Business Traveller takes the Asus Seashell netbook out for a test
The netbook as we know it now was unheard of just three years ago, that was until Asus released the Eee PC 700 series back in 2007. At the time it was seen by some as a gimmick, a toy even, with its tiny eight-inch screen form factor (otherwise known as size) and absence of any optical input devices (otherwise known as a CD/DVD drive).
No-one expected these toy laptops to take off, but little did they know. This entirely new type of small, ultra-portable and most importantly low-cost computer would soon become the fastest growing type of laptop in terms of sales, spurred on by the global recession and the growing importance of mobile internet access. In short, the netbook provides a cheap way of accessing the internet, hence its name.
Asus has really been at the forefront of netbook design since the days of the 700 series. Even though Asus far from holds a monopoly on netbooks, it recognised the need to increase the screen size steadily to 10.1 inches while keeping the average price below £300, a standard which has now been adopted by its rivals.
Asus has also led the race in terms of aesthetics, by keeping the netbook stylish, individual and of a decent build-quality while keeping that all important price point below £300. And the 1005PE, otherwise known as the Seashell, is no exception. It comes in four colours, black, pink, blue and white, and it is the latter that I used for two weeks.
At first glance the white Seashell looks great. It has that nice, clean iPod look. Open it up and the screen has a black surround, contrasting nicely with the keyboard. The screen itself is thankfully not one of these fashionable shiny-surfaced ones that suffer badly in direct sunlight. The keyboard itself is of course small, but the keys are separated out and look solid. When closed the Seashell is quite thick, but it’s a sturdy, reassuring thickness which feels nice in the hand. The Seashell is undoubtedly a good-looking piece of kit, and it drew many admiring glances from people around me. It’s also reassuringly heavy at 1.27kg, thanks to the large battery inside. When it’s in your bag you certainly know it’s there, but it’s not heavy enough to be a nuisance.
The Seashell runs Windows 7 Starter, and does so very well. The Intel Atom N450 processor is made for laptops of this size and overall spec, and rarely was I left feeling that it could have done with more processing power. The only problems came when streaming video, or playing video files. There seemed to be some lag with the higher quality stuff, which was remedied slightly by putting the Seashell into performance mode. A number of power-saving and performance profiles can be cycled through quickly and easily by pressing the function key and spacebar together. Low-quality streaming was fine, and it handled BBC iPlayer adequately though not perfectly.
The keyboard was very easy to use, in fact I could type on it much more quickly than a regular-sized desktop keyboard. I have fairly large hands, yet there were no problems with typing accuracy. The touchpad also supports multi-gestures familiar to anyone with an iPhone, such as pinching to zoom in and out. This however proved the source of some frustration, as sloppy touchpad use led to documents and web pages jumping around unexpectedly.
Interestingly, the Seashell has two operating systems – Windows 7 as mentioned above, and Express Gate. Express Gate is a cut-down OS that can be booted up very quickly, giving access to basic facilities such as a web browser, Skype and other netbook-esque applications. This harks back the Eee PC’s early days when it ran Linux-based proprietary OSs that were very quick but lacked the slick features of full-blown Windows and Mac systems, and the widespread compatibility that went with those.
The inbuilt camera, microphone and speakers made for an excellent Skype experience. The speakers incidentally are surprisingly good when playing music, being both clear and loud.
Most impressive of all was the Seashell’s battery life, which is quoted at 11 hours, thanks to a six-cell battery. While these estimates are usually on the optimistic side, the Seashell certainly stayed running for as long as I needed it. It performed very well on my daily three-hour commute, and I got about two day’s use out of it before it needed another charge. The performance options also seemed to make a difference to battery life, as did dimming the screen and other power saving measures.
PROS Great looks and the battery life is the best out there right now. Fast boot-up and smooth OS.
CONS The netbook performance can’t quite handle high quality video play back.
PRICE £224 (best online price)
At a glance:
• Windows 7 Starter
• Anti-glare 10.1″ WSVGA display (1024×600)
• Intel Atom N450 1.66G
• 1G DDR2 memory
• Wifi, Bluetooth
• 250GB Hard drive with a further 500GB online storage
• 0.3 MP video camera, built-in stereo speakers and microphone
• Three USB slots, One VGA and a SD/MMC card reader
• Battery up to 11 hrs (depending on use)
• Weight 1.27kg