ASUS Eee PC 1008HA (Seashell) Review

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Pros: Extremely thin, light design; Spacious keyboard; Speedy hard drive; More than five hours of battery life

Cons: More expensive than competing netbooks; Battery not user replaceable; VGA port requires adapter

Verdict: ASUS' new premium Eee PC is strikingly thin, but you'll need to make some compromises.

With virtually every netbook on the market sporting the same internal specs, manufacturers are finding new ways to distinguish their machines on shelves through innovative designs. ASUS' newest netbook, the $429 Eee PC 1008HA, does just that, featuring an all-new chassis inspired by the natural curves of a seashell. While it has the same Intel Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, Windows XP, and 160GB hard drive as ASUS' current $399Eee PC 1000HE, that extra $30 buys you a thinner, more attractive build. But you'll have to be willing to sacrifice the convenience of a few ports and 1.5 hours of battery life.

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Inspired Design

ASUS has created some nice-looking netbooks, including its Swarovski-studdedEee PC S101, but the Eee PC 1008HA takes a more subtle approach. The system has an overall sharp, clean design, largely a result of the curved panels that extend over its edges and hide the ports. The glossy black lid (also available in white; blue and pink will come later this year) is covered in a new Infusion finish that allows the 1008HA to be scratch resistant; but it's far from fingerprint resistant, so you'll want to keep a cloth handy.

Where the 1008HA really stands out from the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE and other netbooks on the market is in its svelte profile and light weight. Measuring 10.3 x 7 x 1.0 inches, the 1008HA is thinner than most netbooks, including the Samsung N110 and ASUS Eee PC 1000HE. It is, however, similar in size to theHP Mini 1000. At 2.2 pounds, it is also incredibly light. We easily held the netbook in one hand, and it felt almost nonexistent in our shoulder bag, even with the charger (which brings the entire package up to a mere 2.8 pounds).

Ports

All of the ports on the 1008HA are covered with plastic tabs, giving this netbook its uniform look. As with theMacBook Air, this thinner profile requires some compromises. On the left side are USB and mini-VGA ports. Cleverly (almost too much so), the VGA adapter is on the underside of the system; a small latch on the edge reveals a VGA dongle for connecting the notebook to a larger display. On the right side are a 4-in-1 card reader, an additional USB port (bringing the USB total to two; most netbooks have three), and headphone and microphone jacks. The Ethernet port (also on the right side) has been shrunk: the bottom lip of the port pulls down to make room for the plug.

Spacious Keyboard and Touchpad

Despite its diminutive dimensions, the Eee PC 1008HA Seashell includes a comfortable, spacious keyboard. Unlike the island keyboard of the 1000HE, there are no spaces between the raised black matte keys, which we found flat (we prefer them raised, as they are on theSamsung N110), but they did provide nice, tactile feedback. ASUS keeps the correctly placed keys it mended with the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE. The right Shift key is full size and directly below the Enter key. A Wi-Fi and touchpad on/off buttons sits above the keyboard.

The trackpad on this netbook is unique. Blending in with system's deck, the 2.5 x 1.5-inch pad is covered with small braille-like dots. Unlike most netbooks, the pad had very little friction, and navigating the desktop didn't require much backtracking. As with other Eee PCs, the touchpad also supports multitouch gestures; using two fingers to pinch the pad and zoom in on a picture was easy, and the image quickly rendered in its new size. The single mouse button was comfortable for making selections, although we prefer the 1000HE's dedicated right and left buttons.

Display, Audio, and Webcam

The 10.1-inch, 1024 x 600-pixel resolution backlit LED display on the 1008HA allows Web pages and windows to fit to size on the screen. A streaming clip of Saturday Night Live from Hulu.com looked smooth, and colors were bright. Tilting the glossy screen back 45 degrees resulted in slight glare; horizontal viewing angles were better. From afar, the inch-thick glossy black bezel looked as if the screen was flush with the frame, however, up close you could clearly make out the raised frame.

Above the display, a 1.3-megapixel Webcam provided extremely clear images in a Skype video chat. A friend saw little motion blur when we waved quickly and made out details on our face. The speakers located at the bottom front edge of the system allowed us to hear his voice loud and clear from across the room. Similarly, when we listened to Miley Cyrus' "The Climb," it was loud but provided the usual netbook tinniness.

Performance

Configured with the same 1.66-GHz Intel Atom N280 processor, 1GB of RAM, and Windows XP as the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE, we didn't see much change in everyday performance or benchmarks on the 1008HA Seashell. Its score of 1,584 on PCMark05 was just 4 points below the 1000HE and 195 points above the category average. This strong performance carried over in our day-to-day computing tasks; simultaneously conducting video calls over Skype and surfing the Web with multiple tabs open didn't cause any system hang ups.

The Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics chip with 128MB of shared memory delivered a score of 700 in 3DMark03, which is 142 points higher than the Eee PC 1000HE and 66 points higher than the category average. Its 3DMark06 score of 83 was 14 points lower than the category average, but a downloaded high-definition 720p video clip played back smoothly with no hiccups or pauses. We also transcoded a 5:05 MPEG-4 video clip (114MB) to the AVI format using Handbrake; the Eee PC 1008HA completed the task in 27 minutes and 35 seconds, which is 4 minutes slower than the netbook average.

On our LAPTOP Transfer Test, in which we copy a 4.97GB mixed-media folder, the Eee PC 1000HE notched a score of 23.1 MBps, which not only beats the category average of 14.4 MBps but is faster than the category-leading Acer Aspire One (17.7 MBps).

Battery Life

The Eee PC 1008HA Seashell comes with a high-density, 2900 mAH lithium polymer battery instead of the more traditional lithium ion battery. On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which assesses endurance by surfing the Web until the battery dies, this netbook lasted 5 hours and 40 minutes, just four minutes shy of the netbook average for 6-cell batteries. Considering the battery fits flush with the system (like netbooks with three-cell batteries), we were impressed that it gets three more hours than the average three-cell battery netbook.

The 1008HA still falls short of netbooks with six-cell lithium ion batteries, such as the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (7:08),HP Mini 2140(7:19), andSamsung N110(7:24)--not to mention theMSI U123, whose nine-cell battery lasted 8:14. Also, the battery on the 1008HA is integrated with the netbook, and it cannot be removed or replaced with an extended battery option.

Wireless Performance

The Eee PC 1008HA's 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi card provided a solid connection for working on the Web. Delivering 21.3 Mbps and 19.0 Mbps from 15 and 50 feet, respectively--both well above average--we were able to maintain a strong signal far from our access point. Streaming music videos over YouTube and music over Blip.fm was seamless. This netbook also includes Bluetooth 2.1 connectivity, good for making wireless Skype calls with a headset or using your cell phone as a wireless modem.

Configuration Options, Software, and Warranty

ASUS will offer only the configuration reviewed here. In addition to ASUS' own Super Hybrid Engine software for overclocking or underclocking the 1008HA, the system comes with Microsoft Works and Skype. You also get 10GB of free online storage. ASUS backs this netbook with a standard one-year warranty and 24/7 toll-free tech support.

Verdict

The Eee PC 1008HA Seashell is one of the slimmest and most attractive netbooks on the market, and with the latest Intel Atom processor and more than five hours of battery life, it has the brains and brawn to match its beauty. While it falls short of the endurance records set by other netbooks and has an awkward VGA port, the 1008HA is worth the slight premium over the 1000HE (about $30) for those seeking a healthy dollop of style.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 1.66-GHz Intel Atom N280
Operating System MS Windows XP Home
RAM 1GB
RAM Upgradable to 2GB
Hard Drive Size 160GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Dual Drive
Display Size 10.1
Native Resolution 1024x600
Optical Drive
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card Intel GMA 950
Video Memory 128MB
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.1
Mobile Broadband
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
USB Ports
Card Slots 4-1 card reader
Warranty/Support One-year limited, 6 months for battery, 30-day Zero Bright Dot/24/7 toll-free phone
Size 10.3 x 7 x 1.0 inches
Weight 2.2 pounds
Company Website http://usa.asus.com