If ever there was a product to blur the boundaries between a netbook and an ultra-portable, the 12.1-inch Asus Eee PC 1215N is it. Priced at around £430, it packs in a much more powerful dual-core Atom processor than you'll find on most netbooks, and it also has Nvidia Ion graphics to speed up video decoding. But just how good is it?
Gloss and glamour
Looks-wise, the 1215N is a much more upmarket proposition than most plasticky netbooks. For starters, the lid and wrist rest have a gorgeous brushed-aluminium finish, and the keyboard and screen surround are dressed in glossy black. The edges are nicely curved, too, and there's some beautiful detailing dotted about, including the chrome strips on either side of the trackpad that mark out its boundary. It's fairly light at 1.5kg, and petite measuring 296 by 203 by 38mm, but despite this it also manages to feel quite robust. You certainly get the impression it will stand up to some abuse during life on the road.
Since the 1215N is aimed primarily at consumers, Asus has gone with a glossy coating on its 12.1-inch screen. This, combined with the display's LED backlighting, does help colours to really leap from the screen, but it's also a tad reflective, especially when you're using it indoors under bright overhead lighting. Nevertheless, the screen's resolution of 1366x768 pixels is good by netbook standards and provides just enough real estate to allow you to work on two documents side by side.
On the right trackpad
The keyboard isn't quite as impressive, however. It features isolated keys, which are actually quite large by netbook standards and have a decent amount of travel. The layout is excellent, too, but unfortunately the keyboard has a fair amount of flex, especially towards the centre, and this can be a little off-putting. When you're tapping away at a decent rate, you can actually feel the flex under your fingers.
The trackpad, on the other hand, is first class. It sits flush with the wrist rest, with two thin chrome strips to mark out its edges. It's big and wide, and the smooth surface means your fingers glide effortlessly across it. The long, narrow trackpad button also ticks the boxes -- it feels sturdy and responds with a satisfying click when pressed.
One area where the 1215N feels very much like a netbook is its connectivity. Along with the usual three USB ports (which are actually USB 3 ports), there's just an Ethernet jack, VGA connector and HDMI port. Naturally, there's also 801.11n Wi-Fi on board, and Asus has included Bluetooth 3.0 support, too.
Ultra-fast netbook or nifty ultra-portable?
What really sets this netbook apart from its peers, however, is its powerful, dual-core, 1.8GHz D525 Atom processor. Although Intel now has a dual-core processor designed for portable devices, the one used here is actually aimed at desktop machines and has speedier performance. Asus has also kitted the 1215N out with 2GB of RAM, when most netbooks are limited to just 1GB of memory. This has also forced it to run the Home Premium version of Windows 7, as OEMs aren't allows to use Windows 7 Starter on netbooks with more than 1GB of RAM.