The Asus Eee PC Seashell (also known as the 1008HA) is been the most talked about netbook of recent months. The name is now a bit of a joke - the engineers meant to call it the clamshell, but that got lost in translation on the way over from Taiwan.
Although it's more expensive than the majority of the Eee line, it's worth bearing in mind that the 1008HA Seashell does away with many of the 'innovations' that turned the original few into -- and bear in mind we're saying this with a fair bit of hindsight -- unmanageable plastic lumps of useless.
The first thing you notice is that the Eee's customary chunkiness has been sculpted away. The whole bundle is about as thick as the base of an MSI Wind, so it would universally look good in a handbag or a manbag. Ideal. It really is the equivalent of the tiny Macbook Apple ought to be making by now.
But conversely, curving the case edges inwards and slimming things down has restricted its ports slightly; USB, audio and network ports sit recessed (and thus awkward) on the right hand side of the machine, while the VGA out functionality on the left is handled by a mini Displayport, converted with a custom dongle apparatus thoughtfully stashed within the Eee's underbelly.
The rather ludicrous flash storage is out, presumably because Asus has realised that its flash memory solution never really provided the promised power savings, and is not adequate as one's main PC storage.
In its place is the now-netbook-standard 160GB drive, a much more sensible solution in terms of expansion and useability.
The keyboard of the 1008HA spans the entire width of the case, making the best possible use of the limited space available.
Also thrown to the wolves, at least in this particular Seashell model, is the external battery. Others in the line (Eee PC 1005HA Seashell) will apparently carry more traditional battery packs, but here it has been ousted in favour of an internal Lithium Polymer number.
This odd practise continues to raise our hackles -- as it did with the Macbook Air being aped here -- since it counters what we see as the best thing about low-power laptops
No removable battery
There's an EeePC 900 kicking around the TR office with an expanded 9-cell battery, perfect for chucking in a bag for road trips. We get literally nine hours life out of it. We can travel with the absolute assurance that there's a powered up PC ready to serve our needs, and if that 9-cell battery does run flat we're able to switch to the bog-standard 3-cell and eke out a few bonus hours.
That functionality is completely lost here, although the battery life is extremely impressive -- Asus quotes 6 hours, and we managed to run it flat in just under 5 hours under rigorous 'test conditions'. Watching video and playing games, in other words.
Obviously this is a netbook for the style crowd, and in that sense the 1008HA absolutely delivers. It's extremely shiny, which seems to be the in thing.
We tested a black one and can confirm that it essentially gets lost in a mess of reflections and fingerprints in all but the faintest of light. It's thin, too -- that curvature isn't just a trick.
Sadly Asus has missed a trick, balanced as we are on the cusp of a minor netbook revolution. The 1008HA has netbook-standard GMA945 graphics, so it has sailed before the GN40 tide.
This means no native 720p video processing, and while the GMA945 makes a plucky attempt to keep up, it's just not up to an awful lot. DivX video performance seems a micron better than the usual stock 1GB netbook, probably thanks to the revised N280 processor which ups the front side bus speed a little, but it's not enough to impressive.
Ideally we would have dismantled our sample, a) to check for a RAM expansion slot, and b) to fill such a slot with tasy RAM, but it was whisked away before we had chance. At 2GB netbooks come into their own -- you can wrench 720p out of a 2GB N270 -- so it will be interesting to see if the Seashell can be taken further.