Netbooks aren’t especially well known for their stylish designer looks. Most of them look rather like bog standard, fairly cheap looking, OEM products. Coincidentally, Asus actually has OEM’d out their Eee PC netbooks for the education market with RM Nimbus who are well known in that very sector. The initial OEM no frills product look is all about to change with the advent of the Asus S121 slim line netbook.
Asus has categorised this product as a notebook, only we think it falls very much into the netbook category of devices and for many reasons, not just because we like to argue with manufacturers. Asus are calling this a notebook as HQ has determined in most peoples' minds screen sizes over 10 inches fall under the laptop/notebook range. This is all due to the fact that traditionally, netbooks have always had a smaller screen size than laptops.
Everything about the S121 screams loudly at the top of its voice - "I’m a netbook. I’m a netbook": it has a small form factor, bundled in is a larger than normal 512GB SSD, the processor chosen was due to its low power usage which as a result appears in many netbooks around today.
Even the long battery life shouts, netbook, netbook, netbook! Asus stated it can last around 8 hours, although we found it was more like 6 without Wi-Fi on and a good 5 ½ with an internet connection, which is still pretty rare in a laptop.
Its design, however, does set it apart from the most netbooks seen around today. The overall look is very sleek, with its glossy plum coloured shell, glass-like 12.1-inch screen and leather palm rests. Yep, that’s right, leather palm rests - everything that the executive really wants, judging by the BlackBerry Bold and it’s leather-backed handset.
The processor onboard is ideal for running the Windows XP shipped in our very close to final model. We have a feeling however it might not fare so well under Windows Vista, judging by previous experiences, but Asus may have worked those kinks out by now. Asus has even bundled in their Linux kernel called Express Gate, which allows fast booting to a fully functioning Linux OS within seconds. It’s ideal for the last minute checking of email or train times, rather than waiting for a whole operating system to boot up.
Keeping in line with a netbook's ports stylings are the three USB 2.0, SD card slot, mic, headphones, VGA and Ethernet port. What came a surprise is a DC out socket, presumably for powering or recharging other devices from an appropriate lead. This could very well be a nice idea, although the impact on battery life is yet to be determined and could very well be a factor when in use.
The Asus S121 keyboard and touchpad have stepped up in size when compared with the other netbooks in the Eee PC family. As the S121 is a much larger device than the 901 netbook, there's a sizable increase on the keyboard's dimensions which suits the device well indeed. Overall the keyboard is around a third longer than before, with almost double the size per key - which does make a welcomed difference when fast typing with big fingers.
ASUS S121 slim line notebook is really a netbook, with a high end design and a great deal of engineering work to make the form factor ever so slim. Honestly it was about time the netbooks started to look more professional, we’re glad someone had the testicular fortitude to put it in to action.
We’re hoping that the categorisation by screen size won’t detract potential buyers, due to the wrong category it’s being sold under. Then again, laptop buyers who previously wouldn’t touch netbooks with a barge pole might be encouraged to look further into the range in the future.