Yesterday was a banner day for gadget fetishists enamored with the latest spurtings from the subnotebook news orifice. In the interest of not having to write separate posts on all of this crap, we offer a round-up of everything that happened yesterday with Asus, MSI, Acer and Sony. Here's what you missed...
With splendid timing, Asus announced three new Eee PC models at Comptex, just when the Eee brand seemed posed to be rendered entirely obsolete: the first gasping mudskipper to claw its way out of the primordial seas, perhaps, only to flop around a few times and die, while brands like the MSI Wind evolved and thrived.
Everyone already knew about the Eee PC 901: a black and white subnotebook sporting an 8.9" screen and an Intel Atom processor. It comes in Windows XP or GNU Linux Flavors, with 12GB or 20GB SSD drives (respectively). The big surprise is the 6 cell battery, which Asus is claiming will give up to 7.8 hours of battery life, which is pretty spectacular, although — like most battery life claims — probably assumes supernatural hoodoo in a vacuum cooled down to absolute zero. In Taiwan, price is around $560. Full specs here.
Asus' 1000-series is a direct response to the Wind. Like the Wind, the screen size is 10.2 inches... a screen size that begins to strain the definition of subnotebook. There's two models: the 1000H, which runs Windows XP and comes with an 80GB Hard Drive and up to 7 hours of battery life, and the 1000, which is a stock GNU Linux variety with a 40GB SSD and up to 7.5 hours of battery life. Both have an Intel Atom processor and two gigs of RAM. Pricing for both models seems to hover right around the $650 point. There's more specs here.
Of course, the Asus 900 just came out a month ago, and even the 701 is still on shelves. Asus is dropping the price on older Eees to help clear out stock. If all you want is an ultra-portable email computer with zero flash, this is probably the cheapest Asus' Eees will get, given the increase in price of every subsequent model. And if you happen to be a Brit who bought an Eee 900, Asus is offering a higher capacity battery for only £10... although only five people ever complained about the battery life, apparently. If the new announcements are making you feel pretty boned about your month-old Eee purchase, though, you still have the option of turning your old 701 into a swank touchscreen via a $100 DIY kit, which is advertised as being as easy as unscrewing the bezel and plugging in a few cables.
At Comptex, Asus also announced an iPhone sized USB WiMax dongle, which doesn't really look that convenient. They also confirmed the Eee Box B202, which has had it's old chassis design re-applied. The Eee Box will sport an 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU, 802.11n and DVI output, with prices of just $269 for the Linux model and $299 for the Windows model, each with 1GB of RAM and an 80GB hard-drive. The Eee Box also features a Wii-like nunchuck and remote.
Finally, the non-Asus news. The MSI Wind was officially announced in both Windows and Linux varieties. Specs are as previously reported: 80GB hard-drives, a 1024 x 600 LED-backlit display, a 1.3-megapixel webcam and WiFi b/g. The battery is a 6-cell unit rated for up to 5.5hrs, and there’s Bluetooth and a 1.3-megapixel webcam. There's also now a release date: the Windows XP version will be on sale on June 16th. Unfortunately, the Linux version (with half the RAM and battery life) will be held back until the end of the summer. Laptop Magazine loves it, giving it a 4.5 out of 5. This still seems like the subnotebook to get if you can stomach the 10 inches.
Another swank contender entered the subnotebook ring: the Acer Aspire One, a $379 Atom-powered Eee 901 rival which comes in a rather charming shade of blue and weighs only 0.9 pounds. It seems to use the HP MiniNote's trackpad system, with the inexplicablly side-mounted buttons, but otherwise looks both cheaper than its competitors and more aesthetically attractive, and should be released sometime in the next three months.
Finally, rumors swirled that Sony is entering the "race to the bottom." They have attached themselves to VIA's OpenBook Ultraportable reference design, which means it'll sport a 1.6 GHz C7-M processor and VX800 chipset with an 8.9-inch display, a 80GB hard-drive, WiFi and Bluetooth, with GPS, WiMAX and support for other high-speed cellular data connections as options. It's just a rumor based on a hardware properties window at this point, but Sony has years of experience making sleek subnotebooks: it's not hard to believe they'll try to leverage that experience.
Conclusion: there's not likely to be one obvious, crystal clear moment to buy a subnotebook. The market is reacting so fast to its competitors that almost any model will be obfuscated by a competitor within weeks... likely by the same company that manufactured it. In other words, it's the same as the larger laptop market: you need to just buy the subnotebook of the moment that suits your needs. Just try not to forget: unlike the larger laptop market, it's okay for your subnotebook to be behind the curve. These are meant to be cheap, simple computers, even if the industry itself is forgetting that.
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