3 years ago - I think the T range was the forerunner of the current TZ range. It has a 10.6" screen, DVD player/writer (which I rarely use), 2 USB ports, wifi, 1GB of RAM, and a 50GB hard drive, and weighs in at 3.1 pounds (1.4 kg). The keyboard is slightly smaller than standard but took no time to get used to. It also has a highly useless MemoryStick slot (I think the latest models have SD slots). Battery life is over 3 hours on a charge and that's with wifi on constantly (which is a drain). I'm sure the latest models will have an appropriate increase in specs given that 3 years have passed since I got this.

The Sonys are worth a look if you can get a decent price (a big if). They're not as wee as the Asus machines but, even with the DVD player/writer included, are certainly small/light enough that popping one in your day bag is not a difficult decision. As far as reliability and robustness go, I've had no problems with mine yet.

If I was in the market for a travel laptop now, I'd definitely consider one of the Asus machines. 99% of the usage of my laptop while I'm travelling is Internet access via wifi, so I could easily survive without a DVD player/writer (I have a couple of series of "Arrested Development" ripped to my hard drive that will entertain me for another decade or so). However my original reason for buying the Sony was to use as a "home" machine rather than for travelling - it's worked out to be a pretty good compromise for both. Reply to this

10 years ago, November 6th 2008 No: 4 Msg: #53632  
Thanks everyone! After reading these posts I did a bit of looking around and now have an eee 1000h. Very nice. Small but fast enough. Runs the Gimp and Google Earth OK. Connects to WiFi straight away. Keyboard is a bit tight but very useable for my touch typing, only the right shift key is a bit hard to hit. I've never owned a computer before that actually put a sticker next to the keyboard with a tech support phone number! I've not used it but just seeing it there notches it up a bit... Battery seems to last at least 4-5 hours. Built in SD that is HC. And the screen is stunning, small though. VGA out runs a 1900x1200 monitor with a bit of lag on full screen slide shows, but hey, it runs it. Nice compromise. Now I got the travel laptop, all I need is a ticket somewhere.... It's getting dark in Alaska... Reply to this

10 years ago, November 12th 2008 No: 5 Msg: #54416  
What was your impression with screen resolution Ali and did you try running Photoshop on it BTW?
My worry with these machines is they might not perform well with RAW images, loading up and doing a spot of editing.
I went through a lot of heartaches trying to decide to take a laptop with me to India for 10 weeks and decided in the end to take a stash of SDHC cartds and burn as I go at hotels etc. For my next longer trip hopefully netbooks will be even better by then..
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10 years ago, November 13th 2008 No: 6 Msg: #54495  
B Posts: 5,186
Screen resolution is good, clarity is good, size is well - 8.9inch - tiny. We ran Picasa on it - and were able to make basic edits - but it is in no way a replacement for a larger machine - you wouldn't do any serious editing on this type of machine.

I would also worry about the time consuming nature of converting/processing raw images on it. But - most DSLR's allow a Raw and Jpeg option - I take in both and quick and dirty edits with Picasa, then upload to the blog - are completely acceptable on a netbook.

I think it would run photoshop - but I wouldn't expect great performance.

New developments in the netbook field - Lenovo (IBM's PC division sold to China! a few years back) has brought out a 10inch model - the S10 - Lenovo S10 - and it received a very nice review from Wired.com - the fullest review is on Laptopmag.com

I still think it's worth watching this space - but - if I had to buy today - the S10 would be where I spent my ~$400 Reply to this

10 years ago, November 15th 2008 No: 7 Msg: #54673  
Thanks for that Ali, I have taken note of your Lenova recommendation, I will check it out next year when I contemplate getting one, will keep a check on this thread also, cheers, Lesley Reply to this

10 years ago, December 20th 2008 No: 8 Msg: #58029  
B Posts: 580
Just bought the wife (jennijen) the MSI Wind for her birthday. It cost $299US on Cyber Monday. Has a 10 inch LED screen and almost full sized keyboard (90%!I(MISSING) think?). It has the standard 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor but I've overclocked it so it can run at just over 2GHz at the touch of a button. And also put an xtra 1gb of RAM in it (they only cost $20 bucks nowadays) so it now has 2gigs. It has 120gb hard drive and weighs in at just over a kilo, which is great cos my viao is over 3kilos and the babies up to 25lbs now and growing fast - and we're off to Chile in January. I was tempted by the new Samsung nc10, but at $200 less, the MSI WIND is the best value Netbook in my opinion. I see no reason why it couldn't run Photoshop at those specs. P.S> that is some funky 70's decor going on at the home of the ASUS Ali!
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10 years ago, December 28th 2008 No: 9 Msg: #58490  
I have one of the early, small ASUS eees, which is great except that mine runs Linux doesn't have XP and the Open Office suite I use doesn't open on some other computers unless the other user downloads it. The advantage of Linus is that there are fewer viruses. I just got an HP Mini 1033CL, which has a bigger keyboard and screen. It runs XP and I've loaded MS Office, but it does not have a VGA port, so it's not great if you'll beed to present.

If you turn down the screen brightness and turn off WiFi, you can get some extra time on the battery. Reply to this

10 years ago, February 9th 2009 No: 10 Msg: #62654  
what r your thoughts on taking one of these netbooks on a RTW trip? do you ever worry about its safety in all of the traveling? (i mean breaking and getting stolen.) Reply to this

10 years ago, February 9th 2009 No: 11 Msg: #62671  
I think the netbooks were made for RTW trips because they are small, light and cheap. In fact I paid more for my camera than my netbook computer. So, even if the thing breaks, I'm not too worried, especially as all the files are backed up onto an external disc drive. I would recommend that you also back up the files onto an external disc drive, so that if the worst happens you can just buy another netbook and restore all your data from the external drive. Reply to this

10 years ago, February 12th 2009 No: 12 Msg: #62902  
B Posts: 74
Acer has some good notebooks with excellent battery life, with the recently launched Acer Arpire One. Though I don't own one just yet, I've had the chance to test it out. Due to its compact size without compromising on the 95%!f(MISSING)ull QUERY keyboard, I personally think it's a great travel notebook. Priced reasonably here in Malaysia at RM1,500.00 (approx. USD430.00), the highlight of this ideal ultimate notebook is detailed below.
  • Intel Atom 1.60 GHz, 533 MHz FBS, 512 KB L2 cache
  • Acer InviLink 802.1 b/g Wi Fi
  • Mobile Intel 82801 GBM chipset
  • 512 MB onboard SDRAM, upgradable to 1GB/1.5GB using one 512 MB/1GB soDIMM module
  • 8.9" WSVGA TFT LCD
  • 160GB HDD
  • Windows XP Pro OS / Linux
  • Multi card reader
  • 6-cell battery pack
  • 0.9KG in total weight
  • Comes coolly in white, blue, pink & brown

Despite its rather small display, this can be solved by hooking up to an external monitor. I may just swap my DELL notebook for this small packed power house in favour of mobility and traveling light.
Reply to this

10 years ago, February 13th 2009 No: 13 Msg: #63054  
I've 'invested' in a Samsung NC10, at the beginning of this year. £300, not the cheapest but looks amazing.

Arguably the best netbook an the market at the moment (I tend to do a lot of research, and most reviewers placed it top).

Personally I love it...

10" screen
Atom processor (pretty standard for a netbook),
160gb Hard drive,
2GB RAM (I upgraded for £15),
windows XP (Would of preffered a Linux based OS, damn windows TAX)
And the killer spec...... 6 cell battery offering up to 6 hours battery life, HELL YEAH!!!

The whole reason I bought the machine was for travelling so I'll let you all know how it goes when I go to Japan next month!

😊 Reply to this

10 years ago, February 25th 2009 No: 14 Msg: #64091  
hey thanks for the info everyone. I'm going away again soon (even thou I haven't finished my last trip's travelblogs, ooops!😉 and really want to get a small notebook but does anyone have any idea if there is one with a DVD drive? I tend to back up all my photos onto DVD and send them home so I have copies away from me and I have the smallest backpack ever so extra equipment has to be worth it! 😉 but is it worth while to have it intergrated or should I just get an external DVD drive? any options available would be great! thanks, Allie. Reply to this

9 years ago, December 5th 2009 No: 15 Msg: #95412  
B Posts: 11.5K
I'm seriously considering in getting one of these 'essential' items myself, and from the limited range around in stock and leaning toward the HP mini 110-1156TU.

Am interested in opinions if there are any out there.

Intel Atom N280 processor (1.66 GHz)
1 GB RAM - would upgrade to 2
250 GB HD
10.1 inch widescreen monitor
Windows 7 Starter
Ethernet (RJ45)
USB x 3
5 in 1 card reader
Reply to this

9 years ago, December 5th 2009 No: 16 Msg: #95419  
The HP mini is a good netbook. I have my eye on the Asus Seashell. It has almost identical specs to the HP, but it's a bit cheaper, lighter and thinner. The Seashell also has a monster battery (They claim 8.5hrs, but 6hrs+ is more realistic), which is the big selling point for me when I'm on the road.

One important point to consider re the HP mini is the battery. I've read they only come with a 3 cell battery as standard (3 hours life) and the 6 cell battery is an extra you have to buy (6hrs life). This may have changed now, but you should definitely check that out.
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9 years ago, December 5th 2009 No: 17 Msg: #95427  
B Posts: 11.5K
Thanks for the reply Chris. I had checked the battery and you're right, the 6 cell is extra.

Will have a look at the Seashell as well. Reply to this

9 years ago, December 6th 2009 No: 18 Msg: #95455  
B Posts: 5,186
Alexandria - sorry only just saw your question - you'll need to purchase an external DVD writer - should cost about $40 - and run via usb.

Jo - there are a ton of good models out there at the moment; key things - 6 cell battery, look at screen resolution - higher the better, number of usb ports - look for 3, there are some good report on the NVidia Ion chipset as an alternative to the Intel Atom. Good luck! Reply to this

9 years ago, December 6th 2009 No: 19 Msg: #95465  
B Posts: 580
Ali, I thought that within the 'netbook realm' we are essentially talking an Intel Atom processor with a decent (NVidia 9400M Ion) graphics unit. Represented by the Lenovo s12 (I saw for $440 during last weeks Cyber Monday Sales), and the Samsung N150, here in N. America. Don't know bout elsewhere.

From what I understand, most manufacturers pretty much use the exact same screens (1024x600) at the 10 inch netbook level. Because apparently Intel had restricted the size of the display that they would allow manufacturers to use with N-series Atom chips

Anyway, 10 inch was the new 15.6 inch; now 12.1 inch is the new 10 inch I reckon; though of course there's 11.6... but what can I say, I just plumped for a 14.1! (I like to think of it as a midi-notebook) Reply to this

9 years ago, December 6th 2009 No: 20 Msg: #95497  
Hi guys,

Well I took the plunge eventually and got the SAMSUNG NC20 from Amazon for £349
I upgraded to 2GB RAM

I am running Photoshop CS3 / Bridge without any problems

I use it so I can download my photos which I sort in PS and burn to a slim portable plug n play DVD writer and a passport external hardrive

The 10" screen is ample for this but a bit small for any serious editing so at least it does not tempt you to start editing too much before you get home!
Keyboard is a good size and wireless connection has been good so far in India and Cornwall.
Off to Jaipur next for a month so this will be a good test!
6 cell battery runs for me for about 5 hours max but i am sure it depends what you are doing.

Overall I think it is good value for money and feel I made the right choice, hope this helps anyone.

Lesley Reply to this

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