Tablet PCs came out of the closet in record numbers at the recently concluded CES 2010, but Asus has had one out for a while. The Asus Eee PC T91 doubles up as a netbook and low-cost tablet PC with touch input support on its 8.9in screen.
The Eee PC T91 sports an all-black look, overflowing with gloss on the screen lid — and it's a huge fingerprint magnet. Its overall dimensions are smaller than the ASUS Eee PC 1008HA or the ASUS Eee PC 1001HA, tinier than most mainstream netbooks found in the market these days. It is also extremely lightweight, weighing just a shade under 1kg; easy enough to tuck away in a handbag. The Eee PC T91's touch-enabled resistive screen is 8.9in wide, has an LED backlight, and swivels around to nestle upside down on the keyboard to become a tablet PC. No complaints on the unit's build quality; it's nice and solid and doesn't feel cheap in any way. An easy-to-use stylus is tucked away in the right corner of the front edge.
The Eee PC T91's resistive touch screen was a bit of a mixed bag. Navigating your way around was okay with the included stylus: touch-screen accuracy here was good. But when I started using my finger to navigate through the screen, the mouse pointer and my finger-on-the-screen were misaligned: e.g. I put my finger over a window's minimise button only to see the mouse-pointer go hit the close button instead. One had to consciously aim left of the intended target, and it wasn't a great touch-screen experience navigating with the finger.
The touch-tuned interface, however, isn't as bad. App icons are nice and big, typing on the on-screen keyboard is largely easy with the stylus, and handwriting recognition (for the most part) works well. But applications take a while to load, and there's a distinctive lag while interacting with the touch screen — not a party pooper but enough for you to take notice.
Part of the reason for its sluggishness lies with the Eee PC T91's internal hardware, which is very netbook-like. Like the Benq Joybook Lite U121, the Eee PC T91 runs on an Intel Atom Z520 1.3-GHz processor — slower than the newer Pine Trail Intel Atom processors. The Atom Z520 is joined by 1GB of RAM and a paltry 16GB SSD. Asus tries to sweeten the storage deal by bundling in a 16GB card giving you the option of using 20GB online Eee Storage. Apart from the standard offering of a card reader, audio jacks, and VGA-out, the Eee PC T91 has merely two USB 2.0 ports, which is disappointing. It supports Wi-Fi 802.11n and Bluetooth 2.1, but not the faster Gigabit Ethernet standard. It comes with Windows XP Home edition, another reason why it isn't really touch-optimised. For video chatting, there's a 0.3MP webcam recessed on the top screen bezel — and it isn't the best we've seen.
The Eee PC T91's performance was like other Atom Z520-based netbooks we've tested, not better or worse, and the bundled SSD does no favours. Aside from its hit-and-miss touch interface, and despite its smaller form factor, its keyboard and touchpad were quite nice to use: keys were tightly packed (unlike on the MSI Wind U135) and offered very little flex, and the touchpad was very responsive. It couldn't play HD 720p video files smoothly, but we could listen to music and browse the Internet over Wi-Fi without a hitch. Its integrated battery lasted close to five hours (4 hours 48 minutes) while I browsed the Net over Wi-Fi, which isn't too bad.
Asus' experiment with a touch-enabled Eee PC, although commendable, isn't very practical. Granted, the Eee PC T91 is tiny and easy to carry around, but its touch interface isn't quite perfect. Its retail price is $799, but it can be found much cheaper if you shop online, and there is also the newer T91MT for $699, which runs on Windows 7 and is therefore a much better proposition.