The other day I took a look at the much hyped Asus Eee 4G, recently released in Australia through Myer. I was interested in how well it compared to my Sharp Muramasa CV50F mini-notebook PC (more information). I bought the Muramasa second hand in Japan and it's now out of production. However, it's proved to be a fantastic tool for use on the train, when travelling or even just lying in bed. Would the Eee work just as well?
The Muramasa is longer than the Eee, but thinner and lighter. Like the Eee, the LCD screen has a bezel, but the Muramasa's exquisite screen displays 1280x768 pixels compared with 800x480 on the Eee. That's high definition in 7.2"! At least you don't need a proprietary cable to connect an external monitor to the Eee. The Eee's bezel holds the unit's stereo speakers which are surely better than the Muramasa's mono sound.
Processor wise I'm not certain which wins, but I suspect the Eee's 900MHz Celeron is better than the Muramasa's 1GHz Transmeta Efficeon chip. These are not heavy duty games machines though. The Eee comes with more RAM (512MB cf 256MB) by default. It also uses solid state storage while the Muramasa has a 20GB hard disk. This is probably one reason why the Eee should boot up a lot faster. The Muramasa includes a feature which allows you to hook it up to another computer as a hard disk when powered down.
Battery life should be comparable (3.5 hours), though it was possible to install an additional battery for the Muramasa.
Both machines include built-in WiFi, although the Muramasa only support 802.11b. The Eee also includes an ethernet port, which is great because the USB ethernet dongle I use on the Muramasa takes up one of the precious two USB ports. The Eee has three. So you could increase the storage on the Eee by connecting a USB drive (flash or disk). You could also add a SD card, for which the Eee has a port. The Muramasa also has a SD card reader, along with a Compact Flash Type II. I use the latter for adding in a CF modem or additional hard disk.
The Eee also includes a built-in video camera and microphone.
It took me a little while to get used to typing on the Muramasa's small keyboard, but it is surely better than the Eee's offering which actually flexes while typing.
Finally, the Muramasa runs (Japanese) Windows XP by default, while the Eee uses Linux (XP can be installed, however).
One of the selling points of the Eee is it's price: A$499. I've seen others argue that you can get a far more capable notebook PC with a hard disk, optical drive, etc for a hundred dollars more, but I think that they are missing the point. The beauty of these highly portable machines is that you can carry and use them virtually anywhere. They aren't meant for processing videos or gaming; get a Nintendo DS or PSP for the latter.
I still prefer my Zaurus C3100 for its instant-on and handheld size when for use in the train to capture my immediate thoughts. However, I found that it wasn't very good for uploading photos or blogging while travelling, partly because of the age of the web browsers available for the system. I found it much easier to upload my photos with Picasa on the Muramasa. I suspect that the Eee may also be deficient in this department as it lacks built-in hard disk space (a minor problem with external drives so cheap). The image management software is also very basic (and frankly, quite ugly). Hopefully it wouldn't be too hard to install better software.
Given a choice, I wouldn't replace my Muramasa with an Eee. There is no compelling reason to. If I was looking for a highly portable Linux system I would probably go with the Nokia N810. However, I think that the Eee probably has a place in it's original market - school students and inexperienced users who just want a cheap and portable machine to do basic work on. I might recommend it for my Mum, or as an additional computer for web browsing in bed.
One thing I won't be doing is buying an Eee this week: they are sold out!