Editors' Note (June 25, 2009): Anyone interested in the 1008HA reviewed here is advised to check out the Asus Eee PC 1005HA (released after this review was written). It offers a very similar design, but with a removable battery that lasts significantly longer than the 1008HA model.
With minilaptop competition heating up, even Asus--the company that practically invented the Netbook--has to step up its game. While the internal components will be familiar, the new Eee PC 1008HA (also known called the Seashell) represents a radical design change from the boxy Eee PCs we've seen before, with a slim, tapered design that makes it one of the best-looking Netbooks we've come across.
To get down to about 1 inch thick, some engineering slight-of-hand was required. The VGA output uses a dongle, the Ethernet jack is angled to fit into the thin body, there's a custom-molded (nonremovable) battery, and an LED display shaves a few millimeters off the lid.
One inescapable current Netbook trend is falling prices. With a perfectly serviceable $299 10-inch system coming from Dell and subsidized Netbooks from mobile phone companies, the current standard of $399 for a nicely equipped minilaptop is starting to look like the maximum the market will bear. At $429, the 1008HA slips just over the line, although the difference is more psychological than practical.
|Price as reviewed||$429|
|Processor||1.66GHz Intel Atom N280|
|Memory||1GB, 533MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel 945GM Express|
|Graphics||Mobile Intel GMA 950 (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows XP|
|Dimensions (WD)||10.3 x 7.1 inches|
|Height||0.6- 1.0 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||10.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.4/2.8 pounds|
The slim design of the 1008HA is a close cousin of the HP Mini 1000, but it feels even thinner, thanks to a tapered front lip. Helping shave a little size from the system are space-saving features including a pin-size power adapter plug, an angled Ethernet jack, and a mini-VGA port that requires a small dongle to use--cleverly hidden in the bottom of the chassis. Rather than a potentially smaller SSD drive, there's a standard 160GB HDD inside, augmented by a free 10GB online data storage subscription for backing up files to a remote server.
We've seen the 1008HA in white, but our review unit was glossy black, which was prone to picking up fingerprints at an alarming rate.
The flat, wide keyboard, similar to what we saw on the recent Eee PC 1000HE, is among the better Netbook keyboards we've used, and the full-size right shift key is one of those things you don't realize is very important until it goes missing. The touch pad is demarcated by a rectangle of raised dots on the wrist rest and works well, although we found ourselves going into the touch pad settings and jacking up the default pointer speed. Above the keyboard are two quick-access buttons for turning off the Wi-Fi antenna and disabling the touch pad (handy if you're using an external USB mouse).
The 10.1-inch LED screen offers a 1,024x600 native resolution, which is standard for a Netbook. The backlit LED allows the lid to be very thin, and also uses less power than a more traditional LCD screen. A system tray app cycles through some other resolutions (1,024x768, 800x600), but displays usually look best at their native resolution.
|Asus Eee PC 1008HA||Average for category [netbook]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
The 1008HA offers a fairly standard set of ports and connections, lacking only the ExpressCard slot we've seen on some high-end Netbooks. But bear in mind that all the ports are hidden behind hinged plastic doors, so to even plug in a USB key, you'll have to flip open one of them. The tiny, angled Ethernet jack is impressive--you should try plugging a cable in at least once to see how it works.
Using Intel's N280 Atom CPU, the system was minimally faster in our iTunes encoding test than Netbooks with the slightly slower N270 version of the ubiquitous Atom. Performance in other tests was in line with other Netbooks, and overall we have yet to meet an Atom-powered Netbook that vastly outperformed or underperformed the pack. The basic rule of thumb is that for basic tasks such as world processing, Web surfing, and e-mail, an Atom Netbook is more than adequate, as long as you keep your expectations modest.
Like the MacBook Air, the 1008HA has a nonremovable battery--something that rubs some users the wrong way, but we've never been particularly troubled by nonremovable batteries. The benefit is that a larger battery can be custom-molded to the chassis, instead of the standard three-cell battery typical in a thinner Netbook. While it can't match the six-plus hours we've gotten from Netbooks with massive six-cell batteries, such as Asus' own 1000HE, we got an impressive 4 hours and 1 minute from the 1008HA in our video playback battery drain test. Asus also includes its Super Hybrid Engine feature in the system, which is essentially a series of power-saving presets to further extend battery life. These are mostly power consumption tweaks one could perform individually, but it's handy to have them all in one place.