Just when we all thought netbooks were dead and gone, Asus plops a new model on our desk. With ultrabooks on the rise and smart phones becoming ever more versatile, the Asus Eee PC 1025C may very well be the last gasp of the netbook.
It comes with an Intel Atom processor and 1GB of RAM, packed inside a fairly sleek shell that Asus calls 'Flare'. But is this dying breed still worth the £250 price tag?
Design and build
Given that Asus has attached the name 'Flare' onto this little chap, you'd be forgiven for expecting some sort of radical design that you could attract passing boats with. However, I can't help but feel that Asus' use of the word is perhaps a little optimistic.
Your eyes will first meet with its lid which, typically, is made of plastic and has been given an entirely dark grey colour, broken only by the Asus logo in the middle. It's an extremely plain design that frankly has as much flair as the average paving slab in Rotherham.
It might only be brash enough to stand out on a deserted island, but it's arguably pretty smart. I wouldn't be embarrassed to be seen with it at a conference -- other than what I'd already be feeling about using a netbook instead of a proper laptop. Make sure you keep a cleaning cloth handy though as the lid picks up fingerprints like a well-trained forensic scientist.
The same plastic finds its way under the lid as well, making up the wrist rest and the keyboard surround. There's still nothing to flare up about here, but you could always break the monotony with some Hello Kitty stickers. Or just buy a flare gun and fire a few rounds into the air to draw attention from your fellow conference attendees.
The only area that might relate to Asus' chosen moniker is the chrome edging. You'll find a strip of shiny metal on either side that adds a slightly more premium feel, as well as giving it an extra sliver of style. It's a shame there's no more metal scattered around, but at 250 quid, you can't really expect a lot of flourishes.
Size-wise, the 1025C is par for the course for a netbook. It's 262mm wide, 178mm deep and has a thickness of around 28mm in the middle. They're the sort of dimensions you'd find on pretty much any other netbook and it's easy enough to fit into a backpack without trouble. If you're after the slimmest machine on the market, you might want to look more towards Asus' own UX21 Zenbook -- but you'll have to stump up about 600 quid more.
It weighs in at 1.25kg, which is again what you'd expect. The Toshiba NB550D is roughly the same weight and you're not likely to ever notice the difference in a few grams.
When you do come to lugging it around town, you can rest assured that it'll put up with a fair amount of abuse. The plastic chassis is sturdy and reassuringly free of creaks and clicks when you press down on it, giving the impression that it's built for a life of tough living and strong whiskey.
Keyboard and trackpad
If you've ever used a netbook before, the compact keyboard won't come as much of a surprise to you. It's a standard netbook size, meaning that it's had to be crammed in in order to fit into the diminutive frame. Typically, if you've got hands bigger than an average child, you might find yourself struggling to type. If you have to uncomfortably squash your hand up while fishing for the last few Pringles in a tube, you probably won't enjoy typing on a netbook.
Asus has done its best to make use of the available space with the isolated keys, but they'll definitely be too small for some of you. They also have a pretty firm action, which can make typing a little awkward at times -- as does the half-sized shift key on the right.
As expected, the trackpad is a tiny little blotch on the wrist rest, but there's very little space to play with so you really couldn't expect it to be much bigger. It's fairly responsive and will be fine for opening a couple of emails, but if you intend to do a substantial amount of web browsing, then you'll definitely want to pop in a USB mouse.
Around that chrome edge you'll find three USB 2.0 ports (there's no USB 3.0, but you'd be mad to expect it), VGA out, a fold-out Ethernet port and a headphone jack. Surprisingly, you also get an HDMI output, which you wouldn't normally expect to see. Hopefully then, it's capable of comfortably playing back high-definition video on a larger TV.
You also get an SD card slot, which is handy for quickly dumping your photos off your camera, and a 0.3-megapixel webcam for video chatting or taking awful self-portraits.
The 10.1-inch screen offers a resolution of 1,024x600 pixels, which is standard. I'd have liked to have seen Asus push for a little more, considering it's a new model. The display has decent horizontal viewing angles though, so you shouldn't need to remain too rigid in front of it to get the best results.
It's pretty bright and handles colours well, so if you do intend to watch any YouTube clips or browse through your ex's Facebook photos, it'll do the job fine. It's also been given a matte coating, which keeps reflections down to a minimum and makes it good for use under harsh office lighting or bright sunlight.
The screen is about adequate for standard tasks like checking your email or posting on Twitter, but if you plan on editing massive spreadsheets or want to watch stunning videos at their best, you really shouldn't be browsing the netbook category.
The 1025C comes packing a dual-core Intel Atom N2600 processor clocked at 1.60GHz. That's backed up by 1GB of RAM, which is frankly rather stingy. While 1GB is average for netbooks, I started to see models arriving last year with 2GB of RAM, so it would have been nice to see Asus up its game.
Netbooks are designed for very basic tasks and never claim they're the sort of monsters that will chew through intense tasks, so you'd be wrong to expect great performance.
I ran the PCMark05 benchmark test and was given a disappointing score of 1,601. The Toshiba NB550D squeezed a more impressive 1,885 out of its processor and the MSI U270 used its 2GB of RAM to provide an excellent 2,940. Both those models are from last year's crop, so it's very disappointing to see a new netbook failing to even keep up with the crowd.
Browsing around Windows was relatively swift though, with folders and documents opening without much hesitation. It was able to handle multi-tabbed web browsing, but only up to a point. When I had four or more tabs open, it became noticeably sluggish, especially if streaming video was involved.
If you're not doing much else, then it can handle streaming high-definition video or playing back any HD video files you've got stored. The screen isn't good enough to cope with it, of course, but you can hook it up to a bigger TV via the HDMI port, sit back and enjoy.
The 1025C is perfectly capable of handling things like email, basic web browsing and word processing, but if you need your computer to stretch to photo editing, gaming or heavy multi-tasking, then this isn't going to suit.
Netbooks are tiny little things so it's likely that you're going to be taking them out and about with you. You'd therefore be right to expect a good battery life and the 1025C doesn't disappoint.
I ran my battery test and was given a superb score of around 6 hours 30 minutes. The MSI U270 may have beaten it in the performance stakes, but its battery only lasted for 2 hours 17 minutes on the same test. Toshiba's NB550D achieved just over 4 hours, which is good, but not even close to the 1025C's effort.
It's an extremely demanding test, so you can get much better battery life with careful usage. If you keep Wi-Fi switched off and don't watch much video, you could happily survive an 8-hour flight to New York from London.
The Asus 1025C Flare may have an excellent battery, but it's let down by sub-par performance and an unimpressive screen. If a long battery life is your only requirement, then it might be worth a look. Otherwise, your money could be better spent elsewhere.