Asus 1008HA Seashell Netbook : Macbook Air's Lost Half Brother

The Asus 1008HA is certainly one of the most impressive netbooks over the last 18 months, since the Taiwanese company started single handedly the Netbook revolution and launched the EEE PC, that's 7-inch gem that remains a favourite of ours.

The 1008HA is only 27mm at its thickest and, thanks to its clamshell like chassis, could possibly challenge Apple's Mac Book Air when it comes to the "smallest average thinkness" award.

Asus has even coated that Seashell with a special scratch resistant "Infusion" layer which acts like a fingerprint magnet unfortunately, so much so that a cleaning cloth is included in the package.

Weighing only 1.1kg, it is reminiscent of the older and slimmer netbooks, before the era of the bloated models set in and wins hands down compared to other popular netbooks like the Acer Aspire 150 which, despite a 8.9-inch screen, has a 35mm thickness while weighing the same as the Seashell.

The rest of the specifications is on par with what you will find on the market. The 10-inch LED backlit screen is surrounded by a thick black frame with a 1.3-megapixel webcam on top and can display 1024x600 pixels. The glossy screen finish might not appeal to everyone but that was always going to be a point of contention.

That said, images were properly displayed and colour reproduction was next to perfect. An Intel GMA945 chipset powers the screen and provides with the absolute minimum in terms of performance and features with the integrated GMA 950 graphics. Don't expect it to play HD content flawlessly but it was able to play bog standard content without noticeable lag.

The Intel Atom processor, a N280 model, runs at 1.66GHz on a 667MHz FSB. This is very slight improvement on the existing N270 which can be found in the overwhelming majority of netbooks on the market.

There's 1GB RAM which can be upgraded to 2GB; unfortunately we haven't been able to open the Seashell but using Crucial's advisor, we found out that there's only one memory slot. This means that you will have to swap the 1GB memory module for a 2GB one.

In addition, you will find a 160GB hard disk drive (a Seagate Momentus) which was split into two logical drives of equal size on our test computer. Asus also provides you with an additional 10GB online storage to save your most important data.

The keyboard is a 92-percent model that is an edge to edge model. I liked the thin chiseled keys as well as the general layout of the keyboard but the key sizes won't be to the taste of everyone. The keypad might also cause some to frown because it is integrated in the palm rest and its presence is only revealed by rows of indentations.

We had some issues controlling the mouse cursor and the fact that there was a single button to control both the right and left click made us uneasy - especially when trying to use it with the multi touch gesture input.

When it comes to connectivity, the 1008HA is surprisingly better than the Apple Macbook Air. You have one USB ports on each side, a mini VGA port (with Asus providing you with a hidden appendage/dongle), Bluetooth v2.1, 802.11n Wireless Connectivity, Gigabit LAN connector, audio port as well as a 4-inc-1 card reader. All the connectors are neatly hidden by two plastic flaps.

As for the 1008HA's battery life, Asus promises 6 hours worth of battery life thanks to some nifty Lithium-Ion battery, a rather neat achievement given that the battery is a 3-cell model.

We were able to reach that figure in our test (358 minutes exactly) but we have to admit that the 1008HA was just streaming Spotify and doing nothing else.

The netbook does warm up significantly. The processor's core reached 61 degrees which made the underbelly of the device feel uncomfortable. At no time though did any fan disturbed us.

Asus has come up with a three-level mode called Asus Hybrid which reduces the processor speed according to the task being performed. The 1008HA can be downclocked to 855MHz which will increase battery life and reduce heat dissipation using the power saving mode.

Unfortunately, you won't be able to remove the battery; alternatively, you could grab the slightly bulkier and less sexy 1005HA which will offer a removable battery. Like most netbooks, the 1008HA has a pint-sized charger but the rest of the accessories are a little thin. There's not even a proper case (at least with the test model we received) and the attention to details really sets Apple apart from the rest of the competition.

Last but not least, the 1008HA comes with Windows XP Home ULCPC (Ultra Low Cost PC) edition. Nothing much to write about on the 8-year old operating system other than it does the job simply and squarely. It is quiet surprising though how 6-year old hardware and 8-year old software can be repackaged.

As for the conclusion. Well here are several ways to improve the 1008HA

(1) the battery is not removable, which can be an issue if you want to upgrade to a better model or simply want to swap a defective battery

(2) the touchpad is not up to scratch for us as it stands right now. This is certainly a personal point of view but our hunch is that many customers will feel the same. Trying multi-touch gesture input on such a small touchpad is painful. It worked on the Macbooks because they have BIGGER touchpads.

(3) the flipping frame. The frame around the 1008HA should be trimmed to the strict minimum. This would certainly allow for a 12.1-inch screen with the potential of offering a much more comfortable 1366x768 pixel resolution, matching the Mac Book Air.

(4) Increase the memory to 2GB. This is the minimum amount that is needed right now for a decent computing experience - end of.

(5) Swap the GMA950 for a GN45 graphics subsystem at least. That's the minimum we could expect as well if we want to have HD content on the 1008HA.

(6) Pay more attention to details. The flaps covering the input for example are a good idea but slightly kitsch. Ditto for the power charger, it would be great to have one cable that integrates the transformer and the rest of the electronics.

(7) the keyboard has US keys which is a significant flaw in our eyes.

(8) the laptop's finish could be improved to make it less prone to scratches and fingerprints.

Don't get me wrong, the 1008HA is a great piece of electronics but it is painful to see such a wonderful device fall short of excellence. The 1008HA is Asus's 15th netbook (or so) and by now, the Taiwanese manufacturer certainly knows how to manufacture and bring together the best bits of a netbook. It certainly knows or otherwise, Apple wouldn't have allowed it to build Macbooks.

The 1008HA is available from laptopsdirect for £370 in 3 different colours but excludes P&P. Play.com has it for £374 with free delivery.