Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Asus 1201N Netbook

A few tech tidbits are in order before I get to the meat of today's column. Two important programs have just received major updates: Evernote and Firefox. I've written about Evernote before. Evernote is a note-taking program that's wildly popular because it's wildly useful. Evernote lets you create and access your notes from just about any platform you can think of: Window, Mac, Linux, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and others. Evernote has a built-in web clipper, so that if you see it on the Internet, you can save it instantly in Evernote. Evernote automatically indexes your notes, making what you put in quickly findable. You can organize your notes in folders and with tags, or you can just dump in your notes haphazardly, if your life is perpetually disorganized. Evernote has some other neat tricks, too, including the ability to take photo notes -- and any words in the photo are indexed by Evernote. Imagine: Your notes (flight schedules, business ideas, draft letters to the editors, exam notes, recipes) available anywhere and everywhere you are. That's Evernote. The new version, 3.5, has an updated interface, speed enhancements, and other improvements. Get a free download at

Firefox went from version 3.5 to 3.6. Although it's only a .1 change (how do software developers measure these various version numbers anyway?), version 3.6 feels like a more substantial upgrade, at least as far as speed is concerned. The new version of Firefox is noticeably zippier when it comes to starting up and opening web pages, and it's prettier. Firefox 3.6 has "personas" -- thousands of themes to choose from. I'm not into themes -- I like my software not to distract from the content it's supposed to provide. While Firefox 3.6 is faster, it's still slower than Chrome and it still requires that you restart the browser every time you install or uninstall an add-on. Firefox hasn't yet implemented sandboxed tabs: When one tab crashes, the entire browser crashes. (In Chrome, when one tab crashes, the browser is fine.) Firefox does have one significant advantage over Chrome: When you go back a page in Firefox, the back button brings you to where you were last on that page. Let's say you're reading an article that's in the middle of a page and you click on a hyperlink in that article. When you press Firefox's back button, you return to exactly where you left off. When you press the back button in Chrome, you're brought back to the top of the page. Grrr.

This week's last tech tidbit: Gizmodo reports that somebody made a $10 text donation for Haiti earthquake relief from a demo phone at an AT&T store: . Clever, but not recommended. If you want to donate $10 from your own cell phone, text the word HAITI to 90999.

What I really wanted to write about in this week's column is my new love, the Asus 1201N netbook. I bought this taking a risk, knowing that netbooks are typically underpowered. While 90 percent of what I do with my computer is on the Internet, I still need a fairly powerful computer to edit photos and to use other graphics-intensive programs. The Asus 1201N, with the new Nvidia ION chip, can handle graphics-intensive programs; your favorite games and favorite HD YouTube videos will work, unlike with many other netbooks. This lightweight netbook, weighing in at 3.2 pounds and $484, can almost be a laptop replacement -- if you can live without a DVD drive. (You can get an external one for $55.) The keyboard is full and responsive; the screen, even though it's only 12.1 inches, is a treat for the eyes. (You do know about the F11 key, which hides all the toolbars in your favorite browser, freeing screen real estate for what really matters, right?) The Asus 1201N has a built in VGA webcam - handy for Skype. The Asus has a nifty feature called "Boot Booster," which noticeably speeds up Windows boot time. My Asus boots in less than 25 seconds. It's almost like, well, like having a Mac. The specs, in case you need to know that kind of stuff: Windows 7, 12.1 inch screen, 5 hours of battery life (mileage may vary), wifi, Bluetooth, SD card, NVIDIA ION chip, Intel Atom N330 dual-core processor,TT250 GB drive, multi-touch touchpad, 2GB RAM, and it weighs 3.22 pounds. Sweet.

Apple will be announcing its fabled tablet computer this week. I'm not taking any risks by saying it's going to be an amazing device. But I'm also not taking any risks by recommending the Asus 1201N as a netbook you can rely on for travel. If you can survive without a big screen and limited hard disk space, the Asus 1201N could even be your main computer. The keyboard is an enduring method for inputting information. Until text-to-speech recognition becomes more accurate (and that's inevitable), nothing beats the keyboard for speed and accuracy when it comes to going from thought to text. Maybe I'll eat my words later this week, but I doubt that typing on Apple's tablet will be as fast and easy as typing on a keyboard.

There's a tweak I recommend for the ASUS. The computer comes partitioned into two 125GB parts. The logic behind this is that you put your programs on the C drive and your data on the D drive, and this makes it easier to back up your computer and organize your files. I find pre-partitioned drives more of a pain than not, because the amount of space my programs and data take up are not divided equally. Fortunately, you can easily unpartition drives in Windows 7 and create one 250 gigabyte drive, and not have to worry about where where you put your stuff. For more information on how to unpartition a hard drive, visit: . Be sure to reallocate the space afterward to return to your C drive what you took away from the partitioned D drive.

You can add a little extra oomph to your Asus by sticking a 4 or 8 GB secure digital slot in the computer's memory card slot, and turning on Windows' Readyboost, which can speed up your computer's disk reading and writing, and reduce battery consumption by requiring less hard drive activity. You can read more about Readyboost here:

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