When netbook prices soared, Asus' Eee PC 1005HA came as a breath of fresh air. Great looks were paired with performance, and it was a comparative steal. Now, Asus has incorporated Intel's latest netbook platform, Pine Trail, to produce the Eee PC Seashell 1005P.
Intel has combined the CPU, graphics chip and memory controller onto a single die. The result is the 1.66GHz Atom N450. With the same 4400mAh battery as the 1005HA, Pine Trail's extra efficiency provides the 1005P with an impressive 9hrs 31mins of light use - nearly three hours more than the 1005HA.
There's no performance improvement: a score of 0.29 in our application benchmarks is in the same bracket as the Atom N270. And the GMA 3150 graphics are just a netbook version of the sluggish GMA X3100 chipset. There's still no DirectX acceleration for HD content and the GMA 3150 struggles with HD video.
Outside, though, it's initially tough to see what's changed from the 1005HA. The Eee PC 1005P has the same curvy chassis and the solid plastic construction feels reassuringly stout.
It isn't until you tilt back the 10.1in display that the 1005P deviates from the original blueprint, with the excellent keyboard of the 1005HA discarded for the Scrabble-tile layout. Unfortunately, it's a poor trade. We don't like the feel of the short-travel keys, and the positioning of some keys is questionable.
For instance, in an effort to relieve the once-cramped cursor keys, Asus has positioned the right Shift key in such a way that it's now difficult to hit.
The display has also taken a turn for the worse. The 10.1in 1024 x 600 panel's matte finish keeps distracting reflections to a minimum, but image quality is disappointing.
The 1005HA's screen was never stellar, but the 1005P fails to even live up to that: muted colours leave skintones lifeless and pallid, and brightness is lower.
A tiny consolation is that the speakers have improved. The 1005P is head and shoulders above its predecessor, and sounds crisp and clear for a netbook.
Windows XP Home is replaced by Windows 7 Starter, and applications now snap into view with haste and, while it feels less nippy than XP, the sheer usability compensates. It even makes Asus' instant-on ExpressGate software seem redundant: the 1005P wakes from Windows 7's sleep mode in under ten seconds.
But netbooks are in dire need of something new to grab the public's attention, and Intel's Pine Trail platform simply isn't it. It may be more efficient and cheaper to produce, but with many netbooks already achieving more than six hours of battery life it's hardly a game-changing upgrade.
The Eee PC Seashell 1005P is undoubtedly good-looking, but when you factor in the unnecessary design changes Asus has made, it somehow ends up being less appealing than its predecessor.