I can see nobody mentioned Bicom yet
It launched in 1993. I remember reading the review, but frankly, there's scant info on the Internet and it's hard to find the information.
Nevertheless, I did find information on it. There were two models: 240i and 260i, differing in HDD capacity (40 and 60 MB, which was a lot for a notebook back then). Specifications:
- Am286LX at 16 MHz (1.5 µm node)
- 2 MB RAM
- Dimensions: 223×161×31 mm (smaller than original EeePC!)
- Weight: 1 kg (which is less than some EeePC models, at almost 1.5 kg)
- 7.5" monochrome displays (640×400 resolution, line-doubled CGA)
- Battery life: 3-4 hours on 5 AA batteries (!), you could use rechargeables (Ni-Cd at the time).
- Price: I can't remember now, but for what it did, it was cheaper than cheapest regular notebooks, at some $300-400.
It's hard not to draw parallels between then and now. The subnotebook was based on technology that was two generations behind the mainstream (486, color displays), which is about where netbooks are in relation to notebooks.
Obviously, technology has progressed since then, but in 15 years between this and the original EeePC, what did we get in return? Frankly, not much! Larger hard drives, color displays (sometimes they are even larger), more memory. But feature bloat caused the netbooks to not perform better than their old rivals. If you used 700 mAh Ni-Cd rechargeables with the Bicom, you got 3 hours battery life. With 2700 mAh NiMH rechargeables, you would get 12 hours -- compare that to 3 hours on an EeePC with batteries rated at 5600 mAh with higher voltage. Displays obviously draw the most energy, but 15 years of progress should have brought them at least to parity. If anything, turning off backlight (or the display altogether, and running on an external monitor), should allow the netbook to work considerably longer, but it doesn't.
Is it unreasonable to expect that you should be able to get a 9-inch notebook running a shrunk CPU two generations old (hey, it would be the original Nehalem now) -- not downclocked, mind you, with an SSD, weighing in at less than 0.5 kg, with dimensions of an A5 sheet of paper and at most 5 mm thick?