The arrival of yet another Asus netbook may not seem like much of an event - after all, prospective purchasers can befuddle themselves with the other 22 models in the range - but its latest, the 1008HA Seashell, is a little bit special.
Glossy plastic reaches around its gorgeous, curvy physique, and whatever colour you choose - black, white, red or pink - its slim, futuristic lines are more reminiscent of Apple's far pricier MacBook Air than the average netbook.
It isn't, however, quite as sturdy as Asus' previous design-led netbook, the stunning S101. Pick up the 1008HA by the corner and the all-plastic construction creaks gently in response. But a few creaks here and there are understandable given the headline weight of just 1.13kg and dimensions that peak at 26mm thick.
The Seashell's clean, crisp figure ishelped by a number of design choices - some sensible, some less so. The most glaringly obvious of these is Asus' decision to place all the ports and connectors out of sight.
Unclip the flaps on the left and right-hand edge of the Seashell and you'll discover two USB ports, a 10/100 Ethernet socket, two 3.5mm audio mini-jacks and a mini-VGA port. And to save space, the 1008HA has a VGA dongle cleverly stowed away in a magnetic compartment underneath.
|The Eee PC 1008HA is altogether classier than other Eee PCs|
Some compromises are a little more difficult to forgive, however. Flip over the 1008HA and you'll spot the second omission: there's no removable battery. To keep the Seashell's figure trim, Asus has opted for a three-cell internal Lithium Polymer battery rated at just 2900mAh.
A three-cell battery normally heralds disaster in the battery life stakes, but imagine our surprise when the Seashell lasted for an impressive 5hrs 39mins in our light-use test. Of course, enabling the draft-n wireless and surfing the web will leave the figure dwindling to nearer the four-hour mark, but it's an impressive performance for such a conservatively rated battery.
There are no compromises when it comes to sheer usability. The keyboard is sensibly laid out, with the cursor keys squashing down to make way for a wide right Shift key, and each key responds with a reassuringly positive action. The trackpad is worth singling out for praise, too. The single button that rocks left and right might not be everyone's cup of tea, but the dimpled finish is great and the button responds with a firm, crisp click.
Powering the 1008HA is Intel's faster 1.66GHz N280 Atom, along with 1GB of DDR2 memory and a 160GB hard disk. Consequently, its benchmark results were a touch higher than previous netbooks, with the 1008HA earning a solid 0.42.
The glossy 10.2in panel doesn't depart from the norm. The 1024 x 600 resolution is unremarkable, and image quality is good without being exceptional. Brightness is a touch lacking and colour reproduction a little cold, but it's up with the best that netbooks have to offer.
The Seashell's relatively high asking price also allows for luxuries such as Bluetooth, a 1.3-megapixel webcam and a stereo microphone array, plus there's a very capable set of speakers. And if you're petrified at the very thought of the 1008HA rolling around in a bag, Asus provides a thin neoprene slipcover to prevent everyday scratching.
From the first moment you clap eyes on it, it's clear that the Eee PC 1008HA is an altogether classier beast than most of its predecessors. It looks gorgeous, feels great in use and, despite the captive battery, turns in a respectable performance away from the mains.
Will it be possible to send the 1008HA back for a replacement battery once a few years of usage has permanently sapped its reserves. We're currently waiting for Asus to answer that. If you don't mind paying a premium for fine design, then the Seashell is a tantalising prospect.
But with Samsung's premium N110 arriving too, the competition is hotting up fast.