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CAN A RETURN TO 1980s-STYLE WEDGE DESIGN WORK IN 2009?

Putting an entire computer into a keyboard works well because the machine becomes a cross between a laptop and an ordinary PC. It has the advantage over the laptop that it is more ergonomic and easy to use and in most cases will be more powerful. Over the PC it has the advantage of portability and convenience. It can be thrown into a backpack and brought to a friend’s house or hotel very easily, so long as there is a monitor to plug into or an HDTV to wirelessly link with once you get there.

The idea is a resurgence of the so-called “wedge” computers of the 1980s and 1990s. Back during the Atari vs Commodore era both companies released multiple computers which were essentially PCs in keyboard cases very similar to the Eee Keyboard. That the idea is not new should have prompted Asus to do its research correctly. Those who used these machines for years realized the disadvantages over time: difficult to expand or upgrade; fixing is problematic due to custom parts; and over-heating can be an issue.

The Eee Keyboard has not yet been released so it is hard to say whether it will suffer from the same problems, but given its specifications users should not be needing to worry about upgrading for a few years at least. The machine has some excellent features, such as built-in WIFI, Bluetooth, microphone, speakers and a 5-inch touchscreen color display with a resolution of 800x480 pixels (the display sits in the space the number pad occupies in an ordinary keyboard). Couple this with 16 gigabytes to 32 gigabytes of storage on a internal solid-state drive (SSD), a 1.6-gigahertz Atom CPU, 1 gigabyte of RAM and a unique ability to be able to stream content direct to your HD television — and the Eee Keyboard is clearly an exciting revamp of an aging idea.

The resolution of the on-board display is quite exciting since it is high enough to use for browsing the Web, checking e-mails and writing documents. While the display is still small and low-resolution compared to a desktop monitor, it is higher-resolution than the iPhone’s screen, which has been embraced by millions. The potential is for the touchscreen to act as two things: a back-up screen when no monitor or TV is available, and an ever-changing virtual interface. When Asus ditched the number pad to make room for the display, it didn’t really ditch it at all — now you can have a touchscreen number pad, as well as a touchscreen calculator, gaming pad, Internet browser, currency converter, etc. The screenshots from Asus indicate that it has managed to do all of this and more, meaning the addition of a touchscreen could stand out as a truly innovative step.

Another great feature is that the Eee Keyboard can wirelessly stream content to your HDTV, allowing it to become a monitor for the computer. This means you can sit on your sofa without worrying about wires (aside from an external power supply — the computer’s 1880mAh battery provides an estimated one hour and forty minutes of run time) and use it as you would an ordinary PC, while playing all of your movies and MP3s through your home entertainment system. (Asus will also market a less expensive, non-wireless Eee Keyboard with an HDMI port.)

Although Asus has not yet announced a price for the Eee Keyboard, it will hopefully be similar to that of the Eee PC. Early indicators of this are the specifications of the hardware (which are quite low compared to desktop systems) and the operating system. The device runs Windows XP with no mention of Windows Vista or Windows 7 on Asus’s press releases. Given its size and specifications, the Eee Keyboard makes an ideal living room PC, as well as a more ergonomic alternative to the slew of netbooks available. If the price is in line with this market then it has the potential to become a big seller.

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