Disappointingly, being a first-generation Eee Tablet PC, there's no multi-touch functionality but this is a technology the company expects to introduce further down the line – there were multi-touch enabled products running Microsoft Surface demos shown during the Asus keynote at CES, but your guess is as good as ours when it comes to expected availability dates for them.
We mention this because one concern there has always been for tablet PCs is the software that runs on them. In some respects, the tablet PC is a technology with a limited usage model and software has always been a weak point because the operating systems typically deployed aren’t designed with touch in mind.
Asus has chosen Windows XP on its Eee PC T91, which isn’t really optimised all that well for tablet use – we’ve got to wait until Windows 7 until we get optimised support for touch from a Microsoft operating system out of the box.
To get around this, Asus will ship the Eee PC T91 with what it describes as a “touch-optimised software suite” but this is the one part of the device that wasn’t available for us to evaluate. The good news is that German site NetbookNews has recently visited Asus’ headquarters in Taipei and has posted a video showing the interface off
(in English) – we’ll reserve our own judgements until after we’ve used the software ourselves.
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The keyboard is one area of the device that Asus says is subject to change before the launch. It currently features a standard keyboard very similar to the Eee PC 901, but it will later be replaced with a chiclet-style keyboard similar to the one on the Eee PC 1000HE, some of Sony’s notebooks (like the TZ) or Apple’s new range of MacBooks.
Just below the keyboard, there’s an adequately sized touch pad, which isn’t as good as the touch pads on other Eee PCs, but it’s by no means unusable. Occasionally, we found that our movements weren’t registering properly and the buttons below required quite a firm press to register. However, considering this is a pre-production sample, the problems we encountered here could likely be early build quality issues that will be fixed in the couple of months between now and release.
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Pricing is one final topic that we haven’t covered yet – that’s because nothing has been confirmed yet. Sadly, the exchange rate fluctuations we’re seeing at the moment mean that all Asus can give us is a ballpark range for the device. The company is expecting the Eee PC T91 to sell for somewhere between the Eee PC 1000HE at around £360 and the Eee PC S101
, which is currently available for about £420.
That’s quite a lot for an 8.9-inch netbook, but when you factor in some of the features Asus has integrated into this model – such as the touch screen, the DVB-T TV tuner, 3G data card and GPS functionality – it looks like it might be quite good value. Aside from the price, there are several more unknowns, including the quality of the keyboard, touch screen software and whether or not the touch pad problems we encountered are limited to this pre-production sample.
Ultimately, the quality of Asus’ touch screen software is going to determine the fate of this device because, without great software, you’re paying for a feature that might be useful on occasion, but is likely to be a hindrance more often than not. Having not spent time using the software yet, it's impossible to gauge the fate of the T91 – keyboard and touch pad issues aside though, the device's build quality is a notch above most other Eee PCs and not too far from the S101. And given the amount of time between now and the expected end of April availability date, we expect the issues we encountered to be resolved. If touch is your thing, this might be worth a look.