The Asus N series is Asus' premium laptop brand. It comprises the high-end N50 (which sports a built-in air ionizer), the 14.1-inch business-focused N80, the 12.1-inch N20 and this product, the 10-inch N10. It's easy to be sceptical about yet another 10-inch netbook-style machine -- particularly if Asus makes it -- but the N10 is easily one of the most exciting portable computers to emerge in 2008.
The N10 occupies a market segment somewhere between netbooks and ultraportable laptops, utilising internal components from both classes of machine. Most significantly, it uses a relatively powerful graphics card, which gives it the ability to run 3D games, high-definition movies and more. But is it the best of both worlds or a pointless hybrid? Read our review before you part with your £400.
The N10 is developed not by Asus' Eee division, but by its standard laptop division, so it's no surprise its design has more in common with laptops than netbooks. It lacks the Eee badging made famous on the Eee PC 700, and its chassis is larger and heavier than Asus' largest netbook, the Eee PC 1000H. But don't let that put you off -- it's significantly smaller than rivals such as the Samsung Q210 or MacBook Air.
The N10 is a looker. It's not in the same league as the Eee PC S101, but its glossy champagne colour scheme with contrasting black keyboard and screen bezel give it a premium aesthetic. It's in the same league as Asus' gorgeous U and S series laptops and we're convinced that if released prior to the dawn of the Eee PC, Asus could easily have gotten away with selling it for over £1,000.
Its looks are spoiled slightly by a large-screen bezel, which makes the 10.2-inch screen appear smaller than it actually is. There are no unsightly speakers in the bezel, as we saw with the Eee PC 700, but its fatness is incongruous with the otherwise stellar design. It's not a major issue though, and given Asus' penchant for updating its machines, an 11-inch version of the N10 (perhaps called the N11) wouldn't be a huge surprise.
The keyboard, the bane of many machines of this size, is well-implemented on the N10. The main Qwerty keys are large, well-spaced and have good travel, so touch-typing is easy. The function keys are also logically arranged, so everything is where you'd expect to find it -- apart from the Shift keys, which are preposterously small.
The mouse trackpad is good, too -- it's phenomenally smooth to the touch, and the selector buttons have good clicking action. The pad itself has dedicated scroll strips at the far right and bottom segments for moving vertically or horizontally through documents. Multi-touch gesture inputs aren't possible straight out of the box, but there is a Synaptics model, so it's possible to download gesture input updates at a later date.
Despite the N10's relatively large chassis, it doesn't include an integrated optical drive. Instead, Asus has supplied an external DVD writer that connects to one of the machine's three USB ports. You also get VGA and HDMI video outputs, a 4-in-1 memory card reader supporting MMC, SD Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro. On the left side of the chassis, you'll also find two rather interesting switches. The first of these instantly activates or deactivates the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios. The other transforms the N10 from a boring old netbook into a polygon-munching, 3D-gaming, 1080p-playing harbinger of fun.
The aforementioned switch lets you cycle between the N10's two graphics cards. The first is the exceptionally boring and rather inept Intel GMA 950, which can be used when you require longer battery life at the expense of high performance. The other is the rather more exciting Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS, a discrete card designed to provide thin and light laptops with better graphics performance than you'd get with standard integrated Intel solutions.
It is -- currently -- several rungs below the flagship 9700M graphics you get in gaming laptops, but it is powerful enough to facilitate light gaming, HD video playback, and is CUDA enabled, which means it can work in conjunction with the CPU to accelerate tasks like video transcoding or image manipulation.
The graphics card is usually seen alongside entry-level Core 2 Duo CPUs, but in the N10, it's paired with a 1.6GHz Intel N270 CPU of the type usually seen on netbooks such as the Eee PC or MSI Wind. You also get a healthy 2GB of DDR2 667MHz RAM, so all things considered, the N10 is currently the most powerful netbook-style machine on the market.