Asus' Eee PC 1008HA Seashell (not to be confused with the Eee PC 1000HE) is a small, light and sexy device aimed at the fashion-conscious netbook fan who puts portability slightly above performance. It's available to buy now for around £375.
Let's get one thing out of the way. The Seashell doesn't look anything like a mollusc -- not even remotely. It's shiny, we'll give you that, but, if anyone can find one bit of this netbook that looks even remotely like a seashell, we'll give them a tenner and recommend them for membership in the Marine Conservation Society.
One thing that's definitely not up for debate is that the machine's styling is beautiful. We love absolutely everything about this device. The glossy black finish, the gently tapering lid, and the wedge-shaped profile all contribute to an overall design that's more aesthetically pleasing than that of rival netbooks. We're not sure whether it's quite as gorgeous as the Eee PC S101, but it makes most other netbooks look like they were cobbled together by blind goat herders.
The Seashell is one of the thinnest and lightest netbooks on the market. It's a mere 26mm at its thickest point and tips the scales at just 1.1kg. That might not sound much lighter than the 1.4kg 1000HE, but the difference is significant when carrying the Seashell over the course of an entire day. It's simply easier to manage than other 10-inch machines.
Because it's so svelte, Asus has had to make some sacrifices with the machine's connectivity -- the Seashell has just two USB ports, instead of the three we'd expect from this sort of device. Also, in an attempt to maintain the sleek lines, all its ports are recessed slightly and hidden behind flaps. This makes them slightly trickier to access, and some larger USB keys simply won't fit without an extension cable.
Behind other flaps are mic, headphone, Ethernet and mini VGA ports. That last one means Asus has had to 'do an Apple' and use a mini VGA to VGA adaptor. Rather than leaving the user to carry the dongle around in a pocket or bag, however, Asus has rather thoughtfully provided a dedicated slot underneath the chassis, via which the dongle is magnetically secured. That reduces the chances of it going missing.
Asus has done an Apple in other ways, too. The Seashell doesn't have a user-replaceable battery. It uses a lithium-polymer battery pack, which has the advantage of being cheaper to manufacture and more resilient to physical damage. Crucially, such a battery pack can also be moulded into just about any shape. That last fact plays a big part in the Seashell's thinness.
Asus has plenty of experience in creating netbook keyboards, and it shows. The Seashell has one of the best keyboards we've tested on any device of this size. It's 92 per cent the size of a full-sized keyboard, but the travel and spring are perfectly implemented, so it's actually more comfortable and accurate to use than many full-sized laptop keyboards. The dimpled mouse trackpad is also a joy to use, as are the rocker-style selector buttons.
The main component inside the Seashell is an Intel Atom N280 CPU clocked at 1.67GHz. This is theoretically quicker than the Atom N270 seen in most netbooks, thanks to its faster front-side bus (667MHz compared to 533MHz).
According to Asus, the N280 reduces Windows XP's boot-up time by 8 seconds, and can open Microsoft Office files 2 seconds faster than the N270. The Seashell also has 1GB of RAM, which is pretty standard for a machine of this type.