Nothing lasts for ever, and it appears the public’s love affair with netbooks is starting to lose its spark. This is due in no small part to Apple injecting new life into the tablet market, and you can expect to see a glut of these touchscreen wonders on the shelves this Christmas.
Tablets lack keyboards, though, and that rules them out for those looking for a portable computer on which to type out long documents. So although the number of new netbooks being released will undoubtedly decrease, they certainly won’t disappear altogether.
Asus pioneered the netbook, and its latest model, the Eee PC 1215N that we have here, is aiming itself at those who demand slightly more in terms of raw power. It also has a larger-than-average screen at 12.1 inches.
First impressions are good, and it’s instantly obvious this isn’t a budget netbook. The lid has a smart, brushed silver coating, while on the inside you’re greeted by the same effect on the wrist rest and a well-sized keyboard. If silver’s not your bag, black and red versions are also available.
Although sturdy, the screen’s hinge locks out at around 50 degrees. This is fine for most scenarios, but in cramped conditions (for example on an aeroplane where the netbook is effectively sitting on your lap) you may find the fact the display can’t be tilted back further makes it tricky to use.
The keyboard is of the chiclet variety, meaning each key pokes out from its own individual hole in the chassis. Opinion on this style of keyboard is divided, but we found it very comfortable to use. Each key has a nice, textured surface along with a solid feel when pressed and, unlike with most netbooks, the arrow keys aren’t slimmed down.
The Enter key is set one column in from the right edge of the keyboard and during our first few hours with the laptop we frequently pressed the key to the right of it (PgUp) by accident. Thankfully it didn’t take too long to get used to this layout.
One thing we really didn’t like, however, was the amount of flex to the keyboard. We’re used to seeing a certain amount of flex on laptop keyboards, but the Eee PC 1215N is particularly bad. Even with light key presses you’ll notice neighbouring keys moving in tandem with the one you’re pressing. It’s not a massive problem, but if you’ve a heavy-handed typing style it will soon start to irritate and it blights an otherwise excellent keyboard.
The touchpad could also be better. It’s of a decent size, but its glossy nature makes it a little too slippery; we’d prefer a touchpad with a little more texture.
A suitable 250GB hard drive is installed, with Asus splitting it into two partitions. All the networking boxes are also ticked, with the Eee PC 1215N home to Bluetooth, 802.11n wireless and 10/100 LAN. As far as ports and sockets are concerned, the netbook has three USB ports, an SD card reader, VGA-out and audio in/out. Unlike most netbooks, however, it also sports an HDMI port, allowing it to quickly be hooked up to an HD television.
Thanks to the 12.1-inch display having a resolution of 1366 x 768, however, there’s no need to connect a TV to view HD video. Smooth 720p playback is aided by the use of Nvidia’s ION graphics, which is a step up from the usual GMA3150 integrated graphics that most netbooks rely on.
The choice of processor also helps. Asus has gone for Intel’s latest Atom D525 CPU, which has a clock speed of 1.8GHz. It’s also a dual-core chip, which gives the preinstalled Windows 7 Home Premium (32-bit) a shot in the arm. Asus has sensibly supplied 2GB of memory to sit alongside this processor.
While it’s certainly more powerful than your average netbook, don’t go thinking the Eee PC 1215N will be able to take on your desktop PC. The preinstalled Windows 7 runs smoothly enough and has no problem multitasking relatively simple applications such as browser windows and Word documents. However, what it won’t do is let you play 3D games. With suitably low expectations we decided to fire up Call of Duty 4, and the resulting 6fps at a paltry 800 x 400 pixel resolution says it all. Still, the fact it managed to run the game at all is fairly impressive.
Slow frame rates aside, during our brief and rather jerky gaming session we noticed the audio was pretty good, with the stereo speakers situated just under the front lip of the laptop managing to belt out some loud noises. The lack of a sub-woofer means the audio is fairly tinny, but you can’t expect thundering bass from a small laptop such as this.
With a power-sucking 12.1-inch display, faster-than-average Atom processor and Nvidia’s Ion graphics, you’d be forgiven for thinking battery life would be relatively poor on the Eee PC 1215N. However, under general use with wireless switched on, we managed nearly four hours before the battery died, which isn’t at all bad. Slip it into power-saving mode and you can expect up to six hours usage.
We noticed it got a little warm on the left side during extended use, but the wrist rest remains impressively cool so it’s not a huge problem. We did, however, find the hard drive noisier than most. You won’t hear it unless you’re in a very quiet room, but the constant high-pitched clicking noise did start to irritate.
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