Asus Eee Note EA800 unboxing and review

eeenoteAsus Eee Note EA800
is one unique device. Among the sheer amount of tablets and eReader, this one is like no other. It is surely the first of its kind, as Asus named it “note taker”. It doesn’t have a gorgeous colourful screen with a nice browser. It doesn’t have an e-ink display that looks like paper either. Instead, it sports a 8 inch grayscale non-backlit and super sensitive LCD screen and it targets student customers with the ambition of “replacing notebooks in university”. In addition to that, it also includes a 2MP camera as well as the microphone to help students record the information they study in class. Its affordable price is also a great help for students.

Consequently, this one is a hard gadget to review. Firstly, it doesn’t like any other to be compared. Secondly, it only has a very small number of users and actually that is what it is supposed to. And thirdly, this one is not available outside Taiwan, and probably won’t.  Of course it doesn’t stop people from getting one via eBay or similar websites. I got mine for £159 and had to wait about one week for it to arrive. So, let’s start with the unboxing.

That’s the device. Here is some of its specifications:

  • 20.3cm (8″) Display, 139 x 222.4 x 11 mm (5.5″x 8.8″ x 0.4″) Device,
  • Display Resolution: XGA, 768×1024 (3:4), 64 levels of grayscale
  • Anti-Glare covering on glass display, 3H pencil hardness
  • Touch pen: 256 levels of pressure detection
  • Resolution: 0.01mm (2540dpi)
  • Accuracy: ±0.4mm with pen vertical / ±3mm with pen tilt 50 degree
  • 4GB internal SSD (3.2GB usable) with up to 16GB expansion via microSD card
  • 802.11b/g wireless LAN
  • 2M Pixel webcam, mono-speaker, high-gain mono-microphone, 3.5mm stereo audio jack, micro USB port for PC connection and charging
  • 3700mAh battery with 10-13.5 hours battery (depending on WiFi use), with 10 day standby.
  • 520g (without included leather cover)
  • Directly Supported formats: PDF, ePub, MP3 , JPEG, BMP, GIF, PNG
  • PC Tool conversion to PDF/ePub for txt, doc, docx, xls, xlsx, ppt, pptx
  • 624MHz Marvell ARM11 CPU (XScale derivative)
  • 256MB memory

1. Design

My first impression about the device is that it is very well designed. The tablet with its cover has the looks of a regular book, although it is a bit heavy compared to a book by its size. The leather cover is very stable and is able to hold the tablet firmly (but also takes me quite a lot of effort to take the tablet out of the cover). On the back of the device is a little hole for its 2MP camera.

The tablet itself is really nice, too. The surface of the tablet is covered by hard glass, although its reflectiveness is reduced by a anti-glare coating. There are several touch sensitive buttons near the bottom of the device. A metal cover wraps the back and all edges of the tablet, makes the device has quite a premium looks (similar to “unibody” construction). I have to say that I’m impressed with the tablet’s design, especially for a low-cost device like the EA800, although I don’t particularly like the grey screen inside black borders but others may think differently. As I’m used to my eReader, this one is a bit heavy (about half a kilo), although it’s not really that heavy for being a tablet.

2. Display

Although I’m much impressed with its design, the display quality of the tablet has nothing to impress me. A non-backlit grayscale screen is not the problem, but the problem is the back colour of the screen. Its colour grey is way darker than white, makes the device extremely hard to read in low-light condition. In addition to that, being a LCD screen makes it nowhere comparable to e-ink screen. Also I’d like a coloured LCD screen instead of grayscale one (Actually ASUS said that colour screen is in development and will be available in next generation). On the good side, the high resolution (1024×768) on a 8-inch 2540dpi screen really helps everything looks crisp and clear on the tablet. Moreover, the non-backlit screen is really good under direct sunlight. I have read several books in bright environment and I’m quite happy with that.

3. Writing

Actually, writing is pretty difficult at first. The reason is, when you tilt the pen when writing (as most people do) the line will be displayed slightly to moderately lower than where it should be (or higher, if you tilt the pen upward). Fortunately it is not so hard to get used to it. You can either write with your pen 90 degree to your screen, or just re-calibrate the screen. After that, you will have no problem taking note with the device.

I want to talk a bit about the screen. It isn’t like most recent phones and tablets using capacitive screen which requires your fingers to interact with. It isn’t like older phones and tablets using resistive screen which requires a certain pressure on the screen, either. In fact, it uses the screen of Wacom graphics tablet (or digitizer), which is able to sense the position of the pen even when the pen doesn’t touch the screen, and the pressure level of the pen when it interacts with the screen. If you are an artist then probably you know what it is. As a result the screen will not response when you use your hand or other pointing devices, or when you rest your palm on the screen, but only effective with a tablet stylus. The Asus EA800 comes with two Wacom pens, but you can use any graphic tablet stylus to use with it. Even those with eraser functionality will work perfectly well. As I said before, the screen actually comes from Wacom, the most popular brand in graphic tablets so you don’t have to worry about the quality of it. When talking about writing functionality, the Asus EA800 is in a totally other level above any other capacitive and resistive tablets (e.g. iPad, Xoom…)

The Asus EA800 uses a custom Linux operating system, which is pretty light-weight. Therefore I have experienced no lag at all when using the device thanks to the 624MHz CPU. No matter how fast you write, the text appears almost right away. Although it is still a few mili-seconds slower when compared to writing on real paper, but much faster than any device I have ever used.

The Notes application has quite basic functions. You can choose between several types of pen (pencil, ballpen, marker, fountain pen and highlighter), three levels of colour (light, gray, black) and quite a number of backgrounds (unfortunately many of them is in Chinese). You are also able to undo, copy-paste and create new pages. There is a nice functionality: You can add a picture or capture a photo using the integrated camera and insert right into your note. This is really helpful for students who want to take pictures of the graph shown on the blackboard, for example.

The notes can be sent as new notes to Evernote via WiFi. It is a nice feature. Too bad there is no “synchronization” here, which mean the notes are always sent to Evernote as new notes and there is no way to sync from Evernote to the tablet.

4. Drawing

The device itself is a graphics tablet, therefore drawing on the device is pretty nice. The tablet can recognise every stroke and you can draw easily as in you draw on your paper. There is only one problem, there is no dedicated drawing application. It is like you have a book and you can only use the pencil to draw. It is okay for most people but I really think it could be better if it has a separate drawing application with the ability to zoom in and out, layer support and a number of pen brushes.

There is a very nice feature on this Asus Eee Note: You can plug the tablet into your computer and then use it as a drawing pad. It is literally recognized as a Wacom tablet, and you just have to install the driver and, voila, you have a nice graphics tablet ready to use with your favourite application, Adobe Photoshop for instance. Undoubtedly this is my most favourite feature of the Asus Eee Note, as I don’t have to buy another graphics tablet any more.

5. Reading

The tablet has the ability to read various types of documents, including PDF and EPUB. Other file formats must be converted before putting into the device. There is no storage mode for books, instead you will have to add the book via EEENoteSync application on your PC. Putting the weakness of the display aside, reading on the tablet is great. Every book is displayed nicely on a large, high resolution screen. Also the high processor speed makes turning pages and other operations as fast as possible.

Furthermore, you can also take note right on your books, just like in Notes  application. Of course your notes are saved when you close the book and they will be available later when you re-open the book.

The 3700 mAh battery helps the device last for more than 10 hours. It is nowhere as long as an e-ink device but not really bad either.

6. Browser

The tablet has a browser, also as many eReaders, the browser is not the main features of the device. In fact, the browser on the Asus Eee Note is not stable yet (you can clearly see a “Experimental” note beside the application).

The truth is that its browser is extremely slow and very basic in functionalities. I have a feeling that it is running a browser inside an emulator. You can see a cursor on the screen, and you will navigate the browser and even the virtual keyboard (seriously?) as when you plug the tablet into your computer and control your browser on your PC screen (spoiler: it’s really hard)

The browser only works in landscape mode. Also worth noting that there is no audio, video or Flash supported in the browser.

7. Other features

There are other features packed with the device:

  • A calculator to do, well, calculations
  • A dictionary, which is quite useful because you can use directly when reading. Unfortunately, the dictionary is English-Chinese and also the application is only available in Chinese
  • Camera to take 2MP pictures
  • Voice memo, use the integrated microphone to record memo, like a lecture for example.
  • Text memo, use the virtual keyboard. I personally think it is the most useless application because the virtual keyboard is considerably slow, not to mention we already have Notes application
  • Music player, play your music files.
  • Two games included: Bubble Breaker and Sudoku
Text memo application
Photo taken by the tablet
Final words
I have to say I am really impressed by what the Asus Eee Note can do. The device is surely innovative and one-of-a-kind. It doesn’t do much, but it performs everything more than okay. It is like the gadget from the future, where there is no paper and pen needed. This is surely a device that every student should have one.
However, will the device become successful in the future? It is certainly a hard task. It will have to overcome two opponents. The first one is the popular device such as Apple iPad. The fact is nowadays people are being fooled by advertising and trends and they start losing their ability to realise the true value of something. (Real story: when a certain user mentioned the Asus Eee Note for drawing in a forum, many people have mindlessly suggested him using an iPad with a capacitive stylus, without even knowing what the Eee Note is.)
But the second opponent of the Asus Eee Note, is no other than real notebook. The Asus Eee Note has many features, but also for its price, people can buy a lot of notebooks, not to mention writing on actual paper is still better than writing on the Asus Eee Note. Probably notebooks will lose to the tablet when it comes to backup and storing data, but seriously how many students need to remember all stuff they have learnt?
Despite all that, I am still very satisfied with the device. I strongly believe in the future of it, especially when certain disadvantages are solved. If you are interested in something like this, I suggest you give it a try. Just remember one thing, the Asus Eee Note EA800 is certainly not a gadget for everyone (But I’m pretty sure those who like drawing would love to have one).
  • Premium, solid build
  • Large, sensitive hi-res screen
  • Great performance
  • Affordable price
  • Can be used as a Wacom drawing tablet
  • Limited availability
  • Poor display quality
  • Basic software. Some parts are not completed yet

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