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May 28, 2009

ASUS EeePC 1008HA (Seashell)

The netbook market is dominated by laptops whose frames are thick slabs of unattractive plastics, and design is often sacrificed in the name of hitting cellar prices. In looks, the new ASUS EeePC 1008HA (Seashell) is basically everything that the EeePC 1000HE isn't. Though the frame is still made up of plastic, it's noticeably thinner and lighter than the 1000HE while maintaining the 10-inch widescreen and 92% keyboard. Replacing a removable battery with a non-removable one was the only sacrifice. Even then, the nearly 6 hours it scored in battery testing is more than acceptable.

The 1008HA is quite the beauty. There's less bulk in the middle of the frame than in the 1000HE, and the shiny white plastic creates more uniformity along the edges (where the lid meets the bottom). It measures an inch thick (10.3 by 7 by 1 inches, HWD), and weighs only 2.4 pounds. This makes it the lightest 10-inch netbook; the 1000HE is nearly a pound heavier, at 3.2 pounds. At launch, the 1008HA will also be available in black, while pink and blue models will ship at a later date.

In slimming the 1008HA down, ASUS managed to retain the 10-inch widescreen (with its drab 1,024-by-600 resolution) and 92% keyboard. The keyboard is very pleasant to type on, though the mouse buttons aren't as big (or as responsive) as those on the 1000HE. With all the attention focused on design, ASUS will need to pay more heed to the size of the keyboard. Netbooks like the Samsung N120 (12GBK), the Samsung NC20 (21GBK), and the Aspire AO751h are equipped with full-size keyboards. And like a 10-inch widescreen, it's only a matter of time before a 92% keyboard becomes a thing of the past.

Although the 10008HA didn't sprout any worthwhile new features, ASUS did make some port modifications in order to slim down the chassis. In place of a normal VGA port is a mini-USB port, to which you'll need to connect a dongle—a VGA adapter on the end of 3 inches of cable—if you should want to connect to an external monitor. (The dongle is tucked away on the underside of the laptop when not in use). The Ethernet port has been moved to the back right corner of the laptop, which is slightly thicker than the rest of the frame. In addition, you'll find 2 USB ports (one fewer than on the 1000HE), plus headphone and microphone jacks. Connectivity includes built-in 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth. Inside, you'll find a 160GB (2.5-inch) hard drive.

Processing parts are identical to those in the 1000HE. The 1.66GHz Intel Atom N280 is beginning to show up on more netbooks now, but they are still few and far between. On paper, it's slightly faster than the more popular 1.6GHz, Intel Atom N270, but in real-world tests, performance differences are barely noticeable. It comes with 1GB of DDR2 RAM, though upgrading it to 2GB will require removing an entire back panel, held together by 4 screws. (The 1000HE has a small, 2-screw panel that leads directly to the single memory slot.)

Not surprisingly, both the 1000HE and the 1008HA tallied the same video encoding score of 4 minutes, 24 seconds. It's the fastest score out of the Samsung N120, the Acer Aspire One (10-inch), and the HP Mini 2140. SYSMark 2007 Preview scores were less dramatic, as the test measures overall performance, and many of these netbooks have nearly identical scores. The 1008HA's Overall score of 41 is only a single point better than the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (Red), the N120, and the Dell Inspiron Mini 12, so their real-world performance should essentially be the same.

The 10008HA is the first ASUS netbook that uses a non-removable battery. It's a 2-cell Lithium Polymer battery—the same technology used in the Apple MacBook Air. ASUS is claiming up to 6 hours of battery life, and according to MobileMark 2007 tests, it came pretty close. Its 5 hours 44 minutes is enough for a coast-to-coast flight. Netbooks like the N120 (7:57), the 1000HE (6:36), and the One (8:46) use bigger batteries and thus can harvest more battery life, plus they're removable so you can swap it out for an extra battery.

The lack of a removable battery is my only knock against the ASUS eeePC 1008HA (Seashell), but even so, this laptop managed to score almost 6 hours in battery tests. For a netbook with so much thought put into its design, it isn't outrageously priced. If you're a practical shopper, the 1000HE, the One (10-inch), and the N120 with their removable battery and extra USB port, are your best bets.

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