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How To Love A Netbook

How To Love A Netbook

It's the holidays, and that means offering peace and clemency to your nemeses. Or, in my case, coming to tolerate — even appreciate — a netbook.

I didn't think it was possible at first; every UMPC I've used has felt cramped, slow, dim, and barely Internet-capable. I spent many a plane flight with a netbook in the overhead compartment, tapping away memos and emails on an iPhone. Then I started using Asus's 10-inch Eee PC.

It wasn't love at first sight, but the 1002HA, as it's affectionately called by Asus, is easy on the eyes. It comes with a sober, handsome brushed aluminum enclosure and wrist rest — a far cry from the Mickey Mouse crap that housed the first Eee PCs. The 1002HA's screen is a comfortable 10 inches, but that doesn't seem to affect the form factor much; this Eee PC is still just 2.6 pounds and 1 inch thick. In hand, it feels light but substantial.

Open it up, and you see — WTF? — a real keyboard. Sure, the right-hand shift key is shoe-horned next to the arrow pad, and the palm rest is only two inches deep. Whatever! You can actually type comfortably on this little thing, and it sports a full-sized Enter and Backspace key. 

The trackpad presents us less to celebrate. It's nice and big, responds well, and even has multi-touch scrolling, but the button is literally the width of a pencil. You'll end up tapping the trackpad a lot.

Using the 1002HA presents a fun challenge: see what kind of software it can handle without crashing. My tester came pre-loaded with Windows XP, so I immediately fired up a few browsers, iTunes, and the included MS Works word processor. With a 1.6GHz Intel [INTC] Atom chip, 1GB of RAM, and a 160GB hard drive, the 1002HA handled it all with aplomb. Sure, if you open more than 5 or 6 browser windows, it will crash. But let's not get greedy. At least it can play streaming video on Hulu, and let me build playlists for my iPod. That's more than most netbooks can dream of doing.

A couple of cool perks: a button on the top left-hand side of the keyboard acts as a power-save toggle; pressing it changes the processor clock speed to work in various modes of high performance, super-high performance, and power-saving. The function keys do all the right things: screen brightness, volume, LCD/monitor toggling, task manager, and other tricks.

The 1002HA picked up wireless signals quickly and easily and has a pretty strong antenna. Not so strong: battery life, which Asus claims is 5 hours but feels like a lot less. That might be my fault; because the computer is sluggish when it's in its power-save clock speed, and it's too tempting to kick it up to higher speeds and sacrifice juice. 

Asus also throws in a 6-month trial of its online Eee PC storage — 10GB of it — with all the cool features that entails. Eee Storage lets you share files with friends, drag-and-drop files to your Web hard drive, and have a fighting chance at keeping your Eee PC synced up with your desktop machine. Oh, and the intro page for the service is riddled with grammatical quiddities and misspellings that make for an amusing read.

The 1002HA sells for $500, and started shipping about three weeks ago. If you're a light computer user who doesn't want a bulky machine, or a road warrior with laptop-induced back pain, this could be the machine for you. And if you're a procrastinating gift-buyer, well, you've still got a few hours 'til Christmas to go find one.