For Christmas this year, I got a great new netbook, the Asus Eee 900HA, in shiny black.¬† I was pretty excited about it too, as I’d been reading about the various netbooks for a while, and decided it would be pretty useful for traveling, given it’s small size.¬† I did a bit of research, trying to narrow down a make and model in a suitable price range, which was between $300 and $350.¬† I eventually came down to two models; the Acer Aspire One AOA150 and the Asus 900HA.¬† Both had similar specs, but based on the reviews I saw, it looked like the Asus would be my best bet, so I added it to my wishlist and crossed my fingers.¬† Fortunately, my wife knows how much I love toys like this, and also saw the value in a tiny notebook, so she got it for me.
As I said, I was pretty excited about it, so after unwrapping it, I wanted to play around with it right away.¬† Upon turning on the netbook for the first time though, my initial excitement quickly turned to disappointment, when, instead of booting in to Windows XP, I just got a message saying that no boot disk was found.¬† I went into the bios, and sure enough, it showed that no hard drives were detected.¬† Some of the Eee models have solid state memory only, but the 900HA model has a 160 gig hard drive, which I preferred simply for capacity’s sake.¬† I wasn’t sure what to do at first, but I didn’t want to give up, since we were going out of town the next day and I was hoping to take it with me.¬† There was no way to return it before leaving anyway, so I had no choice but to see if I could get it working.
Turns out, one of the great things about the 900HA is how easy it is to access the hard drive and the memory chip.¬† There’s a small panel on the bottom that you can pop off after removing four little screws, and that’s it.¬† The hard drive isn’t bolted down, it just slides onto the connector, so I pulled it out, then put it back in place.¬† After replacing the cover plate, I turned on the netbook, and voila, it booted into Windows.¬† It must have slid loose during transit, which was a huge relief.
The 900HA¬† is perfect for traveling for a lot of reasons.¬† The most obvious is that it’s small, so it’s easy to carry around without the cumbersome laptop bag and all of the accessories.¬† It comes with a soft padded sleeve to keep it from getting scratched.¬† The one downside is that the sleeve won’t hold the AC adapter, but¬† I was easily able to throw everything into a backpack that I carried onto the plane.¬† Also, it’s great for storing vacation photos that we take along the way.¬† One of the benefits here is that, if you forget to bring along a USB cable for uploading the pictures directly from your camera, you’re still in luck because the 900HA has a memory card reader that can accommodate all of the most common memory card sizes, so you can import your pictures directly off the card.¬† My wife was excited to be able to keep her Facebook page up to date while we were gone.¬† Another reason I like it for traveling is that I consider it an inexpensive accessory.¬† By that I mean that I’ll never use it as a primary laptop, so I won’t be putting anything really important or irreplaceable on it.¬† Given that, and the price, if something were to happen to it, such as getting broken, lost, or stolen, I’d be disappointed, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
In terms of usability, the 900HA is more than sufficient.¬† Mine takes about 40 seconds to boot up from the time I turn it on the the time I log in and got to my desktop, and shuts down in 18 seconds.¬† The 900HA uses a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, and comes with 1 GB of RAM, Windows XP home, a .3 megapixel webcam, 160GB hard drive, 802.11b/g wireless LAN, and 3 USB ports.¬† It also has a standard RJ45 jack, and a VGA out connector.¬† There’s no DVD player, so the only way to get software or other files installed are to use an external USB optical or hard drive, a thumb drive, or a network share.¬† The screen size is 8.9″, giving a native resolution of 1024×600.¬† To make the most of the real estate, you’ll want to make sure to auto-hide your taskbar, set your browser toolbar to use small icons, and try to avoid any additional toolbars that you don’t absolutely need.
The 900HA comes preinstalled with InterVideo WinDVD, so to test DVD playback, I ripped The Dark Knight onto the hard drive, and had no trouble playing it with WinDVD.¬† The picture quality was good, but bit dark, although adjusting the picture settings within WinDVD helped.¬† As for sound, the built-in speakers sound tinny and unimpressive, so I’d recommend a good set of headphones if you’re going to watch a movie or listen to music.
The keyboard is the one thing that will take some getting used to.¬† Due to the compact size, the keyboard definitely suffers.¬† A typical keyboard is 11 inches wide, while the 900HA’s keyboard is only 8.5 inches, so your hands definitely feel cramped when trying to type.¬† It feels a bit awkward, but not impossible, and I expect that with more time I’ll get fairly proficient with it.
All in all, there’s really not much to complain about with the Eee 900HA.¬† For the price and portability, I can live with the small drawbacks of the keyboard and screen size.¬† The benefits definitely outweigh the cost of having a full-sized notebook.