With the S101, the Eee PC has finally grown up. It's been completely redesigned so it's sexier, lighter, and more appealing to anyone who knows who Manolo Blahnik is. The £449 price tag means it's more expensive and elitist than previous Eee netbooks, but Asus is pitching it as an alternative to comparatively pricey ultra-portables like the Sony Vaio TT series, or Toshiba Portege R500. Let's see how it fares.
The Eee PC S101 is drop-dead gorgeous. Its most striking feature is its glossy lid, which despite being "mocha brown", is absolutely stunning to look at. We're not usually big fans of overly glossy lids, or brown for that matter, but the way this one reflects the light and the fact that it wraps seductively around the edge of the laptop makes it a sure-fire hit.
The brown is complemented by anodised silver strips running along the edges. The hinge gets this treatment, too -- plus, if you look closely, you can see a Swarovski crystal nestling at each end. We're normally the first to reach for the sick bucket whenever Swarovski's in sight, but here it works surprisingly well -- mostly because it's not in your face.
Those familiar with the Eee range will have noticed that the Eee PC S101 uses a completely new chassis, which is both thinner and lighter than Asus' previous efforts. Even the battery is a new, super-slim lithium polymer model. The whole thing measures 266mm by 191mm by 29mm, and tips the scales at just 1.06 kilos, so it is approximately 390g lighter than the lardy Eee PC 1000H.
The keyboard -- ever a sticking point on netbooks -- is fantastic. It's large enough to touch-type with great accuracy, plus the keys provide good feedback and travel. The only thing we can really complain about is the fact the Enter key is of the flat, rectangular variety, not the larger square model you get on larger laptops. The mouse trackpad is large but well-positioned to avoid accidental contact with your palm while typing. As with previous Eees, it's compatible with multi-touch gesture inputs.
The port layout on the S101 is a little different to standard Eee netbooks. It has three USB ports, as we'd expect from an Eee, but the audio ports now live on the right side -- not the left, as seen on the Eee PC 901. The SD/MMC memory card reader lives at the rear right-hand side, next to the D-Sub video output, Ethernet port and AC power inlet.
At the time of writing, Asus only has plans for a Windows XP version of the S101. That'll ship with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU and 1GB of DDR2 667MHz RAM -- the staple underpinnings of most netbooks. It's almost inevitable it'll make a Linux model though, so watch this space.
The total storage capacity is technically 52GB. 20GB of this is online storage, and the rest is split across a 16GB solid state hard drive and a 16GB SD memory card. Why? Well it's all down to Microsoft, apparently. Our sources at Asus say Microsoft won't give the company as big a discount on the Windows XP licence if it supplies XP on netbooks with SSDs larger than 16GB. Because of this, you'll need to be mindful about not running critical applications directly from the pre-supplied SD card -- particularly if you transfer files from a digital camera often.
The S101's 10.2-inch screen presents few surprises. It has a native resolution of 1,024x600 pixels and is generally pleasant to use. One thing we're particularly pleased with is the fact that Asus wasn't tempted to finish it with a glossy coating. As a result, it's possible to use the S101 both inside and outside without battling to see past your own reflection.
The S101's networking capabilities are standard fare. Asus provides 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi, so you can enjoy the Internet in your local coffee shop, and Bluetooth, but sadly there's no sign of 3G. A Gigabit Ethernet adaptor is also provided.
Software comes in the form of Windows Live Suite and the Microsoft Works office productivity suite, which includes word processing, spreadsheet and database software.
Since the S101 uses similar components to the previous Eee netbooks, performance is pretty much identical to that of previous models. It managed 1,522 in PCMark 2005, which is about the same as the Eee PC 1000H. In real-world terms, this means the S101 can comfortably cope with everyday applications, and even the odd bit of light multitasking. 720p video plays quite comfortably without any sign of dropped frames, although 1080p video isn't so reliable.
Battery performance isn't quite as good as we'd hoped. The 4-cell 4,900mAh battery lasted 3 hours 23 minutes in our BatteryEater classic test, which runs the CPU at full tilt to drain it as quickly as possible. The Eee PC 1000H lasted around 3 hours 56 minutes, while the smaller Eee PC 901 lasted 4 hours 30 minutes.
The S101 is a stunning netbook -- the best we've seen to date. Its battery life isn't quite as good as its some of its bedfellows, and it's a little more expensive, but it's the perfect choice if your mission is to make the Joneses look poor.
Edited by Marian Smith