If you had to describe the Asus N10J in a word, it would be flexibility. The N10 has the form factor of a netbook, allowing for maximum portability, while trying to be a full laptop. It includes switchable graphics to change from performance mode to power-saving mode. It's almost as though Asus has put all of its eggs in a single basket - so the question is, did it break any along the way?
The N10 has a massive bezel around what is basically a standard-size netbook screen. It's one of the few offputting aspects of what is otherwise an excellent machine. The other disturbing aspect was that, although our sample was a pre-production model, it had clearly suffered for its art, bearing scratches across the metal finish.
But aside from those minor flaws, the appearance of the N10 is a breath of fresh air. In fact - and we hate to say this since it sounds like a cliché - it looks like a regular laptop.
That regular-notebook appearance extends to the keyboard which, apart from the shrunken shift key on the right hand side, is as close to a full laptop size keyboard as possible in a 10in form factor. The keys are well-sized, quiet, and have a solid responsiveness that makes them mostly comfortable to type on.
We'd like a bit more bounce to save our fingers, but it's not a great loss without it, especially when comparing the N10 to other netbooks of the same size. The trackpad buttons are distractingly loud, though.
Performance-wise, our initial impressions were that the N10J isn't a standout, delivering the kind of performance that we've seen from other Atom processors. But once we started testing the two alternate graphics settings, we found some interesting results.
For everyone who has ever wanted serious gaming on a netbook, the N10J promises the experience that has thus far eluded them. Flick the switch on the N10J's chassis and a pop-up message asks you to reboot to enable Graphics mode. We tested the N10J on Graphics mode for battery life, performance and used our Crysis benchmarks to give an indication of whether gaming was a true possibility.
As far as performance went, the N10J scored a 0.33 in our benchmarks with Graphics switched on, on the low side for a netbook with an N270 Atom processor. The video scores were stronger, but overall performance wasn't a standout.
It rated a more creditable 0.39 when switched to Power Saving - it's likely that the RAM requirements and usage for the graphics components affects 2D performance, but it's small enough that you likely won't notice in most tasks.
Crysis was surprisingly trouble free, and the small 1024x600 screen wasn't a huge impediment. In graphics mode the N10J still isn't the speediest gaming rig around - on our low settings benchmark, with the native resolution necessitated by the screen, rather than the usual 1024x768 - it managed only 14.6fps, and on medium settings at the same resolution it managed 8.02fps.
While these aren't great figures for Crysis, it gives us an idea of exactly how far we can push the N10J. We'd expect much better results on other games, including many online games such as World of Warcraft and others where the screen size won't be as much of an issue.
Asus is touting the N10J as a long-life battery, and our results confirm it - an excellent 3hrs 30mins during our intensive use battery tests, for both graphics and power saving mode, and an outstanding 6hrs (5hrs 32mins for graphics mode) during light use tests. This is a netbook that will stand up to a few hours of hard punishment or almost a full workday's intermittent typing and web browsing.
When it comes to features, there are plenty of noteworthy touches. Three USB ports are welcome on the chunky chassis, and an HDMI port is an interesting, if not entirely understandable, addition.
The fingerprint reader - standard on most business and many consumer laptops - is another unusual addition here. In addition to the graphics mode switch, there are also switches to turn on or off wireless and the trackpad - the latter is certainly welcome considering how easy it is to send your cursor fleeing to unpredictable hidey-holes on-screen.
Some of the little details intrigued us as well. The default screensaver uses the webcam to display whatever is in front of the netbook on-screen when the netbook is idle. Of more interest to us was the mode button at the top of keyboard, switching between game, quiet office, battery saving, and high performance mode. Unfortunately however, time didn't permit us to test how the battery life fared on all of these.
Overall, the N10J is solid with a good deal of flexibility and it contains a swag of useful features that should make it high on the list of netbook choices for those who want a modicum of power and excellent battery life.