The Asus Eee PC T91 is the first convertible touchscreen netbook from Asus. In other words, you can fold the screen down over the keyboard and use the netbook as a tablet. At launch, it ships with Windows XP Home Edition, not Windows 7 or Windows XP Tablet Edition, which are optimized for use with touchscreen displays. Instead, Asus has created a suite of touch-friendly applications and optimizations to make the netbook easier to navigate with a finger or the included stylus.
Unfortunately, the netbook’s sluggish processor makes the Eee PC T91 too slow to perform some tasks like playing HD video or even viewing some web pages in Internet Explorer, which Asus has optimized for touchscreen navigation. Still, this netbook is one of the only tablet PCs you’re likely to find for under $499, so if you’re looking for a touchscreen on a budget, it might be worth checking out.
Asus is primarily targeting the T91 at educational and business markets, although it will be available for purchase by the general public starting today as well. Later this year the company will launch a 10 inch model for mainstream customers, called the Eee PC T101H.
The unit features in this review has an 8.9 inch, 1024 x 600 pixel display, a 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520 CPU, 16GB SSD, and 1GB of RAM.
There are two things that set the Eee PC T91 apart from other Asus netbooks (and most netbooks in general). First, it’s tiny, measuring just 8.9″ x 6.5″ x 1.1″ and weighing just over 2 pounds. In fact, the netbook is a little smaller than the company’s first netbook, the Eee PC 701, even though that model had a 7 inch display while the Eee PC T91 has an 8.9 inch screen.
But the computer’s most distinguishing characteristic is it touchscreen display. You can tap on the screen with your finger or the included stylus while using the netbook in clamshell mode. Or you can swivel the screen and fold it down over the keyboard to use the T91 in tablet mode. While the computer runs Windows XP Home Edition (as opposed to Tablet Edition), Asus has included a number of software utilities to make touchscreen navigation easier. But we’ll get to that a bit more in the later sections.
The screen is connected to the base of the computer with by a swivel. Overall the screen feels pretty solid, but it does wobble a tiny bit when you poke at it. The swivel also allows you to use the netbook in a variety of configurations, not just clamshell and tablet modes. For instance, you can fold the screen backward and use the rest of the computer to prop it up for use as a digital media player or picture frame.
Around the sides of the T91 you’ll find 2 USB ports, an Ethernet jack, mic and headphone jacks, a hole for holding the included stylus, a VGA port, and 2SDHC card slots. Asus ships the netbook with a 16GB SDHC card, which essentially doubles the amount of available storage thanks to the computer’s small 16GB solid state disk.
At the top of the display you’ll find stereo microphones and 0.3MP webcam. Below the display is the power button and a dual-purpose button that lets you rotate the screen or launch the Asus Touch Gate software suite. (More on Touch Gate in the software section of this review).
On the bottom of the computer you’ll find a RAM access panel which can be opened by removing 2 screws. The computer’s speakers are also on the bottom of the unit.
The combination of a solid state disk and a low power Intel Atom Z520 processor allows the T91 to run reasonably cool most of the time. So Asus made the decision to make the netbook fanless. This means the computer is pretty much silent when it’s running, although the bottom does get a little warm when performing CPU-intensive tasks like watching video.
The computer’s plastic case has a glossy finish, which is attractive, but which also makes it a fingerprint magnet.
Touchscreen and Display
The Eee PC T91 features an 8.9 inch, 1024 x 600 pixel resistive touchscreen display. The screen features a glossy finish, which means that it turns into a mirror when used in bright sunlight. But indoors the screen looks about as good as any netbook display and shows colors pretty well.
The screen is relatively responsive whether you’re using a a stylus or finger. If the touchscreen doesn’t appear to be aligned properly, there’s a 9-point calibration utility that works pretty well. The netbook doesn’t feature an accelerometer, so the display doesn’t automatically rotate as you move the computer around. But you can use the screen in tablet or landscape mode by holding the rotate button below the screen. Just keep in mind that some applications and web sites that look perfectly fine on a 1024 x 600 pixel display are difficult to use on a 600 x 1024 pixel screen.
The model I tested does not support multi-touch capabilities, although it’s possible that Asus will release a multi-touch capable version when Windows 7 is released this fall.
Keyboard and touchpad
The touchpad is fairly wide for a netbook this small, and has a nice texture to it. The button below the touchpad is responsive and easy to use. While I personally prefer having separate buttons to register right and left clicks, there’s no question that the single button with a rocker dial looks much nicer than two distinct buttons.
The keyboard leaves a bit more to be desired. Not only is it about the same size as the Eee PC 701 keyboard, but it has the same layout. That means you’re stuck with a small shift key on the right side that’s to the right of the up/PgUp key. If you’re a touch-typist, there’s a good chance that you’ll find yourself accidentally hitting the up arrow when you mean to hit shift. Instead of capitalizing a letter, you’ll find yourself typing on the wrong line altogether.
Asus addressed the right-shift key placement on its 10 inch netbooks with a new keyboard layout, but the company apparently hasn’t rolled out a new keyboard for its smaller laptops yet. I’ve been told that the upcoming Eee PC T101H touchscreen tablet with a 10 inch screen will have a newer keyboard with a better placement for the shift key.
While typing on the Eee PC T91 keyboard is certainly more comfortable than pecking away at a thumb-keyboard on a BlackBerry or other smartphone, it’s not as easy as typing on a larger netbook. If you have large hands or an aversion to small keyboards, this might not be the netbook for you — unless you plan to primarily use the Eee PC T91 in tablet mode.
Read more at the source of the review.