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ASUS Eee PC 900: Is Bigger Better?

More: Screen and Scrolling

The screen is the only visible change on the ASUS Eee PC 900.

From the outside, the Eee 900 looks almost identical to the previous model, if you choose white rather than the promised range of pastel colors; it’s a fraction larger and more than a fraction heavier.

Still small and only a little heavier; the Eee PC 900 comes with a basic case.

Open the lid and the 8.9" screen is a big improvement over the original 7" screen, because now you can see a whole Web page or a full document without scrolling or zooming out. The resolution goes up from a tiny 800 by 480 to a reasonable 1024 by 600, or 1280 by 768 if you want to scroll to see the whole screen. The quality of the screen is average for a notebook. Even at full brightness it is hard to see in direct sunlight and you couldn’t call it vivid, rich or colorful. Pictures tend to look bland and washed out but video fares better and detail is crisp.

The larger screen doesn’t make the case much bigger because it takes up the dead space in the lid formerly used for the speakers. These disappear underneath, reducing the already average sound quality even further. That means there’s no extra room for the keyboard and ASUS has made virtually no changes to the layout or key spacing, which means it is still too small for adult fingers to type on comfortably at any speed. Anyone looking for a usable keyboard in this size of PC would do better with the HP Mini-Note, which fits keys that are only 8% smaller than a normal notebook keyboard into virtually the same size case as the Eee.

The trackpad does change. It’s wider, so it’s a better match to where you want to put the cursor on screen, and the two buttons are more responsive. ASUS has also added Mac-style multi-touch, which it calls FingerGlide. This allows you to scroll up and down by swiping two fingers anywhere on the touchpad, which is certainly more convenient than using a marked area at the side of the pad. It also gives you two-finger zoom. Although pinch and stretching with your fingers zooms images out and in, rotating your fingers on the touchpad works rather better.

This is the first time we’ve seen multi-touch on Windows and the innovation ought to be a huge leap forward, because without a touchscreen it’s awkward to scroll and zoom normally if you’re trying to hold the Eee in one hand. Unfortunately, the touchpad is so tiny that you still have to make very small, controlled movements to get exactly the zoom level you want. This could improve as more software supports multi-touch input and gestures are better understood.

Also improved is the Webcam, which goes from 0.3 to 1.3 megapixels. The fixed focus and poor depth of field make it a very basic tool suitable only for adding video to an IM. You pay a lot more for higher-quality Webcams and this is both cheap and integrated, but even so the quality is disappointing.