The Eee PC has been given a high-class makeover with the S101, but can this netbook justify its laptop price tag?
And so the circle is complete. With the new S101 version of Asus' hugely popular Eee PC, what began a mere 12 months ago as an experiment in low cost, no frills computing has become what it set out to combat. It's been reinvented as a style conscious fashion accessory with a price tag to match.
First impressions suggest this may not be a bad thing – the S101 is absolutely gorgeous. No longer a pared down plastic plaything, it's been dressed up and slimmed down in aluminium apparel for the computing catwalks.
Inside, the S101 is pretty much identical to the much cheaper 1000H model. It has the same Intel Atom processor, the same amount of RAM and a 16GB Solid State Storage (SSD) drive, rather than an 80GB spinning hard disk. Apparently, 32GB and 64GB versions are also on the way.
The flash storage may be smaller, but it's more damage-proof than Bond and makes the S101 completely silent.
Externally, there have been more tweaks than just the metal chassis. The keyboard, for example, is absolutely top quality, while the multitouch mouse pad gets better and better.
The biggest change, though, is that the battery pack is no longer an unsightly bulge in the rear, instead fitting flush at the front of the case. It makes the S101 incredibly thin and light, and a real competitor to the MacBook Air, not least because it delivers six hours of charge without getting dangerously hot on the knees.
The only real criticism of the S101 is that it also inherits the 10in, 1024x600 screen of the 1000 series. It's bright and usable, but for this price we expected to see something with a higher resolution.
It's a shame that the operating system choice is limited to Windows, but to be fair Xandros Linux would look out of place on such a high class machine. Ubuntu would have been our preferred choice.
One criticism we can't really aim at the S101, though, is lack of power. Just like its younger siblings, it's fast and responsive at everything you're likely to use it for. The Atom processor won't be up to HD video or complex multitasking, but it never reveals its weakness in day-to-day tasks like word processing or web browsing. Still, it might not be a bad idea to wait for next year's dual core Atom CPUs.
In the past, we've criticised other netbooks that have broken the £300 barrier as missing the point, including the highly desirable HP Mini-note. The attraction of netbooks is that they're virtually disposable, and offer just enough power at a ludicrously low cost.
The S101 is something else though. Slick and stylish, the surprising thing is that if you compare it to its real competitors – like the £800 Rock Pegasus 210 – you could even see it as not terrible value for money.
If you're happy to settle for a netbook, get a netbook. If you want something a little more, the S101 is just about worth the extra cash.
Asus Eee PC S101 review
A stunning netbook and solid performer, but the screen and price see it fall just short of glory