I was fortunate enough to receive a free Eee PC 701 from a friend when he decided to purchase a new netbook. This was a perfect way for me to get some experience with netbooks because I had nothing to lose.
When I got the netbook, the default installation of Xandros Linux was corrupted, so the machine was basically unusable. I have no idea if this happens to many people or not. Having Linux by default may be a good thing for some people and a bad thing for some. If you have never used Linux, it may be a good learning experience, but you will not be able to run a lot of the programs you use on Windows every day. Fortunately, the Linux market is growing and common software choices are available for Linux. However, you won't be able to run most Microsoft products like Office, although free alternatives do exist. It's possible to install Windows on the Eee PC, but if you are not an advanced computer user, doing so may be frustrating.
I put a fresh install of Ubuntu Netbook Remix on the netbook when I got it. This is another flavor of Linux from the creators of one of the most popular Linux distributions. I chose this because it has good hardware support. All of the features of the netbook seem to work under UNR (Ubuntu Netbook Remix), so it was a good test platform. I installed most of the software I would consider necessary for a netbook, such as my email client, web browsers, an IM application, etc.
The netbook runs surprisingly well for its 900 MHz Intel Celeron M processor. I hardly notice any lagging during casual use, but if I try to run multiple programs at once, I do start to notice some sluggishness. I'd say the speed is pretty reasonable for what the Eee PC is meant to be.
It's quite lightweight at only a couple pounds, including the battery. It's small and portable, which may be a positive if you travel a lot. The build is pretty sturdy, and I don't feel like it's a glass vase that will crack if I so much as knock it over. It's not going to survive a 10 foot drop to a solid floor, but dropping it on carpet most likely won't do anything to it. There are no moving parts inside, so you hardly have to worry about shock to the parts. The hinges are very solid, so it should hold up to a lot of opening and closing.
Two areas where I feel this machine lacks are the memory and storage drive. Only 512 MB of memory is provided (upgradeable to 2GB quite easily, but at some cost), and by today's standards, that's too low. An SSD (solid state drive) is used for storage, but it is only 4 GB. With today's demands for media and other files, 4 GB won't leave you much room to store movies, music, etc when you're on the run. By definition, an SSD has no moving parts, so that's a definite plus, but I would have preferred 8-16 GB of storage at the minimum. Unfortunately this is the model without a replaceable SSD, so it's not possible for me to upgrade. It is soldered onto the motherboard.
The screen is only 7", which is fine, but many netbooks now are up to 10". I find the screen nice and clear with a resolution of 800x480 (16:10 ratio), but it could be a little bigger. The contrast and brightness are good, but outside use is just okay with this screen.
The battery seemed to last about an hour an a half to two hours with some use. Watching videos would probably drain the battery in an hour, so be sure to keep the charger cord handy. The battery life may actually be better than this, but from my experience it wasn't all that great.
This netbook has no optical drive, so you cannot play CDs or DVDs with it. This seems to be standard on most netbooks. If you really need to use a CD or DVD, you can plug in an external USB drive to do so, but you lose portability.
There are a total of three USB ports; one is on the left side, and two are on the right. I appreciate the versatility this provides. There is also a network jack on the left side, as well as microphone and headphone jacks. A VGA output is provided on the right side, and although I haven't tested it, I would imagine the quality is fine, but not exceptional due to the integrated graphics. There is an SD card slot on the right side that will also take memory sticks. This is a pretty useful feature if you like to take pictures with a digital camera.
The keyboard is probably the biggest download to this product, although I can't blame Asus too much because any netbook this size has very little room. The keys are all quite small and mashed together. A few things annoy me such as the way the number keys feel off to the left relative to the letter keys when compared to a regular keyboard, but again, there's not much room on this thing, and I think Asus did the best they could.
The touchpad is nothing special, but it does what it needs to. It has a virtual scrollbar on the right side, which is quite useful on any laptop or netbook. It appears to only have one button below the touchpad, but it is in fact two buttons under one piece of plastic for both left- and right-clicking. These works as expected.
A webcam is included as part of the screen enclosure, but don't expect too much from it. I messed around with it a little, and it's nothing to complain or rave about. It works well enough for a netbook, but I wouldn't use it for anything important.
The speakers aren't bad for such a little computer, but they definitely lack in the bass range since there is no sort of subwoofer. This isn't really a fault of this computer, but rather of small speakers like this in general. The quality of sound from the headphone jack is good, so I have no complaints.
This is a fun little computer to play with, but if you're serious about getting a good netbook, it probably isn't the option for you; you'll want a newer, more powerful machine. If you just need something to tinker with and use occasionally on a car trip or likewise, you might consider picking up one of these for fairly cheap. I don't believe they are in production anymore, but I've seen them for sale in quite a few places.