|Introduction and Specifications|
If Asus doesn't make a machine you like (or are at least fond of in some way), you aren't looking hard enough. As the company famous for putting the netbook (and thus, the Eee PC) on the map continues to broaden its horizons in the notebook market, it's taking a breather from shipping new "Seashell" machines to introduce a horse of a startlingly different color. The Eee PC T91 is unlike any Eee PC we've seen before, namely because the screen can be spun around and flipped down. tablet PC style.
This so-called "netvertible" sector is still in its earliest stages, making the T91 one of the first netbooks available that also doubles as a full-fledged Tablet PC. Furthermore, it's one of the few netbooks coming out that sports a display smaller than 10 inches. If you'll recall, the first wave of netbooks hovered around the 7" - 9" display range; these days, most netbooks are 10.1" with many of them scaling up to 12" in size. Granted, the internal specifications haven't changed much over the years, but still, the T91 is also one of the few options for buying a new netbook at the sub-10" level.
"Anticipating that the Eee PC T91 will spend a sizable amount of its time cradled in users’ arms, Asus’ designers made sure to keep it extremely slim and light. The Eee PC T91 measures just 225cm by 164cm, and weighs a mere 0.96kg—making it one of the smallest and thinnest gadgets with an 8.9" display in the world today." - Asus
Unlike the "Seashell" range, which is largely just a sleeker take on the tried-and-true Eee PC Netbook, the T91 takes a completely different approach to computing. The 8.9" resistive touchscreen literally puts a new spin on the netbook, and it enables a new way of computing. The question we're here to answer is this: is the touchscreen really something anyone should consider? Just because it has a touchscreen doesn't mean that it's something you'll use, so we'll be testing it out and reporting back on just how necessary it really is/isn't.
|Design and Build Quality|
It probably doesn't help that we're coming from an Asus Eee PC 1005HA, which is drop-dead gorgeous from every angle, but the Eee PC T91 definitely isn't as sexy a netbook. It's also not unsightly, which leaves us at "perfectly acceptable, but not special looking." The weight (really light) and size (really small) will please road warriors, but the ultra-glossy top cover will frustrate those who can't stand to see fingerprint smudges all over their machine.
By and large, Asus does a commendable job of disguising the fact that this is really just a miniaturized Tablet PC. At first glance, you'd never know that it's any different than a conventional netbook, but upon lifting the lid up, the gaps underneath of the bezel begin to give it away somewhat. Still, for a Tablet, the T91 looks great. We appreciated the front-mounted multicard reader, but we would've preferred to see the headphone jack there as well. Also, the rear-mounted VGA port may be unorthodox, but it's actually great--after all, who really wants to see a huge VGA port sticking out of their machine? By having it in the rear, it keeps it out of the user's view most of the time.
Unlike non-touchscreen Eee PCs, this one has a stylus tucked away in the right front corner, and while we found our fingertips to work just fine on the screen, we appreciate the inclusion. We do feel as if another USB port could've been shoved in somewhere, as giving us only two just feels like the mainboard engineers weren't trying hard enough.
Upon opening the lid up, we had mixed reactions. On the positive side, the trackpad here is easily one of the best we've ever used on a netbook. The texture is just incredible, and the right/left click button has the perfect amount of travel. We sorely wish it supported multi-finger gestures, but at least it will scroll up/down Web pages if you run your finger up or down the far right side.
The keyboard is definitely squashed, but did you really expect anything different from an 8.9" netbook? There isn't a lot of real estate to play with here, and we think Asus did the very best they could with this keyboard. You'll definitely have more errors on this than you will with more "normal sized" keyboards, but the keys are well positioned and can definitely be "learned" with time. We were shocked to see how small the keyboard was, and -- at least initially -- we were really dreading the typing experience; much to our surprise, it wasn't so bad after a few hours of getting adjusted.
We will say, however, that the keyboard is entirely too "mushy." Particularly on the center keys, you can actually feel the entire keyboard flex downward when typing normally. It may not bother some folks, but the unnatural give (and unevenness, across keys) really annoyed our fingers. Then there's the matter of the power button, which is actually a slider switch on the lower-left side of the LCD bezel. It's not very practical to turn the machine on in our experience, and oftentimes we had to slide it a few times for it to register our command. Minor, but annoying.
Finally, there's the display. We fully understand that putting a capacitive touchscreen in here may have been impossible given the cost and size constraints of a netbook, but the soft, mushy resistive screen just feels inferior. If you've ever played with a PocketPC PDA from half a decade ago, you know the soft, sinking feeling we're talking about. Responsiveness was actually pretty good, but from a build quality standpoint, we found the touch panel to be lacking in rigidity.
|Software and Accessories|
On the software front, you'll find Asus' own Eee Dock and Eee Storage (10GB is available free of charge for a year and for a fee afterwards), applications loaded on Windows XP Home, while Skype, Adobe Reader 8, a trial of Microsoft Office and Microsoft Works round things out.
Asus also includes its Super Hybrid Engine, which is an application that sits in the System Tray and enables users to easily switch from one power profile to another based on current usage scenarios.
But anything even remotely related to multimedia is pretty much a no-go, and gaming is absolutely out of the question beyond the occasional round of Solitaire. With most GMA 950-equipped netbooks, we can usually watch at least some 720p content, but with this one, we couldn't watch any 720p content. Even High Quality YouTube videos put a real strain on the machine, so if you plan on watching a video while crunching numbers on a huge Excel sheet and streaming ESPN Radio in the background, you'll probably want to look elsewhere.
It's a shame, really, because even these lackluster innards cause the Eee PC T91 to get unusually warm. We never managed to make the machine "blistering hot," but it's far and away the hottest Eee PC we've used. Granted, the casing is smaller than most given the 8.9" display, but extended use definitely gets this machine toasty.
That said, the T91 is one of the most easily portable netbooks we've ever seen. If you need absolute portability over all else, it's hard to go wrong here. This thing is so light, it's easy to forget that it's in your suitcase. Also, the actual typing and mousing experience is top-notch. The trackpad really is stellar on this machine, and it's a real model for other netbooks. It's only missing full-on multi-touch, but otherwise it's fantastic to use.
The keyboard is as good as a keyboard can get on an 8.9" netbook. The keys are small, sure, but they're placed perfectly. With a few hours of use, you'll be hammering away without too many mistakes. You'll definitely give up some comfort typing on such tiny keys, but it's about as good as it gets for a machine this size barring some flex in the center.
So, the question really is: "Is the touchscreen something to consider?" In short, probably not. There's a reason the Tablet PC industry has shrunk into a black hole and the conventional netbook has surged. One has incredible demand, one doesn't. The fact remains that the Tablet PC form factor is really only good for a few industries: hospitals/medical sectors, students who prefer to doddle rather than type and industrial applications. Unless you have a serious need for a touchscreen, you can safely avoid the Tablet PC portion of this machine and be just fine.
The screen itself looks somewhat dim and washed out compared to non-touchscreen panels on other Eee PCs. It's just the nature of a soft, mushy resistive touchscreen. So basically, you'll be saddled with a ho hum display 100% of time in order to have a touchscreen capability that you'll use maybe 10% of the time. It's a poor trade in our estimation unless you have a very specific reason to use the touch aspect the majority of the time.
If you do, however, the T91 is a runaway winner. Even though we would've preferred a capacitive touchscreen over the included resistive touchscreen, it works very well. We never even had to use the stylus, as our fingers and fingernails worked just fine. The screen recognized our inputs and pressure points without a hitch, and we never grew frustrated by lag or missed inputs. So yeah, the touchscreen reaction is good, but it's up to you to decide whether you'll use it enough to pay nearly $200 more for this netbook over other, non-touchscreen Eee PC netbooks.
SiSoftware Sandra (the System Analyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility. It should provide most of the information (including undocumented) you need to know about your hardware, software and other devices.
The Intel Atom Z520 (1.33GHz) fared fine in Sandra's CPU-specific test compared to similarly slow CPUs, but obviously it couldn't hold a candle to even low-end full-size notebooks. As we've mentioned, it exhibited enough power for basic tasks, but even light-duty multimedia playback and gaming are a no-go here. This CPU is built for Web surfing, email and not much else.
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In the CPU multimedia testing, the Z520 held its own, but only when compared to rivals in the same range. In reality, the multimedia performance suffered, and we certainly wouldn't recommend this setup for anyone interested in watching videos on their netbook.
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As expected, the Eee PC T91 didn't exhibit the strongest scores in the memory bandwidth department with its single-channel configuration and only one 1GB stick of DDR2 RAM.
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The 16GB SSD bundled in here was the one saving grace internally. Everything else was underpowered, but the SSD enabled quick boot-ups and relatively fast application loading. Switching apps was snappy, and performance felt great. Of course, 16GB is small, but hey, you can't have it all in an 8.9" netbook.
To test multimedia capabilities, we attempt to play back a 720p WMVHD clip, a 720p H.264 clip and a 1080p clip.
Click To Enlarge; 720 H.264
Click To Enlarge; 720p WMVHD
Click To Enlarge; 1080p
The Eee PC T91 couldn't play back any high-def file with complete smoothness. Even High Quality YouTube videos were stressing the system. In short, the T91 isn't the machine to get if you're into multimedia viewing. The CPU and GPU are simply too low-end for this kind of work, even lower than most other netbooks with the Atom N270 + GMS 950 combo.
|Power Consumption and Battery Life|
Asus' Eee PC T91 arrives with a non-removable, rechargeable battery that's rated for five hours of computing. What's strange, however, is just how accurate the rating proved to be. Just last month, we found that Asus' own Eee PC 1005HA fell well short of the 10.5 hours of claimed computing time. It's difficult to imagine that Asus changed its exaggerating ways in the course of four weeks, so we're sort of baffled at why the T91 lives up to its battery life rating, while the 1000HE, 1005HA and 1008HA all fell noticeably short.
Just so you know, you can't swap this battery out. That's a deal-breaker for some, considering that you can't just pop an extra battery in when the first one runs dry. If you run the battery dry, you'll be tethered to an AC outlet until it recharges, which is a real bummer for some true road warriors.
Our Classic Test here does a great job of putting the netbook through a "real-world" work environment to see just how long your battery will last under pressure. The Eee PC T91 mustered 4 hours and 48 minutes, which is darn close to the 5 hours of claimed time. That's with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and screen brightness about half way. We've got no doubt that the SSD helps here, as do the lower-end CPU and graphics, as they're well known for being power-saving devices. If you're less demanding, you can absolutely get more than the rated five hours. In fact, we managed to get 6 hours with some light usage.
|Summary and Conclusion|
Performance Summary: In our SiSoftware Sandra testing, the T91 performed a bit worse than we expected, but maybe we were expecting too much out of the underpowered Z520 CPU and GMA 500 graphics. In other words, it's one of the lowest-powered netbooks out there today, but it's also one of the smallest. Plus, it's got a swivel touchscreen, which hardly any other machine can say. You can easily see the trade-offs here; the small size and fancy screen are there in place of top-notch internals. Basic tasks were handled with relative ease (with hardly any lag when multi-tasking thanks to the SSD), though gaming and high-def multimedia is a no-go.
Asus' Eee PC T91 is a solid addition to the expanding Eee PC line. It'll surely appeal to a certain niche looking for a Tablet PC mixed with a netbook form factor. But unless you can think of a specific reason for needing the touchscreen, we'd argue that there are much nicer (and cheaper) netbooks to select. The T91 is less powerful, more cramped and has a less spectacular display than pretty much any other newly released netbook, yet it is priced at $499. That's a lot to ask for a netbook, even with the resistive touchscreen. If you are in a unique field that will allow you to really take advantage of the touch capabilities, it's a great machine to get. But if not, you'll be throwing away money on a feature you'll rarely use, and you'll get a less powerful machine to boot.
We were impressed with the battery life (nearly five hours, just as claimed), but we didn't appreciate the non-removable nature of the battery. Also, the trackpad was great, but the keys were cramped due to the small chassis. The display looked washed out and was mushy to the touch, but that's what you get in a resistive touch panel. We loved how small and light the machine was, but we lamented the fact that it really wasn't equipped to handle any task more demanding than typing a Word document, sending an email or engaging in the occasional Skype call. For just over $330, you can take home the excellent Eee PC 1000HE, and for $389, you can take home the stylish and equally quick 1005HA. Why pay more for the T91 unless you absolutely need the Tablet PC aspect? If you find yourself thinking "I do need the Tablet PC functionality," then this is a great little machine. Indeed there are more than a few usage models weou can think of where a user could benefit from a touch panel interface, especially in business. The touch input works wonderfully, but understand what you'll be giving up in order to get it.