The pace of netbook innovation has slowed to a virtual crawl in recent months as most vendors have settled on the same old 10.1-inch screen, Atom N450 CPU, 1GB of RAM, modest 5,400 rpm hard drive, and Windows 7 Starter OS. The main way to stand out in this market is through superior design and usability. The $379 Best Buy exclusive version of the ASUS Eee PC 1018P accomplishes the former with great aplomb, offering a sexy brushed aluminum lid and deck for an affordable price. However, its cramped keyboard and stiff touchpad buttons make it a little unpleasant to use.
The 2.4-pound, 10.3 x 7.1 x 0.9-inch Eee PC 1018P is definitely one of the thinner and lighter netbooks on the market. It's nearly half a pound lighter and significantly thinner than 2.8-pound competitors like the Acer Aspire One 532h (1-inch thick), the Samsung N150 Plus (1.4-inches thick), and the Toshiba NB305 (1.4-inches thick). The classy, raven black chassis has an attractive brushed aluminum lid and deck, with a matching brushed plastic black bezel. The ASUS logo on the lid and the power, Wi-Fi on/off, and performance mode buttons add an attractive touch of silver. The entire system is also available in white.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard and touchpad are where the ASUS Eee PC 1018P really falls short. Even by 10-inch netbook standards, its keyboard feels cramped and uncomfortable. Not only is the right shift key undersized, but the rest of the keys are tiny and narrowly spaced. On the ten thumbs typing test, where we average 80 words-per-minute with a 1-percent error rate, we managed only 69 words per minute with a whopping 4-percent error rate, because we kept missing keys.
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The 3 x 1.5-inch touchpad is certainly large enough, but when using it, the cursor occasionally jumped around the screen. At several points, the accuracy of the pad was so poor that it actually dragged scroll bars or windows down when we were moving our finger up. Worse, the single mouse button is one of the stiffest we've used, requiring us to use too much force. After clicking a few times, our index finger became sore. If you do buy this netbook, you'll wind up double tapping the touchpad a lot.
The Eee PC 1018P stayed pleasantly cool throughout our testing. After streaming a video at full screen for 15 minutes, we measured the touchpad at a chilly 79 degrees, the keyboard at a mere 85 degrees, and the bottom at 98 degrees Fahrenheit. We consider temperatures below 95 degrees acceptable for any area on the top of the notebook and temperatures 100 degrees and below common for the bottom surface.
Display and Audio
Click to enlargeThe 10.1-inch 1024x600 glossy screen provided sharp and colorful images, but its highly reflective surface sometimes showed what was behind us. Viewing angles were reasonable when looking at the desktop, but videos washed out at 45 degrees to the left or right. Video quality was a mixed bag.
When we played a downloaded 720p WMV of a racecar from Microsoft's HD Showcase, the images were smooth and sharp. However, when we attempted to stream a 720p episode of Fringe from Fox.com, both in the office and our home, we noticed some jerkiness and banding at full screen. A downloaded 480p QuickTime trailer for the Expendables played smoothly at full screen (with huge bars at top and bottom), but a standard def trailer of Terminator Salvation that we streamed from YouTube was extremely blocky.
The speaker bar, which is built into the screen hinge, provided reasonable fidelity but very low volume. When streaming Avenged Sevenfold's "Nightmare," sound was clear and crisp, though muted.
Ports and Webcam
Click to enlargeThe ASUS Eee PC 1018P has all the ports you'd expect from a netbook. On the right side are a 3-in-1 card reader, audio in/out jacks, two USB ports, and a slim Ethernet port that pops open to accept a standard RJ-45 cable. On the left side are a VGA port and a third USB connecter. Though another configuration of the 1018P sports USB 3.0 ports, all the USB jacks on this Best Buy exclusive configuration are USB 2.0 only.
The 0.3 megapixel webcam provided smooth, but dark images under the overhead lighting of our cubicle. When speaking on Skype, our facial features were nearly impossible to see. When we repositioned the laptop, colors got a bit brighter but our face was still covered in a huge shadow.
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One unique feature of the Eee PC 1018P is the sliding On/Off switch above its webcam, which slides a small cover over the lens and is clearly designed to ease users who are absolutely paranoid about being hacked. Every notebook's webcam is easily controllable via software and most notebooks have a blue or green status light that comes on when its webcam is active so there's no legitimate need for a cover. However, some users may feel reassured that they have a means to obstruct the lens after reading about the kind of webcam spying that took place in one Pennsylvania school district a few months ago.
The Eee PC 1018P has standard netbooks specs, including an Atom N450 CPU, 1GB of RAM, Intel Integrated GMA 3150 graphics, and a 250GB hard drive. So it's no surprise that this system turned in performance scores that were on par with the rest of the pack. On PCMark05, which measures overall performance, the netbook scored a respectable 1,291. That's only slightly lower than the netbook category average of 1,426 and competitors ike the Acer Aspire One 532h (1332), the Samsung N150 Plus (1300) and the Toshiba NB305 (1383).
The 250GB 5,400 rpm Western Digital hard drive stood out for its faster-than-average performance. The drive booted into Windows 7 Starter in a brisk 54 seconds, 7 seconds faster than the category average. It also completed the LAPTOP File Transfer Test in 3 minutes and 32 seconds, for a fast rate of 24 MBps, which is significantly faster than the 18.1 MBps category average and slightly ahead of competitors like the Toshiba NB305 (20.6 MBps), Samsung N150 Plus (21.6), and Acer Aspire One 532h (22.4 MBps). One odd thing we noticed about the hard drive is that it periodically made loud ticking noises while the system was idle.
When it came to transcoding video, the Eee PC 1018P was close to average; it took 6 minutes and 14 seconds to convert a 114MB MP4 file to AVI format using Oxelon Media Encoder. That's only a little faster than the category average of 6:19 and slower than competitors like the Toshiba NB305 (6:03), Samsung N150 (5:44), and Acer Aspire One 532h (5:50).
Considering its integrated Intel GMA 3150 graphics chip, the Eee PC 1018P handles graphics tasks with about the same efficiency as its similarly-speced competitors. On 3DMark06, which measures overall graphics prowess, the netbook scored 154, which is less than the category average of 247, but on par with the Toshiba NB305 (159), the Samsung N150 (156), and the Aspire One 532h (153). When we used Google Earth to navigate the globe, the 1018P was more than capable of zooming in and out on our street, but images didn't have the same depth and 3D effects that they do on a standard notebook. As mentioned above, streamed videos appeared blocky at full screen though downloaded WMVs and QuickTimes were better.
Battery Life and Wi-FI
With its slim 4-cell battery, the ASUS Eee PC 1018P still managed a strong 7 hours and 35 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-FI. That's an hour and 31 minutes longer than the category average (6:04), but shorter than competitors like the Toshiba NB305 (8:37) and Acer Aspire One 532h (8:36).
The netbook's Atheros AT8132 wireless card returned a strong transfer rate of 37.9 Mbps at 15 feet from our router and a slightly subpar 16.9 Mbps at 50 feet from the router.
Click to enlargeWhen charging the ASUS Eee PC 1018P took two hours and 17 minutes to reach 80-percent of capacity and a total of 3 hours and 33 minutes to reach full charge. During that time, the system used an average of 21.7 watts. That gives the netbook a LAPTOP Green Efficiency rating of 10.2, which is over 50-percent better than the category average of 15.5 (lower is better).
Our $379 configuration of the ASUS 1018P is available exclusively at Best Buy. However, a higher-end version that includes USB 3.0 ports, Bluetooth 3.0, a 1.3-megapixel webcam, and an Atom N455 CPU is coming out soon with a price of $429.
Click to enlargeASUS bundles several utilities with the Eee PC 1018P. Eee Dock is a persistent navgar that remains on the top of the desktop and contains shortcuts to a number of ASUS programs. YouCam allows you to capture photos and videos with the webcam. Syncables is software that syncs your data with up to one other PC, though to use all of its features you need to purchase a paid version. Eee Splendid adjusts the monitor's color scheme to provide richer images for viewing video.
The SRS premium sound utility allows you to exert fine control over the already-high quality, but low volume speakers. ASUS Vibe Fun Center provides an attractive front end for downloading trial versions of games or listening to music samples. ASUS Cloud Services provides a link to ASUS Access, a portal site where you can buy apps or sign up for a free trial of ASUS's $39.99 per month Web-based storage service.
ASUS bundles the Eee PC 1018P with a one-year limited warranty. To see how ASUS did in our tech support showdown, click here.
Click to enlargeWhile the Eee PC 1018P is a very attractive netbok, its small keys, incredibly stiff mouse buttons, and washed out webcam prove that you can't judge a netbook by its cover. Though this machine is certainly usable, competitors offer a better experience for less money. For $355, you can buy a Toshiba NB305, which has a best-in-class keyboard, a large and accurate touchpad, and longer battery life. If you really want to save, get the ASUS Eee PC 1001P for $299. It's not as stylish as the 1018P, but it lasts longer on a charge (8:40) and has a better keyboard.