Pink and uncommonly cute

This has been a very interesting couple of weeks when it comes to cool electronic gadgets.

First there was the iRex Iliad eBook reader I wrote about last week and which, together with other similar products, promises to change the way we read. The other interesting product was one of the new Asus Eee PCs which found its way onto my desk for hour or two, courtesy of Vaughn Willcocks.

I first noticed the Eee PC when stories started appearing after its launch last year but the things sold so well that none got to us down here in South Africa until well after Christmas. I thought at the time that they looked uncommonly cute and was very keen to take a look when Vaughn announced he’d got his hands on one.

The model he’d got was the 4G Surf model sporting a petite screen measuring seven inches diagonally. It was white, although they are available in pink, green, blue and black, and it looked good enough to earn admiring glances in Mugg and Bean.

The machine had never been started before and took a while to get going but, once I’d been formally introduced, it then started very quickly. The machine boots up and you start with a basic screen that allows to select from programs grouped into Internet, Work, Learn and Play sections.

The Internet section gives you access to a web browser, web mail, a world clock, online word processing and a few other bits and bobs. We plugged the machine into the office network and it found and began to use the Internet with no problems at all.

It also has built-in Wi-Fi so you can connect to the Internet that way if you happen to be in a hot spot. It managed to find a couple of networks in our building and I think access would be easy when one has the requisite username and password.

The Work tab gives give you access to the free Open Office suite of programs which are compatible with their Microsoft counterparts. There are a couple of programs for learning available on the Learn tab although you would probably need to be a student to know what they do.

Under the Play tab, you get a couple of games, managers for displaying photos, movies and playing sounds, and a sound recorder. There is everything that the average user will need to keep in communication with friends and family and there would be enough for many workers as well.

The Eee PC is meant to be portable and has a pretty small keyboard and screen but Vaughn and I concluded that it was perfectly usable. After a hard day of being mobile in the capitals of Europe, or wherever, you’re more lightly to bless its small size and weight rather than cursing it for the same reason.

In any event, there is nothing stopping you from plugging in a bigger screen, keyboard and mouse to make it easier to use when you’re back in the office or at home.

The Eee PC does not include Windows. or any other Microsoft product. and it came as a bit of education to me to see how far free Linux operating system and programs have come. The Eee PC will let you install Windows XP but I don’t think many of its users will bother.

The only slight problem I can see with the Eee PC is the rather limited storage space that you have to play with. You get 4Gb with the 4G Surf and, even though you can plug in extra flash cards, memory sticks and external hard drives, it probably won’t be enough for people who save lots of things on their PCs.

For the rest who would value its small size and just want to use e-mail, surf the web and create documents, I reckon the Eee PC would be just the job.

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