Giggles the netbook

Two weeks ago I acquired a netbook for travel. I face a few weeks on the road, and a light device that's good for email, web and writing will be just the thing. So I bought an Asus Eee PC, model 1001P.

The iPad was very tempting, but unfortunately, although it looks way cool, at heart it's a toy. Try typing on it, or connecting a USB. Or multitasking. The iPad is however streets ahead of everything else as an eReader. I much prefer the high quality backlit screen of the iPad to any of the eInk systems, and I never thought I'd find myself saying that. If only someone could marry Apple's product management to Microsoft's engineering, it would be awesome.

So I got the Eee PC, and my girls instantly named the machine Giggles. Forthwith is Gary's evaluation of Giggles.

First, the good news:

The battery life is incredible at 9 hours or more. Who would have thought advertising could tell the truth?

The small keyboard's not as much of an impediment as I expected. If like me you can touch type then you'll hit a lot of wrong keys, but it can be got used to with a lot of practise. Ditto, the mousepad is small but usable.

Connectivity is surprisingly good. (and far better than that iPad I mentioned…)

I expected a restrictive 10.1" screen size and therefore was not disappointed. It's usable for writing.

The portability is excellent. I carry Giggles to places where I used to take pen and paper.

It's so cheap, it's like buying a disposable computer. Value for money is A+.

Now for the bad news. Considering what I paid for it, it's rude to complain, but that won't stop me:

The Intel graphics chip is awful. Giggles is happiest at 1024x600 with no external monitor. Giggles can drive an external monitor—even my 24" monitor in portrait mode—but don't expect to look at it too long without getting eyestrain or a headache. There is a weird problem which I haven't worked out yet with viewing video from disk files—audio works but video is nothing but black—though streamed video from the net works fine.

You can practically see the steam-driven cogs make the CPU tick over. Sometimes I type text, and a few seconds later the machine catches up. No one in their right mind would run Vista or Win 7 on this box. XP's the strained limit. It might actually make a reasonably undemanding linux platform.

Asus includes a whole pile of "helpful" system utilities. These silently take over from standard Windows control panel dialogs, so that things don't behave like they should. For example, you can set screen resolution through the standard dialog all you like; and it won't do a thing because Asus has pre-installed a service called astray that sets the resolution to 800x600. You can see the resolution change from your own settings on boot as soon as astray starts. It took me two days to realize how much my life would improve if I hunted own and removed all the "helpful" utilities. Vanilla XP works just fine.

All in all, very usable as a takeaway machine. I might even manage to write while I'm away.


Taymalin said...

I used to have an Asus Eee PC that ran Linux, and it worked great. I just didn't particularly care for the limitations of Linux. I use a lot of freeware for writing (like Mind Map, and Ywriter) and I could never figure out how to download and use anything with the Linux OS.

Since I already had a desktop and a laptop and rarely travel, I decided to sell the Asus. But it was a good little machine.

Susanna Fraser said...

I agree with your evaluation of the iPad. My husband has one and likes it mostly as a toy, but also as a light-use laptop allowing him to answer the occasional work-related email remotely. But it makes no sense for a writer.

When he got the iPad, I inherited his wee netbook. Because I already had a full-sized laptop named Wellington, I christened the netbook Napoleon. And while Napoleon is nice and portable and doesn't weigh me down on vacations and trips to writing conferences, for everyday work I'm much happier with Wellington's big screen and full-sized keyboard.

Ricky Bush said...

Thanks for this post, Gary. I'm looking into getting something similar for something similar. Just not quite sure where to begin.

LQQ said...

I have an Acer Aspire 1 with Linux and Open Office. I leave itat work and write in my lunch hour. The small keyboard is not so much of a problem as the touch mouse which my big hands hit now and then - and mean I sometimes find myself typing a few lines up from where I started over text i'd already written. I save everything to a USB key and take it home to work on my normal sized machines. This has the advantage of leaving me with backups of my work.

Also Open Office lets you save versions - I do a word count at the end of each session and save it as a version. This encourages me to write every day as teh version histroy shows when I have been slacking.

I don't use teh netbook for Apps, ocassioanly the internet and check emails.

I do have 3 eBook readers. The SONY 505 and 605. I find the 505 excellent to read. I use the 605 more as you can take notes and annotate. I have downloaded hundreds of books from Guttenberg and as I read I highlight passages as a note. When I get the bus I use it to edit my own work, highlighting sections to change and making notes on the changes. It isn't so good as a netbook for that but it fits in my pocket and takes 1 second to turn on see good for bus journey and being honest the toilet. You can do a lot of editing in the loo.

Good luck on you travels - you must be off to thestates for thebook launch parties.


Gary Corby said...

I know what you mean about the limitations of linux, Taymalin. I used to do unix kernel work before I worked at Microsoft, and although unix is a beautiful OS in its innards, I still marvel at how primitive the interface is. To this day I can recall commands like

cpio -icvmudt

and actually understand what it means.

Gary Corby said...

Oh, and your trivia for the day: The penguin logo for linux came from when Linus Torvalds visited Melbourne Zoo in Australia in his early days and was fascinated by the fairy penguins. Which is sort of funny because Penguin HQ is Melbourne (the publisher, that is).

Gary Corby said...

That's gorgeous, Susanna. I love it that Napoleon is shorter than Wellington.

Does everyone name their computers?

Gary Corby said...

Hi Ricky. From my research, the specs on all the netbooks are much of a muchness. Make sure you get at least a 6 cell battery.

Different brands move the keyboard keys around in different ways; they all have to make trade-offs to fit in the space.

I was tempted too by the Acer Aspire that Seth has and I thought it was an okay machine. At this size, it's all really a question of what feels good to you.

Gary Corby said...

Hi Seth, I'm rather fond of OpenOffice too. I'd love to move to it for everything.

I wrote the first draft of my second book using OpenOffice but eventually, with some sadness, had to convert back to Word. The kicker was, the word count tool in OpenOffice Writer is badly wrong. I called it in as a bug, but apparently it's Working As Designed. I imagine they'll have to fix it soon though.

I'm fascinated by your eBook reader experience. Thanks for passing that on! Gutenberg is a very cool site.

Stephanie Thornton said...

I have a hard time typing on netbooks- so do my students. That said, they are terribly convenient for basic typing and surfing the internet. I hope in a few years they'll have many of the technical bugs worked out.

Gary Corby said...

You're not alone, Stephanie, but they are terribly convenient as you say. I can't for the life of me work out how people manage to do anything with iPhones or whatever. Netbooks are about my minimum size.

Trisha Leigh said...

I'm an Apple girl at heart, and for travels I take my MacBook Air. It's bigger (but lighter) than most netbooks. I love it, it fits in several different purses I own, and I get lots of attention.

Wait, the last part is a negative, especially when I'm trying to write. Glad you and Giggles found happiness together!

Susanna Fraser said...

That's gorgeous, Susanna. I love it that Napoleon is shorter than Wellington.

I am not above the occasional Cheap Size Joke. :-)

Gary Corby said...

Hi Trisha,

It might seem like I'm anti-Apple, but I'm not. I've had to deal with too much technology from too many places to be anything other than agnostic. But what I am, is ruthlessly analytical about the Good, the Bad, and the Excruciatingly Ugly.

So here are my gross stereotypes of the major players: Microsoft is fundamentally a brilliant engineering company with appallingly bad product management tacked on the side.

Google is an advertising company with brilliant engineering and appallingly bad product management tacked on the side. Google reminds me a great deal of the early Microsoft.

Apple is a near-genius product management and marketing company with astonishingly mediocre engineering tacked on the side. It's a wonderful thing that Apple's doing so well at the moment; it's forcing everyone else to lift their game with exterior design, which the engineers generally ignore.

Amalia T. said...

Ours is the 1005HA, and it came with windows 7 starter or basic or whatever the absolute minimalist version is-- my husband does not have any trouble with the lag you describe, and I've never encountered it either, typing. That's pretty strange. We have been meaning to upgrade the ram from 1MB to 2 (which is apparently super easy to do), but never got around to it because it runs just fine as is.

it DID take us forever to figure out how to change the desktop background though-- having to do it through the ASUS-ware was kind of bizarre. But once we figured it out it everything was clear sailing.

Does your 1001 have the full shift key in the keyboard?

Gary Corby said...

Hi Amalia.

The right hand shift is full size, the left hand is three quarter.

It might be that Win 7 starter is more efficient than XP. My guess is occassional lag is caused by the system paging, which would imply the disk is a trifle slow to get up to speed, which wouldn't be a surprise inside such a small box.

They've done very well to cram so much inside.

Anonymous said...

I'm a fan of the eee, but I agree with the graphics.

And for the record, mine is called Albert (but it must be pronounced in a Cockney accent).

Gary Corby said...

I think we may have discovered a new field of study for sociologists: the names people call their computers. And is there any correlation with the names people give their cars?

Elizabeth said...

I had an evil Dell named Lucifer and a Compaq named Decatur. My MacBook is Caesar, and my car is Hamilton.

Psychoanalyze away. :)

By the way, I love the name Giggles. Hee.

Gary Corby said...

Now Elizabeth, how could I possibly psychoanalyze a lawyer who names things are the devil and Julius Caesar? This is all perfectly normal.

Elizabeth said...

Well, yes. Given that Lucifer is my boss and owns my soul, I do need to keep the fellow happy. :)

Gary Corby said...

There was a major character in Charmed, years ago, who was both a senior demon and a senior attorney.
One of the witches said something like, "Wow, a demon and a lawyer. There has to be a joke in there somewhere."

Elizabeth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elizabeth said...

On Angel, there was an entire evil law firm, and the senior partners were all very powerful demons. The name of law firm was Wolfram and Hart. So my brothers, being the kind souls they are, designed this really official-looking letterhead for Wolfram and Hart, and sent me a job offer. I still have it lying around somewhere. I should frame it and hang it in my office.

Gary Corby said...

Frame it by all means, Elizabeth, but we'll have a picture posted to the net, thanks very much!

You can put it on your...dare I suggest...web site.

H Niyazi said...

Hello Gary. I've come to visit your lovely blog following your comment left on my Vicky Alvear Shecter interview. I'm very pleased to have found it!

With regards to gadgets, most of my blog is handwritten on a tablet pc, the amazing but not inexpensive motion j3500.

Digitised pen input is the only way to go for proper handwriting recognition on a computer, and whatever anyone think of MS or Windows, they have been the only major manufacturer that has supported inside the OS since 2004. Used a lot in industry/medical/military/law enforcement, which speaks volumes for them being functional devices, as opposed to a consumer centric device like the iPad.

Looking forward to reading through previous posts!

Kind Regards
H Niyazi

Elizabeth said...

Right. My website. Which I might get around to creating, er, one of these days...

Gary Corby said...

Hello H Niyazi! Lovely to have you here. Vicky drops in on this blog from time to time, and she and I are both members of the Roman History book chat.

Carrie said...

The full shift-key is what sold me on the Acer Aspire. On the right. It's a really uncomfortable experience for me if the shift key is shorter on the right.

And mine is Netti.

Original, huh? ;)

Carrie said...

Also, mine is 2 years old, has XP and 1 GB RAM. The selling point for me is it has Word already.

Gary Corby said...

Hi Carrie, I rather liked the Aspire One's also. I might have bought it if the Eee PC hadn't been first to declare a special.

So I deduce you're using it to write. Do you have trouble writing with the 10.1" screen?