After much speculation, ASUS has indeed launched a ‘high-end’ netbook. Though that sounds like an oxymoron, the Eee PC S101 should do a great job of appealing to those who have avoided buying an Eee PC because of its ‘low-cost, low-power’ package. Not so with the Eee PC S101. This gorgeous little machine has been designed for fashion-seeking individuals who view style as much of a factor as substance.

The Eee PC S101 (£449) builds upon the form factor, ergonomics and features of its predecessors but boasts a wholly reforged exterior in three glossy lid colours – Brown, Champagne or Graphite – accentuated with delightful details such as silver bits and bobs and Swarovski crystal-adorned hinges. ASUS really has done a great job in designing and manufacturing the Eee PC S101. The machine cuts a striking profile and it’s incredible portability – weighing a mere 1kg and svelter than most glossy girly magazines at just 264×181×25mm – enabling you to carry it effortlessly without the slouching and strain that often plagues users of regular laptops. It even comes in wonderfully presented box and includes a smart suede soft carrying slip.

So, head-turning looks and astounding portability aside, does the Eee PC S101 cut it when it comes to features and performance? Amazingly, yes it does. Under the hood this mighty mouse packs in Intel’s N270 Atom processor (1.60GHz), Intel 945GSE graphics chipset, 1GB of DDR2 system memory, 10.2-inch wide active matrix LED-backlit TFT (1024×600), and a fixed (can’t tilt or swivel) 0.3-Megapixel Web camera. It supports Wi-Fi 802.11n, enabling high-speed wireless networking, in addition to Bluetooth V2.0 and onboard 10/100Mbps Ethernet. Sadly, there is no built-in wireless broadband for Internet autonomy. This really is a missed opportunity because the major selling point of the Eee PC S101 is the fact that it’s so portable you could use it to connect to the Internet wherever you go.

Connectivity is reasonable and includes a single VGA port (at rear), three USB 2.0 ports (two on left-hand side of machine and one on the right), headphone and microphone jacks (at right-hand side machine). At the rear of the Eee PC S101 is an integrated 4-in-1 flash card reader that supports more formats than other Eee PC models: MMC, SD, Memory Stick and MS-PRO. ASUS even throws in a 16GB SDHC card, which is nice.

A really special feature of every Eee PC S101 is that it comes with an encrypted 30GB Internet storage facility known as Eee Storage, allowing you to store and subsequently access your important documents and media securely for free for 18 months. Also helping to keep your data safe and sound is the Eee PC S101’s shockproof Solid State Drive (SSD) which maintains the integrity of the stored data even when subjected to knocks and shocks. The SSD has further advantages over traditional hard disk drives, such as silent operation and reduced energy consumption. The only downside to SSD compared to a regular hard disk drive is that capacities are more limited. In the case of the Eee PC S101, you get just 16GB of storage space, so that 16GB SDHC card will come in handy!

It runs Windows XP Home operating system as standard, but geeks can request GNU Linux should they choose. The Microsoft Windows version offers those with moderate to substantial computing experience more configuration avenues and a wider spread of applications. The incorporation of Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Mail helps ensure that your communication needs are fully met, and the inclusion of Microsoft’s Works 9 and Sun Microsystem’s StarOffice 8 equip you with the ability to work efficiently while away from home or the office thanks to the inclusion of word processing, spreadsheet and database software. More experienced users, on the other hand, will appreciate the simplicity offered by the Linux version. An additional boon of the Linux version is that it comes with over 50 pre-installed applications that span learning, productivity and entertainment uses.

The Eee PC S101 certainly has the looks – apart from the display’s fat ugly bezel – but how does it perform? In real-world terms the machine comfortably copes with everyday applications and even the odd bit of light multitasking. Web browsing and e-mailing is a walk in the park, and even 720p HD video plays quite comfortably without any sign of dropped frames – 1080p video isn’t so reliable. Battery performance is a bit of a contentious issue however, as we only managed to get around 3.5 hours life from the 4-cell 4900mAh battery ASUS quotes 5 hours! Other netbooks from ASUS, such as the Eee PC 901 and Eee PC 1000H, come with 6-cell and 6600mAh batteries and are good for at least 4 hours.

ASUS has done a cracking job with the Eee PC S101 and it is undeniably the hottest, sleekest netbook on the market. The machine looks great, its build quality is fantastic, and the keyboard is even large enough to touch-type. But given that the Eee PC S101 is essentially an ASUS Eee PC 1000 in a slimmer case, at almost twice the price, you’ll have to justify the price. While the Eee PC S101 is one of the best netbooks you can buy, it’s not perfect. Besides the slightly disappointing battery life, it lacks one key feature – an internal 3G card. What’s the point of such a small, light and portable machine if you have to attach a vulnerable USB dongle to hook up to the Internet? Furthermore, we’d love to have seen an HDMI port and more storage space, but for that to happen the price of SSDs needs to get cheaper. If you’re not bothered about price, the Eee PC S101 is the one to beat.