If you thought that the netbook, or budget mini-laptop market, had reached saturation point and that there were few surprises left then you'll be stunned by the Asus Eee PC S101.
Netbooks may have been intended to be cheap, basic mini-laptops but at £449 this is the most expensive model yet but makes no apologies for it. The design is slim and svelte and feels amazing in the hands. Measuring just 263 x 185 x 25mm and weighing 1.1kg, this is as portable a 10.2-inch machine as you'll find.
The look is more akin to a standard high-end ultraportable notebook, with a glossy finish to the lid, while the main body mixes brushed metal and chrome-like trim, you certainly feel as if you're getting a great deal for your money.
The screen is a standard sized panel but we found it stunningly bright and sharp. It has the standard 1024 x 600-pixel resolution, which is a little disappointing as we were hoping Asus would have upgraded on this model. That said, it's still perfectly usable. Unlike the recently launched N10j that comes with dedicated graphics, you'll find this machine is limited to the integrated Intel 950 chipset, which is fine for daily tasks.
When it comes to performance, this machine is strictly in tune with other netbooks. Powered by the Intel Atom N270 processor and backed by 1024MB of memory, it runs applications with ease. Shipped with Windows XP we found it loaded quickly and ran smoothly. The hard drive in this version is a 16GB SSD drive, but more expensive 32GB and 64GB versions will be available later in the year.
To help pack out the storage, Asus also bundles a 16GB SDHC card with this machine, effectively doubling the memory as you can leave it slotted in to the SD slot on the back of the device.
In terms of mobility this is a great machine to use. It comes with a 4-cell battery pack that unlike other Eee PCs doesn’t stick out of the back but is hidden away in the base of the unit, helping to keep its trim profile. If you're worried this battery size is less than ideal, you can rest assured as we managed to get well over 5 hours from it in everyday use.
The keyboard is 95% full-sized and as soon as you start to use it you can feel the quality – never once does it feel as though compromises have been made. We found it as comfortable to use as the keyboard on a full sized notebook. The touchpad is a good size too and the use of a single-strip mouse button is initially confusing, it works in exactly the same way as standard mouse buttons.
The Asus Eee PC S101 breaks away from the idea of a netbook being simply a cheap and cheerful PC and brings style and design to the fore. The battery life is great but it's the keyboard and screen that will ultimately win you over. Netbook purists won't be happy about the price but we think Asus has created a new benchmark with the S101.