There’s no doubt that ebook readers have become a hit, especially the Amazon Kindle, but most of the ebook readers are fairly limited as to what you can use them for beyond what they’ve been designed to do. Enter the Asus Eee Note, not an ebook reader, not a tablet, not a PDA either for that matter, but something of a fusion of them all. The Eee Note has a fairly large 8-inch greyscale display with a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels and on top of the screen sits a Wacom digitiser. A digitiser is a type of touchscreen, but unlike your average touchscreen, a digitiser is pressure sensitive and requires the use of a special stylus.
The advantage of this over a capacitive or resistive touchscreen is that it’s far more accurate. Asus claims an accuracy of 0.4mm when holding the pen vertically, although it’s not quite as accurate at an angle. This brings us to the primary function of the Eee Note: it is a digital notepad. This might sound dull and somewhat out of touch with modern technology, but actually it can be rather handy. There are no less than 42 templates available ranging from college ruled paper, to advanced options such as pie charts and various calendars. It’s also possible to insert pictures into the notes and these can be taken by the built-in 2-megapixel camera.
Despite the greyscale display, the camera takes pictures in colour, although if you add them to a note, the pictures will be converted to greyscale too. The notes are exported as PNG images, so sadly there’s no handwriting recognition option. However, Asus said that they are looking in to options that might enable this in the future. As the Eee Note uses a digitiser, it is also quite good for drawing on, although it’s currently limited to only three shades. Again, Asus is hoping to bring out a colour version of the Eee Note in the future which will improve on this.
Bonus features include an ebook reader that supports EPUB files and the screen’s high pixel density makes the text look very clear and easy to read. The downside is that there is no backlight, so forget about reading in bed without a bedside lamp. The screen has a matte coating which helps with readability. There is a second way of adding notes which Asus calls sticky memo which uses a virtual keyboard and the notes are displayed in the way of a virtual Post-It note. A third way of storing notes is to use the built-in voice recorder, and the built-in microphone is surprisingly good and captures even fairly faint audio.
Asus has also thrown in a photo album, a music player, a calculator, a dictionary and a couple of games for good measure. The music player could do with some work, as it is not possible to fast-forward inside a track, but the music will continue to play in the background. The same goes for the voice recorder which will record audio while you’re using the other applications. Finally there’s a built-in web browser as the Eee Note has Wi-Fi support. The browser is fairly basic and it doesn’t support flash, but it does at least allow you to check your email, etc.
The Eee Note has 4GB of built-in flash memory and it also has a microSD card slot that supports cards up to 16GB. At the bottom you’ll find a Micro-USB port, the microSD card slot, a headphone jack, a surprisingly loud speaker and the power and reset buttons. You don’t get access to the full amount of storage memory though, as not only does the operating system take up some space, but the drivers and sync software are loaded onto the Eee Note. Below the screen is a set eight soft keys, left and right navigation, home, back and four that corresponds to on-screen menus. These allow you to navigate without the need to use the stylus.
As such, when you plug the Eee Note in to your PC, you’ll be greeted by a menu that allows you to install the sync software, drivers to use it as a digitiser for your desktop PC or notebook, as well as a Sync mode, a SD card reader mode and a charge mode. The sync software is very basic and easy to use and allows you to store content both on the internal flash memory and the microSD card. In digitiser mode you can use it just like a standard Wacom tablet. Asus supplies a leatherette flip case for the Eee Note with a hole cut out for the camera around the back, as well as a USB charger and a Micro-USB cable. The battery is good for up to 14 hours of use with the Wi-Fi off and up to 10 hours with Wi-Fi on.
Besides the EPUB format, the Eee Note also has native support for PDF files as well as JPEG, BMP, PNG and GIF images. The music player only supports MP3 files and the audio notes are saved in an AMR format. All the notes are saved in a custom format that can contain up to 20 pages per note. Finally all standard Microsoft Office formats as well as text files can be converted with the help of the supplied sync software to either PDF or EPUB format.
The Asus Eee Note surprised us as being a much more versatile device than we expected. It’s not going to replace a smartphone, nor is it an iPad, but if you’re considering buying an ebook reader, we’d suggest that you take a closer look at the Asus Eee Note. It might not match an ebook reader in terms of battery life, but turning pages is much faster and it also offers a lot of additional functionality that you’d never get from an ebook reader.
Asus told us that the Eee Note should retail for £169.99 in the UK, but we’re worried that it might be a little on the expensive side. Part of the cost is because of the curved aluminium back which wraps around the front, but it’s also a feature that makes the Eee Note feel very solid and well built. Our review unit wasn’t a retail model and had a pre-release version of the English OS on it, so there are still some improvements that could be made before it launches outside of Taiwan.
Overall the Eee Note should prove to be a useful tool for students of all ages, although it’s important to take into consideration that it won’t replace having a computer at home. Asus seems to have found itself a niche category once more, and as long as you understand the limitations of the Eee Note it should prove to be a very useful device for those that are looking for something more than just an ebook reader. In fact, it’s something of a PDA on steroids for lack of a better analogy.