Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Asus announces new netbooks at CES, including Eee PC T91 tablet

The Asus CES 2009 keynote just wrapped up and Asus chairman Jonny Shi announced a bunch of new products for 2009. Netbooks featured prominently – particularly the new Eee PC T91 tablet and S121 netbooks – but there’s also a new Eee ‘netbook in a keyboard’ and laptops with multi-touch displays. Lots of photos and a T91 hands-on video after the cut.

The Eee PC T91 has the usual netbook specification (but with an Intel Atom Z520 ‘Silverthorne’ processor rather than the Eee PC's usual N270 ‘Diamondville’ chip), but the 8.9in touch-sensitive screen is mounted on a pivoting hinge that allows it to fold back, display-up, over the keyboard.

Asus Eee PC T91Asus Eee PC T91

Display aside, the T91 is quite a break from Asus’ existing Eee PC design, but that's a good thing – the redesigned keyboard with broad, flat keys makes good use of the limited space and it’s a very sleek, slim portable. We’re not quite sure why Asus opted to include a built-in TV tuner, though…

There’s no official word on pricing or availability yet, but one source suggested that the Eee PC T91 will be available in the UK in March with a price similar to that of the current Eee PC 100 – around £330, in other words.

News of the new Asus S121 leaked onto the internet a few weeks ago and all of the information we’ve seen so far seems to be accurate. It’s essentially a scaled-up version of the super-slim Eee PC S101 – it has the same general design, with a few elements from Asus’ U-Series laptops thrown in.

Asus S121Asus S121Asus S121

The S121 has a screen and an Intel Atom Z520 processor, but it can’t really be called a netbook. The provision of a whopping 512Gb SSD cranks the price sky high and while Asus wouldn’t quote an exact price, but you can expect to pay a MacBook Air-like price for the top-end model when it goes on sale at the end of January.

Microsoft also stepped in to give a couple of demos of new display technology that we can expect to see on Asus laptops later this year. First up was an Asus N20 with a multi-touch display that supports a similar set of two-finger gestures as the iPhone and new Apple MacBooks . Apart from a few demo gremlins, the technology seems to work well – as you can see from the video below.

Also on show was an Asus M50 laptop with a 4.3in colour LCD touch-screen instead of a touchpad. This is powered by a separate processor and runs its own copy of Windows, which means it can be booted separately from (and much more quickly than) the main operating system. It displays a carousel of widgets rather than a Windows Desktop, but these provide a wide range of functions, from the usual inconsequential weather updates to an email client.

Asus M50 with multi-touch trackpadAsus N50 with multi-touch trackpad

The touchpad display can also drive the main display for, for example, video playback. The key is that this computer-within-a-computer is still powered by the laptop’s main battery, but its frugal operation leads to longer battery life – Microsoft reckons it’s good for up to 12 hours. You can see a video of the Asus N50 demo below.

Last but in no way least is the Asus Eee Keyboard. This isn’t quite what you may think – it’s actually a full netbook crammed inside a full-size Qwerty keyboard, complete with a 5in colour screen instead of a numeric keyboard. It runs a full version of Windows and can be used like any netbook (albeit only if you squint), but the intention is that it can stand in for a media centre PC – it has both HDMI and D-Sub video ports, along with support for wireless HDMI.

Asus Eee KeyboardAsus Eee Keyboard

The Eee Keyboard is only at the prototype stage at the moment and the hour or so battery life makes it a less than useful portable device, but this will hopefully improve if/when Asus get to a full launch. Even so, it’s an odd product to bear the Eee brand and seems to be Asus’ answer to a question no one is asking – but maybe we’re just missing something...

Interestingly, all of the netbooks and laptops were running Windows 7 rather, though Asus wouldn’t be drawn on whether or not it will be abandoning Windows XP on netbooks this year. We suspect Windows XP will continue to be at least an option, not least since Windows 7 so far doesn’t seem to be any less demanding than Windows Vista.

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