Strip away the plastic shell, aluminum cladding and Chiclet-style keys, and every netbook boils down to almost exactly the same hardware. They all seem to share about 90 percent of their DNA – which is why many companies are starting to look past the stagnant hardware inside and turning to the outside as a way to stand out. Asus already joined the party with the fashion-savvy S101, then with the metal-clad 1002HA, and now continues its quest for thin with the 1008HA Seashell. It may not pull anything unusual under the hood, but super-slim dimensions and a sleek shell make it one of the most lust-worthy netbooks we’ve laid eyes on.
Features and Design
Asus’ flowery ad copy and photos that show the computer nestled into sugary beach sand suggest that its shape was inspired by seashells, but make no mistake about it: Apple’s MacBook Air was the real inspiration here. The machine’s emphasis on depth (it measures only an inch thick) and gradually tapered edges both call to mind that original innovator in ultra-slim notebooks. That’s not a bad thing, though: The scalloped edges help make it look more organic, create the impression that it’s even thinner than it is, and in an unforeseen benefit, make it easier to scoop off a table with one hand. Dressed in the black, high-gloss finish, it doesn’t even invite obvious comparisons to the bigger, aluminum-skinned Air (though snagging the white model may catch you accusations of buying a wannabe Mac).
By the numbers, the Seashell’s one-inch depth doesn’t translate to all that much thinner than other netbooks. MSI’s Wind U100, for instance, measures only 1.22 inches thick, and Asus’ own 1002HA, only 1.1 inches deep. But perception is everything, and the Seashell feels significantly skinnier thanks to those shaved-down edges. Reduced weight of 2.4 pounds also makes the Seashell significantly lighter than many competitors, which typically hit about 3.0 pounds. This is one design that invites you to pick it up and flip it around in your hands.
As we’ve seen on previous Eee models, the “black” finish here actually comes impregnated with ever-so-subtle metallic blue flecks. But unless you’re really examining it under the sun, you’ll never be able to tell – and everyone else will think its gloss black, too. Unfortunately, that means mopping up fingerprints regularly unless you want it to look like it’s mottled in grease-smudge camouflage.
The Seashell’s 10.1-inch LED-backlit screen, 160GB hard drive, 1.3-megapixel webcam and Bluetooth are all pretty standard, but other specs do deviate a hair from the standard netbook template. The Seashell uses Intel’s Atom N280 processor, clocked at 1.66GHz, which has a slightly faster front-side bus than the norm, and the built-in Wi-Fi card supports 802.11n.
Ports and Connectors
As part of Asus’ sacrifices to the Gods of Thin, the number of ports on the 1008HA has been knocked down from what you might typically expect. Rather than getting three USB ports, you’ll get two – one on either side – and the standard fixed VGA port has been replaced by a tiny dongle that must be removed from a hatch in the bottom and plugged into a much smaller connector. Microphone, headphone and Ethernet jacks remain, along with an SD card reader.
To keep these ugly metal holes from marring the Seashell’s otherwise-smooth edges, Asus has recessed them deep into the body and covered them with plastic doors that follow the contour of the case. It improves the look significantly, but the tight confines inside will limit what you can plug in. We had issues with an AT&T 3G modem, and a rather fat connector on a pair of headphones. Extensions will fix the problem, but needing them at all is just plain annoying, and you can probably expect to find yourself in at least one bind when travelling before picking up the right adapters.
Like all of Asus’ Eee netbooks, the 1008HA includes a handy soft-sided zipper shell case and tiny AC adapter no bigger than a full-size pack of gum, with plenty of cord – an impressive 11 feet.
Testing and Usage
Like most Asus netbooks, the 1008HA comes preloaded with Windows XP and just the essentials: Microsoft Office 2007 (the trial version), Adobe Reader, and Skype. But a new guy seems to have slipped into the mix: the dreaded Norton Internet Security. Fortunately, it comes as a setup file on the desktop that hasn’t actually been installed when you get it. We recommend dragging it to the trash as you would a precariously wrapped bag of dog poo and downloading a free alternative.
The keyboard on the 1008HA doesn’t depart at all from what we’re used to with Asus netbooks; it reaches a cramped-but-comfy-enough 92 percent of a full-size board, delivers respectable tactile feedback, and generally works just fine.
Keeping with the Seashell’s smooth theme, the track pad has been made totally flush with the wrist rest – only a braille-like dot pattern lets you know your fingers know they’re on it. We liked the subtlety, but missed having hard edges to the pad to run fingers along when scrolling. Asus advertises multi-touch scrolling using two fingers (ala Apple’s MacBooks), but the action isn’t actually enabled out of the box. You’ll need to download new drivers for the Synaptics pad to gain access to that functionality. Rather embarrassingly, Synaptics and Asus both host outdated drivers on their sites at the time of writing, so we needed to go combing through enthusiast forums to even find the files needed.
For all the good attributes Asus shares with the MacBook Air, it also shares some vices. Like the Air, the Eee 1008HA does not include a removable battery, so when it’s dead, it’s dead. For nonstop on-the-go users who genuinely can’t afford to plop down next to an outlet for an hour every once in a while, this might be a deal killer, but for the vast majority of users who never even consider buying multiple notebook batteries anyway, it may not be as big an issue. Unfortunately, the battery that does get cemented inside is rather tiny: It’s specced at just 2900 mAh capacity, in comparison to 4200 mAh and 8700 mAh models on the 1002HA and 1000HE (respectively). Asus advertises six hours of battery life, but like most manufacturer ratings, only those with conservative, monk-like computing habits will manage to wring that full time out of it. We did, however, manage to get a full five hours out of it with a fairly intense Wi-Fi surfing test (loading three pages a minute with the screen at a dim-but-readable 40 percent brightness). Those who use the machine for more intense operations like watching movies or playing games can expect something more like three and a half hours, which is what the machine returned with Battery Eater Pro 2.7 giving it a workout. Both numbers are actually pretty impressive for a laptop with the computer equivalent of a peanut gas tank, but there are obviously better (but heavier) netbook choices if you demand long periods away from wall outlets.
Performance on the Seashell lines up right about with about every other netbook we’ve tried: respectable, but not jaw dropping. The desktop experience feels snappy, Microsoft Office runs without flinching, and we surfed until heart’s content on the built-in Wi-Fi, which supports 802.11n. While we did run up against some performance barriers while playing full-screen episodes of The Simpsons from Hulu, switching to the highest performance setting ironed the video out to watchable frame rates and saved the day.
The Seashell draws looks from people who don’t even know what a netbook is. The Seashell proves that netbooks don’t just have to be cheap, they can be lust worthy, too. Asus may have copped the original design from Apple, but it also paid close attention to execution while translating it to netbook form, and the final product makes a likeable spinoff. Those who find themselves smitten with its dainty good looks won’t mind paying $429 for the super-slim design, especially compared to much spendier alternatives like a MacBook Air, or Sony’s atrociously overpriced Vaio P. Buyers seeking a more practical (but still sleek) netbook may want to check out the very similar 1005HA Seashell, which gets a much larger removable battery and sells for $389.
- Thin, lightweight design
- Functional keyboard and multi-touch-capable trackpad
- Minimal preinstalled clutter
- Respectable netbook performance
- Needs hard-to-find drivers to enable true multi-touch
- Non-removable battery
- Deeply recessed ports