The Asus Eee Seashell Review (The Netbook Is Back)

The Asus Eee Seashell Review (The Netbook Is Back)
Since the original, 7-inch Eee, netbooks have just gotten bigger. First 9, then 10, and now even 12 inches in size, most of these ultraportables are now just…quasi portable. Luckily, the Eee 1008HA Seashell reminds us what made netbooks so enticing in the first place: Size.

For $US429, it’s an enjoyable little machine. My demo unit was piano black with the faintest flecks of blue in sunlight. And while that glossy finish will obviously get a bit smudgy, small touches like a beveled-keyed keyboard, tapered edges and integrated lithium polymer battery are reminiscent of computers of another class (yeah, I’m talking about the MacBook Air, pictured below).
Indeed, the Seashell is just 1.09kg and measures but an inch at its thickest point—a quarter of an inch thicker than the Air. It’s probably a bit more functionally thin than OMG thin, but I’m not complaining. The Seashell makes most netbooks of yore look like hardback books with screens.

The keyboard is extremely satisfying to use. It’s satisfyingly clicky and each key is easy to find with your fingers. A convenient button controls Wi-Fi/Bluetooth combinations to reserve power, while another button turns off the trackpad when not in use.
As for that trackpad…it’s the only obvious design error in the system. While most trackpads are ever so recessed from a laptop’s body, the Seashell’s doesn’t dip at all. Instead, your finger glides over a series of dimples. As you might expect, the sensation is odd at first. But while you’ll quickly adjust to feeling of the braille-like design, your fingers will constantly find friction from the netbook’s glossy, sticky finish.

The Seashell’s sides stay sleek thanks tethered rubber stoppers like you find in some mobile phones. They hide two USB ports alone with one each of mic, headphone, mini VGA and Ethernet ports. Notably, Asus stuck one of each of those USBs on each side of the computer, which should prevent the dreaded “there’s no room for my second USB device because my first USB device is in the way” conundrum.
The 10-inch (1,024×600) glossy screen? It could be brighter (right now, the brightest setting is just adequate if you’re anywhere near a window), but it’s colourful and features an impressive angle of viewing. The power adaptor? Remarkably small. The annoying mini VGA to VGA cable you’ll need to connect to an external monitor? Cleverly hidden within the case’s underside.

Like I said, it’s a very well-designed classic netbook. If only it came in aluminium, we’d all be freaking the @&#;% out right now.

The Seashell looks pretty, but internally, it’s the same as pretty much every other netbook. Luckily, the computer is running XP, so the Atom N280 processor (without the accompanying, new GN40 video chipset), 1GB of RAM (upgradeable to 2GB), 160GB hard drive, SDHC port, 802.11n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 2.1 will offer a reasonably quick and robust experience for browsing the web and light tasks. But as with any computer in this class, you should expect to lose some framerates during video playback (especially in HD).

But the real reason you should be looking at this performance section is for battery life. Asus promises that their integrated lithium polymer battery lasts 6 hours (keep in mind, this battery is unswappable, though future versions of the Seashell have already been announced that will feature swappable batteries). What does the Seashell really get?

3 Hours, 27 Minutes

That figure was generated through nonstop MPEG4 playback, with the screen at its brightest setting (which I consider the only day adequate setting),Wi-Fi on and Bluetooth off. As I’ve said before on many occasions, real battery life tends to be about half of claimed battery life across all laptops. Here we see that mantra hold true yet again. Considering that the AC adaptor is pretty tiny (not some ludicrous brick that will add a lot of weight to your bag), three and a half hours seems pretty workable, even without a replaceable battery.

If you have any Atom netbook, the Seashell’s sleeker new form, while attractive, probably isn’t so unbelievably beautiful that it’s worth forking over the cash for an upgrade. If you’re in the market for a new netbook, keep in mind that the Seashell’s current $US429 price is about $US60-$US129 more than you could pay for slightly chunkier but similar performing competitors.

Still, I will say, the Seashell will be a very tempting purchase when the price drops a bit in the coming months (which it’s sure to, given the ever evolving netbook market and the fact that Asus’ Seashell sequels have already been announced). I mean, the thing is just 1.09kg! Remember back when netbooks were just 1kg? And it’s tiny! Remember back when netbooks were tiny?

Asus’ Seashell is a quite literal return to form for the netbook industry: Small, light and reasonably inexpensive, the Seashell is easily the most enticing netbook Asus has released since the original Eee.

Impressively slim and light

Great keyboard

Reasonable real world runtime

Screen is just bright enough, but will be too dim for some

Trackpad feels unnecessarily funky