It's that time. Linux vs. Linux. 800x480 vs. 800x480. Mobile vs. Mobile. Slider slate tablet vs. Clamshell notebook. Fight!
The first thing to address: Are these two devices truly competitors? The answer is yes - but only to consumers who don't know what they REALLY want. You see - Both are extremely portable 800x480 Internet centric Linux devices in the $400-$470 street price range. However, both have clear cut advantages in certain areas that would only be of benefit to people who knew those advantages beforehand and used them as a basis for a purchasing decision.
At a Glance
I am not going to go over specs like CPU, BogoMIPS, etc. I created the table below to compare specs that actually matter to consumers.
Let's do some side-by-side shots.
The 2 pound Asus Eee PC, when closed, measures 8.9 × 6.5 × 0.9~1.4 inches (that last dimension allowing for the sloped shape) so is roughly 66 cubic inches. The 8 ounce N810, at 5.04 × 2.83 × 0.55 inches, is just under 8 cubic inches. If size is important - Take the N810.
Both devices have small, relatively low-resolution screens for Internet use. The 800 pixel wide display is about as small as a device can go without seriously impacting most web pages. Most web pages render nicely but some framed pages, notably Google Maps and Google Reader, have difficulty with the short 480 pixel height. Both sites are nearly unusable on both devices. Flash renders beautifully on both devices but the Eee has more raw horsepower offering greater frame rates. Finally, the Eee's "real Firefox" browser allows the vast catalog of Firefox extensions. Other applications (Skype, Pidgin Multi-Protocol Instant Messenger, and Internet Radio) work flawless on both, but the N810 has been doing the "internet device" thing for longer and has other dedicated clients available. The Nokia Internet Tablet application catalog includes clients for Jaiku, Blogger, Wordpress, Gizmo Project voice/video/IM, and more. There are also more commercial partners on the Internet Tablet side including Rhapsody, Boingo Wireless, Devicescape, MP3Tunes.com. There is no clear winner in this category as there are distinct advantages on both sides.
This is one category in which the Eee really shines. The addition of OpenOffice.Org to the standard installation makes the Eee a useful companion even when the device is not connected (which will be more often - see "Connectivity" below.) OpenOffice.Org offers spreadsheets, documents, and presentations. With these, the Eee can be used at length offline. There are a good number of offline applications for the N810 in the Application Catalog, but no Office suite as rich as OpenOffice.Org.
The N810 strikes back to some degree: Nokia's tablet has an integrated GPS receiver and comes with mapping software. The software can be upgraded with a subscription service for turn-by-turn voice navigation as well. In fact, the N810 even comes with a car mounting kit for just this purpose. While this may not be as essential as an office suite, it can be a lifesaving feature.
Ergonomics and Input Methods
The input methods are vastly different. The Eee gives us a familiar touchpad and keyboard but the surface area of both are so seriously diminished that they are cumbersome to normal adult hands. The N810 offers a touchscreen which actually greatly speeds browsing once the user is acclimated to the interface. The N810's thumb keyboard is wonderfully handy for instant messages, Email, and light text entry into web forms, but not so good for long articles like this one is becoming. A cramped keyboard is still easier to use than a thumb keyboard for long text sessions. The Eee allows external mice and keyboards over USB and the N810 allows external keyboards over Bluetooth.
The N810 has WiFi and Bluetooth and the Eee has WiFi and Ethernet. There are times I wish I had an Ethernet adapter on my N800/N810 (specifically in hotel rooms with no WiFi) but I find myself frustrated with the Eee's lack of Bluetooth every day. Many highly mobile technology enthusiasts are buying data plans with "Tethering." This allows the phone to operate as a modem to the latest EVDO and HSDPA networks. I have that feature on my Nokia N95 and can't live without it. The N810 has a simple wizard for Bluetooth phone pairing and carrier configuration which automatically starts up during the initial device configuration. The Eee... Well - after five or six tries, I was unable to get the N95 to recognize as a USB modem. The connectivity wizard allowed me to select it as a dial-up modem (not an HSDPA modem) but the dialing scripts were broken. Other users have hacked it to work, but I just gave up. For Hotspot hoppers or wired Ethernet users, the Eee is fine. For users who need their internet access EVERYWHERE, grab the N810.
Now it's time for the N810 to pull ahead. To use the Eee from "Standby," the steps are:
- Take it out of the pouch, bag, or case.
- Set it down and open the lid.
- Press the Power button
- Wait about 8-10 seconds
- Wait for WiFi to reconnect.
- Start using it.
- Take it out of your pocket.
- Slide open the keyboard, automatically taking it out of a suspend state.
- Start using it. It maintains WiFi connection to known hotspots while in standby.
Editorial Comments and Conclusion
Both devices are in this "in between" category. Neither is a Smartphone. Neither is an MP3 player. Neither is a full computer or laptop. What makes them so different?
The Asus Eee PC is made to be the low side of the laptop spectrum. It features the form factor, styling, and general use case scenarios of a laptop and that's all. Asus did a very good job making the device easy, responsive, and preconfigured for basic laptop functionality. As a result. it's also very much a "What you see is what you get" device. For non-hackers, it's not designed to have extra software installed, upgrades performed, or functionality increased. Still - it knows what it does and it does that pretty well. If it were a race of laptops, it'd be a Toyota Yaris: Small, cute, clever, inexpensive, and efficient but with limited potential and without frills.
The Nokia N810 Internet Tablet, on the other hand, is the Phoenix born from the ashes of the dead PDA. Sometimes users want (or need) to have the whole Internet at their fingertips everywhere. The N810 gives them that. While some initial operations (like setting up Bluetooth tethering) are more difficult, the initial slowdown is quickly recovered by the speed of convenience. If we were to call the Asus Eee the "Toyota Yaris of Laptops, " we'd have to call the N810 the "Rolls Royce of Pocket Devices." It has a luxury look and feel, a stack of features, and extensive expansion potential through community and commercial software.
Not everyone needs a Rolls, though. For some, the Yaris of Laptops is worth more than the Rolls of Pocket Devices. To them, all the engineering and design in the world cannot get the term paper written comfortably. My own car is a 2007 Yaris Liftback. It's perfect for me. So who should buy which?
Asus Eee PC 701:
- Children aged 7-14. They're not quite ready for full PCs yet, but you want to give them a head start. It's durable, portable, and VERY hard to break the software. The SSD drive, smaller LCD (with a wide bezel) and light weight make it far less conducive to physical breakage. They can do homework on it, save it to SD card, then bring it over for Mom and Dad to print.
- Linux Enthusiasts. I have to admit - it's been some time since I've had a Linux workstation. Windows is better for an enterprise/office environment, Mac is better for content creation, and Linux is better for embedded devices and servers. Getting back into "regular PC hardware" running Linux has been fun and I've had a LOT of help from eeeuser.com forums and wiki articles. If you're interested in hacking Linux but are just starting out, the Eee community is fantastic.
- Busy Families. Sometimes Dad wants to check his Email while Bobby is playing World of Warcraft. Sometimes Mom wants to keep her recipes in the kitchen without having to print them off. There are many situations when an extra computer can come in handy to families without having to the bulk or cost of a full laptop.
- Students - Especially those with Municipal or Campus WiFi. Textbooks are HEAVY. Do you want a five pound laptop weighing you down when all you want to do is lay outside, tap away at your paper, and maybe chat with some friends? You can do the CPU intensive work when you're in the computer lab anyway.
- On-the-Go Professionals. If you make your living online through communication, stock trade, or other connected media, consider how much is done through a web browser or over Email/IM. You may find that you can ditch the laptop. Even systems administrators like myself can go out for a night on the town and (with extra software) maintain SSH, VNC, and RDesktop access to my servers.
- Experienced Linux Hackers. If you know what a "cross-compiling toolchain" is and how to use it, take the N810. You'll have a lot more fun.
- Road Warriors. The GPS, "always available" connection through a mobile phone, and super-small form factor gives the N810 more reasons to go places a laptop or even Eee wouldn't go.
- Web 2.0 Fans. If a significant portion of your life is spent on Facebook, Blogger, MySpace, Jaiku, Twitter, Flickr, or other user-created-content sites, the N810 can keep you connected.
p.s. I wanted to do more side-by-side shots with specific web pages and performance videos, but I am currently without an N810. Those photos were snapped before mine went back across the pond. Expect those photos and videos right here on ultramobilegeek.com when I get my hands on an N810 again.