ASUS Eee Note EA800 Note-Taking Tablet In-Depth Hands-On

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:

Design

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.

Ports

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.

Screen

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.

Operating System and UI

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.

ASUS Eee Note EA800 Hands-On

AUTHOR BIO
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. Jesse B Andersen Says:

    I have looked for the EA800 on a ton of different websites. I wanted to buy this ereader this year (2010), but no luck so I’m not buying. It has a lot of potential because most ereaders out there don’t allow note taking with a stylus.

    You could use Google Books with this and it’s web browser, as long as you have a wifi connection you can have a lot of books.

  2. K. T. Bradford Says:

    We’re going to see the PocketEdge from Entourage at CES. I have high hopes that it will be good in the note taking department.

  3. Joshua Lamorie Says:

    You should get this device into the hands of someone who is a heavy Evernote user. That service provides ‘cloud-based’ OCR and synchronization of notes from multiple platforms (desktop, web, mobile), and I think would address some of the concerns you are mentioning.

    Where did you buy it in Taipei? I have contacts in the south of Taiwan that were unable to find it in Tainan, nor Pingtung (not sure if they looked in Kaoshiung).

    Thank you for the review.

  4. Amr Says:

    For the reviewers information regarding the capacitive buttons, apparently these can be disabled from a menu in the top right hand corner to prevent accidental presses while writing.

    I am attracted to the idea of a compact and lightweight dedicated note-taking device. However, as a heavy OneNote user on a tablet PC, I think I would find it very difficult to replace my tablet PC with this comparatively very limited device. The ability to search through your actual handwriting (not just with simple tags) and to highlight and move around ink, pictures and text will be sorely missed.

  5. Edward Says:

    We won an ee note at new year raffle and live in Taiwan however we are not able to get the english software.. does anyone have an idea where to get it or how to update? Thks

  6. cosastmo Says:

    Actually the sync to evernote works with wifi connection. Go to the main page of “Note” then click on the small icon on the right of each note file (an icon with a pen and a piece of paper), one of the options is download to Evernote.

  7. Kevin Seth Says:

    Hy, I have a unit too. Where did u get the US-ROM from? I cant read anything LOL.

  8. Daniel Says:

    Hi, I have just bought a brand new EA800 from a retailer in Taiwan and I am having some issues with the responsiveness of the four upper touch-sensitive buttons. While the responsiveness of the three lower ones is perfect, the one from the four upper ones is not so good… sometimes they react quite well but others they do not react so well… Have you also noticed this? Thanks

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