Friday, February 19, 2010

ASUS Eee PC 1008HA with Windows 7

We were one of the first to bring you a review of the thin and light Eee PC 1008HA "Seashell" netbook. We decided to take a second look at this popular ultraportable now that ASUS has re-released it with Windows 7 Home Premium. Can a new operating system turn a netbook into a completely new machine? Keep reading to find out.

Our ASUS Eee PC 1008HA features the following specifications:

* Operating System: Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium (32-bit)
* Processor: Intel Atom N280 Processor 1.66GHz (667MHz FSB)
* Memory: 2GB DDR2 SDRAM (667MHz)
* Storage: 320GB 5400 rpm SATA HDD (plus 500GB Eee Online Storage)
* Display: 10.1-inch diagonal WSVGA+ (1024x600)
* Graphics: Intel GMA 950
* Wireless: Broadcom 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
* Expansion: 4-in-1 media card slot
* Ports and connectors: (2) USB 2.0 ports, proprietary VGA adapter, power connector, RJ-45/Ethernet (Gigabit), stereo headphone/line out, stereo microphone in, 1.3 megapixel webcam
* Dimensions (H x W x D): 0.75-1.20 x 10.3 x 7.0 inches (including feet)
* Weight: 2.4 lb (not including weight of AC adapter).
* Power: 3-cell Lithium-Polymer battery
* Warranty: One-year standard warranty
* MSRP: $479.99

Build and Design
Nothing has changed in terms of the build or design between the original Eee PC 1008HA Seashell and this update. Like the "seashell" name implies, the chassis shape is inspired by the curves of a seashell. The clamshell-like design gives the 1008HA a very clean and distinct appearance. Every port from Ethernet to USB is covered with plastic doors which are probably more decorative than they are protective. ASUS claims this version of the Eee PC is just one inch thick at its thickest point, but that doesn't include the feet on the bottom of the netbook. We measured the maximum thickness at more than one inch, but the 1008HA is still remarkably thin and light.

The glossy black plastics suffer from very little flex and the keyboard is as firm as even the best business-class notebooks on the market. The various parts of the chassis come together with tight seams and good attention to detail. ASUS claims that the plastics used on Eee PC 1008HA are coated with an "Infusion finish" that makes the netbook scratch resistant. I wasn't able to produce any scratches in the plastics during the testing period, but the glossy surface is extremely prone to fingerprint smudges which make this brand new netbook look a little dirty after just a few minutes of use. The 1008HA is also available in white, blue, and pink ... in case black isn't your color of choice.

ASUS uses the same keyboard design on the 1008HA update that is 92% of a full sized keyboard, which is a nice improvement over some of the older Eee PC netbook keyboards. The gesture-based Synaptics touchpad is likewise pretty large for a netbook. If ASUS made any obvious sacrifices with the design of the 1008HA then those sacrifices are related to making this netbook as thin as possible. I'll explain later in the review.

Screen and Speakers
The new Eee PC 1008HA Seashell uses a fairly standard LED-backlit display panel with a 1024x600 native resolution. The glossy screen surface helps to improve color and contrast, but glare and reflections indoors under strong lights or outdoors under direct sunlight can be a problem. Although the 1024x600 resolution is far superior to the old 800x480 screen resolution on the original Eee PC, I was a little disappointed that ASUS didn't use a higher resolution display on the Eee PC 1008HA. Considering that several other manufacturers such as HP and Dell are offering netbooks with 1366x768 screens the display on this netbook just seems a little underwhelming. Vertical viewing angles are average with some color distortion when viewing from below and some over-exposed colors when viewed from above. Horizontal viewing angles are better with colors staying accurate at extremely wide viewing angles; you won't have trouble sharing a YouTube video with friends using this display.

The built-in speaker performance on the Eee PC 1008HA is extremely good for a 10-inch netbook. I'm not a fan of the location of the built-in speakers since they're located on the bottom front edge of the 1008HA, but the audio quality is quite good. The speakers produce excellent volume (enough to fill a small room) and there is minimal distortion even at higher volume levels. The speakers lack much bass, but the range of highs and midtones are perfectly enjoyable.

Granted, most audiophiles will want to use external speakers or headphones for a better listening experience ... but the built-in speakers work well in a pinch. The audio output from the headphone jack is free of any obvious distortion and worked fine with the earphones and external speakers I used during the testing.

Keyboard and Touchpad
As previously mentioned, the 1008HA update uses the same keyboard that is 92% of full size. The keys are slightly smaller than the keys on an average notebook but the spacing between the keys is quite limited. If you prefer the shape and feel of traditional keys then you'll probably like the new keyboard. That said, I personally prefer the "Chiclet" style keyboard used on the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE since there is more space between the keys to prevent me from accidentally hitting the wrong key. Still, the keyboard on this netbook is quite usable and should be perfectly fine for typing quick emails or editing documents while traveling.

The Synaptics touchpad used on the 1008HA is a gesture-enabled model that allows you to use multi-figure gestures such as "pinching" your fingers together or "pulling" your fingers apart to zoom in or out. You can also use a "three-finger tap" as an alternative to a right click on a mouse. The Synaptics control panel in Windows also allows you to customize these gestures as well. The touchpad surface is covered in dots that provide a clear indication of the edges of the touchpad, but this also makes the touchpad surface too rough for quick finger movement. The left and right touchpad buttons are located beneath a single rocker-style button, but with no separation between the left and right side it's easy to accidentally press the middle of the touchpad button when you're trying to press the left or right side. The touchpad buttons have extremely shallow feedback, so it isn't always easy to feel when you have or have not pressed a button.

ASUS also included a number of dedicated buttons and keyboard shortcuts to make life easier. There's a dedicated wireless on/off button, touchpad on/off, as well as FN keyboard shortcuts for screen brightness, video output, volume, and Windows task manager.

Input and Output Ports
In terms of port selection the Eee PC 1008HA remains pretty basic. You get two USB 2.0 ports, a 4-in-1 media card reader, headphone and microphone jacks, and a special collapsible Ethernet port. The curved door on the right hand side of the netbook flips down to allow a standard Ethernet cable to be connected to the netbook.

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