Well, after the popular ULPC (Ultra Low-cost PC), more specifically Asus Eee PC, has such a steep selling rate over half a year on the market so far. Since then, this category has been grown epidemically and of course, more choices from many manufacturers, more variety of spec as well. Yet, any of them couldn't really dominate over Asus Eee PC. Nonetheless, ULPC exacerbates itself by forgetting what it was and trying to hike up the price so high. That almost crosses the line of being low-cost machine completely.
Asus Eee PC, for example, used to be a target for real low-cost notebook $199, but it ended up around $299-$499 for the 1st generation. After a while, Asus released Asus Eee PC 2nd generation which has bigger screen, a bit bigger capacity, and importantly higher price tag. For current model, Asus Eee PC 901 20GB Linux and 12GB WinXP cost $549 and it will be a new one with Intel Atom which probably costs $649 or so. That's around 3-4 times higher than what they had planned. IMO, it's just defined its new category which is not ULPC, but budget ultra portable PC instead.
On the contrary, there is another category in parallel which is meet this condition. It's oldish-premium-laptop. You bet it would cost more than what you pay for Eee PC, but considering every factors. You probably have to sit back and rethink again what you should buy really.
I will compare a pair I have, you are the one who decide which suits you better. In the photos, it's Fujitsu Lifebook P7230 (bought off from Fujitu Outlet = $750+$20 s/h) and Asus Eee PC 702. Sorry that it's not Eee PC 900 as in the comparison table underneath, but you would get an idea.
|Asus Eee PC 900 series||Fujitsu LifeBook P7230|
|Display||8.9" WSVGA||10.6" WXGA|
|Resolution||1024 x 600||1280 x 768|
|CPU||Intel Celeron (900MHz) /Intel Atom (1.6GHz?)||Intel Core Solo U1400 (1.2GHz)|
|Memory||2GB max||2GB max (dual-channel)|
|Hard Drive||4GB+12GB SSD||40GB 1.8" 4200rpm HDD|
|Connectivity||10/100 Ethernet||Gigabit Ethernet|
|WLAN 802.11b/g||WLAN 802.11a/b/g|
|Extra||Built-in camera||Built-in camera|
|Built-in microphone||Built-in microphone|
|SDHC slot||SDHC slot|
|Battery Life||~3 hour||~5 hour|
|Keyboard||still tiny layout||small, yet comfortable size|
|Dimension (W x D x H) [inch]||8.86 x 6.69 x 0.79~1.33||10.74 x 7.91 x 1.07~1.18"|
This is what you probably get from either budget or premium one. In my opinion, on the paper, there is no any significant difference. You may feel that extra $150-$250 is too steep, but I can say that it's worth every penny.
You will feel from the first touch of both system that Fujitsu is by far superior in term of build and material while Eee PC is just okay. For features, there is no way that Eee PC could compete as well. Other more important thing is battery life; thanks to Intel Core Solo which consumes <5.5W at all time while Celeron would eat almost twice as much and Atom would do around 4W, but you will lose some performance as well. Last but not least, it's about power management, I don't know if Eee PC 900 is getting better or not, but what I found with Eee PC 702 is standby mode consumes a battery almost 10% per hour while most systems do about 1-2%. It's really destroying the concept of portability--easy and fast to use. That means Fujitsu P7230 will give you much more balance to the system. However, if Eee PC is still on the same track, below $400-500 price tag, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Eee PC definitely. So sad, it could not hold that line no more.
Briefly, for whom you are looking for cheap portable laptop these days, you have plenty of choices, probably too much. But that's a good sign, isn't it? I just want to remind you guys that don't be blind with a hot-cake budget ultra portable system since you may find that you are able to get much better with a little $ more.