One of the most unique devices of 2010, the ASUS Eee Note EA800 is an 8-inch 64-shade grayscale slate that’s designed to focus squarely on one important but often-ignored task: note-taking. Unlike popular consumer tablets such as the iPad and Galaxy Tab, which offer colorful multitouch-capable screens and thousands of apps, the Eee Note uses a stylus and a proprietary OS to focus on providing a better writing and drawing experience.
Right now, the $250 device is only being sold in Taiwan, where it hit store shelves earlier this month. It’s unclear when or if ASUS plans to release the Eee Note EA800 in the U.S. However, we were able to purchase a unit in Taipei, have it shipped to us, and then obtain an early version of a U.S. ROM so we could change our unit’s menus from Mandarin to English.
We’ll be posting a more thorough review in the near future, but here are our intial impressions of the Eee Note EA800:
The Eee Note EA800 is an extremely well-built and attractive device. Weighing in at one pound and measuring 8.8 x 5.5 x .43 inches, it feels really solid in the hand without being bulky. The black brushed metal back and sides look extremely classy, as does the matte grayscale LCD screen, which is not E Ink but reminded us a bit of a Kindle.
The Eee Note comes with an attractive leather bi-fold carrying case that the device snaps into. While we really appreciated the look of this case and its ability to protect the slate’s screen, it did add a bit of extra bulk to the device and getting the tablet in and out was a hassle. Fortunately, there is a hole in the back that lets the camera lens peek through so you can take photos while your Eee Note is in its case.
Below the screen on the front are seven touch-sensitive buttons, divided into two rows. The top row of buttons has a back button and four little square icons that correspond to context-sensitive tabs on the bottom of the screen, though you can just tap the tabs on-screen with your pen instead of hitting the buttons. The bottom row of buttons has a forward arrow, home button, and back arrow. Again, these functions can be accomplished by using on-screen navigation too.
It’s good that the buttons aren’t absolutely necessary, because in the English-language ROM we used, the buttons just plain didn’t work. However, in the Mandarin ROM, they worked as advertised but were a bit of a nuisance; we accidentally hit the home key with our wrist a few times while writing notes. We were actually glad that the buttons didn’t work after we updated to English.
The top of the Eee Note has a large indentation for holding the stylus. While the stylus stays put in this area, we were surprised to see the tiny microphone hole at the bottom of this crevice. Perhaps that is one reason why audio recording was poor. More on that later.
At the bottom of the device are the power button, microSD card slot, microUSB port, headphone jack, and a reset button you can use to emergency restart the device by pushing in with the stylus tip. The Eee Note both charges and syncs via a standard microUSB cable.
The 8-inch, 1024 x 768 matte screen has good viewing angles (nothing washes out from any perspective) and very sharp text. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a backlight, and there’s no way to adjust the brightness. Still, the notes we took were so sharp and well defined.
With the exception of the web browser, all of the Eee Note’s apps are designed for portrait use. Rotating the device does nothing.
The digitizer is extremely responsive to pen input and highly accurate for writing. However, we noticed a tiny bit of lag. Just forget about finger input, because the Eee Note doesn’t support it.
The proprietary operating system on the Eee Note EA800 consists of a homescreen with a search box and 14 icons, a status bar on top for the time battery info, and other minor updates. The bottom of the screen has context-sensitive menu tabs to help you navigate around or perform different functions, one of which is almost always Home (unless you are on the home screen already). Another option is Snapshot for taking screen shots. The 14 applications also have their own menus.
The OS multitasks to a limited extent. For instance, if you’re recording audio and return to the home screen, you can use another app while the recording continues. You will see a little flashing microphone icon in the status bar as long as it is recording and will even be able to pause or stop the recording by tapping on that status bar icon.
The Eee Note also has a virtual keyboard that occasionally appears when you are using an app or form that requires letters to be typed, such as the web browser. For now, at least, the device’s Wi-Fi connection only works in the browser.