And it’s not just around the house: a day full of errands usually includes a laptop in tow. After all, checking my email and reading my favorite sites is only a Wi-Fi hotspot away. In a worst-case scenario, I can tether my mobile phone to the laptop for Internet access anywhere.
It might come as a surprise, then, that I have yet to jump on the netbook bandwagon. After all, why wouldn’t one want an extremely portable notebook, designed for Internet access, with the added bonus of great battery life? Until recently, netbooks have struck me as awkward hybrids between PDAs and ultra-light notebooksnot offering the pocket-sized convenience of the former or the feature set of the latter. Awkward keyboard layouts, specialized hardware, handicapped multimedia performance, and unfamiliar operating systems left me uninterested in netbooks.
However, in the 18 months or so since Asus started the netbook craze with the original Eee PC 701, the firm (and its competitors) have continually revised and improved upon that formula. Screen resolutions are no longer terribly cramped at 800×480, and general usability has improved with each iteration. Intel’s Atom processor, designed specifically for efficiency in mobile devices, has also brought performance and battery life improvements.
The 1000HE represents the next evolution in the Eee PC 1000 series, which we’ve spent a good amount of time talking about in the past. Geoff reviewed the original 1000 netbook, and both he and Scott have discussed 1000H and 1000HA derivatives on the site and in our podcast. TR readers made their voices heard, as well, picking the 1000H as their favorite netbook on the market in a poll last year. It almost goes without saying, then, that the 1000HE has some large shoes to fill.
A new Eee for a new year
Not everyone has seen a netbook before, so when we discuss their capabilities and limitations, it’s important to understand just what kind of device we’re talking about.
With the lid closed, you might have a hard time telling the 1000HE apart from its predecessors. After all, the always-classy piano black remains the standard finish for the netbook’s exterior. The signature “Eee” on the lid provides no hints as to the model enclosed within, and the overall size and weight remain identical to the 1000H’s.
To give you an idea of how small the 1000HE really is, here it is compared to standard CD case. The Eee PC’s footprint is just 10.5″ by 7.5″smaller than a sheet of paper. Of course, the netbook measures 1.5″ at its thickest point, which is actually thicker than some full-sized laptops.
The Eee PC 1000HE pinning down Apple’s 13.3″ unibody MacBook.
How much smaller is a netbook compared to a standard laptop computer? The unibody MacBook is by no means large, yet it still manages to dwarf the 1000HE. Yes, the MacBook is thinner, but the lighter, smaller Eee PC is easier to toss into a bag and tote around. And we’re not even taking the battery life differences into consideration yet. Before we get further into discussing the Eee PC 1000HE’s qualities, let’s take a look at its hardware breakdown:
|Processor||Intel Atom N280 1.66GHz|
|Memory||1GB DDR2-667 (1 DIMM)|
|North bridge||Intel 945GSE|
|South bridge||Intel ICH7M|
|Graphics||Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950|
|Display||10.2″ TFT with SWGA (1024×600) resolution and LED backlight|
|Storage||5,400RPM 160GB Seagate Momentus SATA|
|Audio||Stereo HD audio via Realtek ALC6628 codec|
|Ports||3 USB 2.0
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 Ethernet
1 analog headphone output
1 analog microphone input
|Expansion slots||1 SDHC|
|Input devices||92% “chiclet” keyboard
Touchpad with multi-touch support
|Camera||1.3 megapixel webcam|
|Dimensions||10.5″ x 7.5″ x 1.5″ (266 x 191 x 38 mm)|
|Weight||3.2 lbs (1.45 kg)|
|Battery||6-cell Li-Ion 8700mAh|
The 1000HE has received upgrades over the 1000H in three key areas: the CPU, battery, and keyboard. Asus went with the new Atom N280 processor, which is clocked at 1.66GHz with a 667MHz front-side busa step up from the 1.6GHz Atom N270 and 533MHz FSB found in most other netbooks. Like the N270, the N280 supports Hyper-Threading Technology, allowing the operating system to run two threads on one core. The small operating frequency bump won’t suddenly open the door for 1080p movie playback or make Crysis playable, however, and you’d actually have a hard time telling the N270 and N280 apart in most usage scenarios. Still, Asus deserves some credit for keeping up with Intel’s latest.
Asus includes a dynamic underclocking/overclocking utility called Super Hybrid Engine (who comes up with these names?) with four pre-configured profiles. These presets have nothing to do with Windows’ power saving settings, and are strictly related to the CPU’s frequency. Here’s a breakdown of the different modes:
- Power Saving: Lower FSB of 500MHz, resulting in a CPU speed between 750MHz and 1.25GHz.
- High Performance: Stock FSB of 667MHz, resulting in a CPU speed between 1GHz and 1.66GHz.
- Super Performance: Higher FSB of 700MHz, resulting in a CPU speed between 1.05GHz and 1.75GHz.
- Auto: Switches between Power Saving when running on battery and High Performance when on the AC adapter.
Most users will likely never find a scenario that would benefit from direct control of the CPU speed, and they’re best served leaving the Super Hybrid Engine set to “Auto.” For the rare video file that requires a little extra oomph, though, the ability to overclock the CPU is a useful feature.
The 1000HE’s mechanical hard drive seems indicative of a trend away from solid-state solutions, which can hamstring a netbook’s performance and storage capacity. 160GB might be overkill for a tiny laptop, but hard drive manufacturers have few reasons to make lower-capacity alternatives nowadays. Despite all of that free space to work with, you’ll be happy to know the stock Windows XP installation is largely free of bloat. By default, you’ll find StarOffice 8, Skype, and Adobe Reader pre-installed. Asus also includes its Eee Storage software, which provides access to 10GB of online space to transfer files between locations or share with others. One last interesting piece of software is InterVideo’s WinDVD, which allows you to enjoy DVD playback if you connect an external drive to the 1000HE.
Upon opening the lid of the 1000HE, you’ll immediately be struck by the smooth finish, which starts at the front edge of the touchpad and doesn’t end until the top of the display. However, turn the 1000HE on, and your attention will soon shift to the LED-backlit LCD. Though it’s difficult to represent in photos, this thing is bright. In fact, I often found myself turning the brightness down a few notches in order to prevent my eyes from having to adjust when switching back and forth from my dimmer desktop monitor. The LCD’s 1024×600 resolution lies somewhere between 16:9 and 16:10, and although it seems like an odd aspect ratio, wide-screen video content viewed on it looks just fine.
You’ll find a 1.3MP camera just above the LCD. While the quality isn’t stellar, the little camera gets the job done for video-conferencing and updating your Facebook or MySpace profile. Just don’t expect to win any cinematography Oscars with it. There’s a microphone array located below the LCD, too, perfect for the 1000HE’s included Skype software. Heading further south, Asus put the power button and four hot keys conveniently above the keyboard. The two hot keys on the left can’t be reassignedthe first provides a quick way to turn off the display, while the second switches through the Eee PC’s resolution options. By default, the other two hot keys switch Super Hybrid Engine modes and launch Skype, but you can easily reassign them to any programs you choose.
Piano black finishes look great in photos (which are a pain to shoot, I might add), but they’re less than ideal in practice. Extending the gloss to the display’s bezel was a smooth style change, but the manner in which it reflects light is quite distracting. While I never really notice the glass bezel on the MacBook’s display, the changing angles and highly polished veneer of the 1000HE hinder its usability. There’s also the issue of finger oils and other smudges, which seem drawn to the 1000HE’s finish.
Don’t get me wrong: the 1000HE looks great. But after you’ve wiped your thousandth fingerprint from this netbook’s chassis, you might find yourself wishing it were matte black. Other colors shouldn’t prove as frustratingjust know what you’re in for if you buy a black 1000HE.
On the left side of the netbook, we can see a Kensington security slot, an RJ45 jack for Gigabit Ethernet, and a lone USB 2.0 port. The red and green jacks near the front are for microphones and headphones, respectively. Between the USB and audio ports lies the exhaust area for the 1000HE’s lone fan, but it’s rare to even notice warm air emanating from it. If you’re getting a sense of déjà vu, that’s because port arrangement is identical to that of previous Eee PC 1000 units.
Jumping to the other side of the 1000HE, Asus includes an SDHC slot for extra storagealthough with a 160GB hard drive, you may be hard-pressed to find a need for it. There are also two more USB 2.0 ports and a VGA output port. DC power input is the final port along the right side. Once again, the layout is the same as on earlier Eee PC 1000 models.
The bottom of the netbook is, as you would expect, a rather bland affair. You’ll find ample ventilation for the 1000HE’s components and a panel allowing access to the netbook’s storage and RAM. 1000H owners might notice that there’s no longer a large bulge where the hard drive resides. Kudos to Asus for streamlining the 1000HE’s chassis, even if it’s with a part no one sees.
Two screws stand between you and the 1000HE’s hard drive and RAM. Both components are easily upgraded if necessary, and the entire process should take no more than five minutes. Asus stuck with a standard 2.5″ SATA mechanical hard drive for the 1000HE, giving users the flexibility to upgrade to other hard drives or SSDs without worrying about compatibility. Like its predecessors, the 1000HE has a single DDR2 SO-DIMM slot that supports module sizes up to 2GB.
The keyboard and touchpad
The most visibleand perhaps most interestingchange from previous models is the 1000HE’s new, chiclet-style keyboard. Gone is the scissor-switch keyboard of old, and in its place is a design straight out of Apple’s playbook.
Being a daily MacBook user for the last couple of years, I found myself right at home with the 1000HE’s new keyboard. The keys are just slightly off-square, measuring 14 mm by 13 mm, with a 3-mm gap between keys. If you’ve never used a chiclet-style keyboard before, it’s difficult to describe what it feels like. Resistance stays even through the range of the key’s depression, which results in a soft and quiet typing experience (at least in the 1000HE’s case). While there’s no exaggerated click corresponding to a key press, there’s a distinct tactile feedback to depressionsyou know when you’ve pressed a key. I also never noticed issues with keys incorrectly registering as being pressed twice, like some users encountered with the previous keyboard design.
Apple’s 13.3″ unibody MacBook (left) and Asus’ Eee PC 1000HE (right).
Typing for extended periods on the Eee PC 1000HE wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as I expected, and the improvements offered by the chiclet design were immediately noticeable over the older style keys. For example, quickly moving your fingers across the keyboard no longer presents the danger of catching a fingernail under a key, potentially popping it off and ruining a keyboard. For my fellow slobs out there who like to snack while typing, you’ll be happy to know that chiclet-style keys also appear less likely to accumulate dirt or crumbs under themselves.
Unfortunately, not all is well with the new chiclet-style keyboard. The upgrade has affected the rigidity of the unit, and there’s a decent amount of flex to the lower half of the keyboard. You have to press the space bar with a good amount of force to see that, but it’s especially noticeable if you push your finger against the plastic between the keyboard and touchpad. Under normal conditions, the keyboard flex isn’t a hindrance to typing, but as part of the review, it’s my job to poke, prod, and squeeze.
If you’ve done any research on previous Eee PC 1000 models, you’ll know the right-shift key placement has been a large point of contention among users. In order to retain a proper arrow key layout, Asus originally placed shift to the right of the up arrow, much to the disappointment of capitalization enthusiasts everywhere. Our very own Geoff Gasior resorted to desperate measures to correct the issue, physically swapping the keys to avoid frustrating typos.
Thankfully, Asus listened to the complaints and went with a more traditional layout for the 1000HE’s keyboard, as you can see in the photo above. The right-shift key is now on the proper side of the up arrow, and Asus even managed to sneak in an extra Fn key on the opposite side. Other keys like the “?” lost a bit of girth for Asus to pull this off, but that’s an acceptable sacrifice for a corrected layout. The added Fn key is a bit of a head-scratcher, though. I would prefer the right-shift key be enlarged to the size of the left-shift key (or as close as possible), with the up arrow moved to the edge of the keyboard. But now I’m just nitpicking.
I’m a big fan of multi-touch gestures, so you can imagine my delight upon learning that the 1000HE’s 3″ touchpad supports multi-finger gestures. Thank goodness it does, too, because the small surface area doesn’t leave any room for dedicated scroll areas. The Elantech touchpad understands a number of gestures, including two-finger scrolling and tapping, zooming, rotating, and three-finger swiping and tapping. Gestures generally replace actions found on a full-size mouse, though some unique enhancements are also included. For example, a three-fingered swipe up will launch My Computer, while a swipe down mimics alt-tab, allowing you to quickly switch programs. Swiping left or right will browse back or forward, respectively, in Internet Explorer. It’s no Exposé, but anything that improves my efficiency is a welcome addition.
Sadly, this touchpad implementation isn’t perfect, with the majority of issues stemming from Elantech’s drivers. Accidental actions are common. I specifically had trouble when moving my finger around on the pad too quickly, which the software misinterpreted as a tap. I would often end up with entire pages or a window’s worth of icons being highlighted due to errant taps. It also wasn’t uncommon for me to zoom in accidentally on a page I meant to scroll, although to be fair, zooming has never worked well on any touchpad I’ve used. I found the best solution to accidentally triggered gestures was to disable the ones I didn’t use, thus preventing false positives.
On a more positive note, the three-finger swipe and tap functions worked perfectly whenever I needed them, which admittedly wasn’t all that often. Why? Because gestures aren’t customizable. Up is always My Computer, and down is always alt-tab. Left and right don’t function as back and forward in Firefox, which is the least of the touchpad’s problems with the browser. Scrolling is also hypersensitive in Firefox, and the touchpad software often can’t decide whether to go up or down, leaving Internet Explorer as the browser of choice for the 1000HE if you’re without a mouse. With that said, the touchpad issues seem like easy fixes for a future driver release, because the hardware itself behaves properly if you concentrate and make your mouse gestures very deliberate. Mousing just shouldn’t take that much effort, though.
Life with the 1000HE
Based on our netbook survey, a plurality of TR readers considers battery life the most important aspect of any netbook, aside from price. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Eee PC 1000HE’s battery.
The 1000HE comes with a new, higher density 8700mAh batteryan almost 32% increase in rated capacity over the 6600mAh part found in its predecessors. But what sort of longevity does that translate to? Asus claims this netbook will run for up to 9.5 hours with the Super Hybrid Engine profile set to Power-Saving, the LCD brightness at 40%, and both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth disabledif you use the Eee PC as a portable word processor, in other words. But let’s be serious: no one does that unless they’re stuck writing on planes (like TR editors). No, the primary role for a netbook is Internet usage, and I opted to benchmark the 1000HE’s battery life accordingly.
To get an accurate estimation of battery life while surfing the web, I opened up a pair of Firefox windows for The Tech Report and Shacknews. I wasn’t going to let the system sit idle at static pages (despite animated GIF or Flash advertisements), so I set the browsers to refresh automatically every 30 seconds, forcing the system to re-render pages and making sure Wi-Fi was being used. Content with that workload as a decent approximation of web browsing, I set the LCD’s brightness to 40% (which isn’t as dim as you would expect), put the Super Hybrid Engine’s profile to Auto, and pulled the plug.
Almost exactly seven hours later, the 1000HE finally went dark. That’s fantastic performance for web browsing, and battery life should easily push past the seven-hour mark if you lower the brightness even further. Flash content seems to hit the Atom processor especially hard, so if you’re just surfing and not watching YouTube, you can probably save some precious CPU cycles by disabling Flash altogether.
Video playback is another role the 1000HE is sure to fill frequently, particularly for users that travel with the netbook often. I fired up VLC Media Player and started looping a DVD rip I made in HandbrakeXviD encoded at an average bit rate of 1000Kbps. Wi-Fi was disabled for the video playback test, brightness was once again at 40%, and the Super Hybrid Engine setting was left to “Auto.” The 1000HE managed to sustain slightly over six hours of continuous playback before giving up. CPU usage was typically around 20%. A higher bitrate or more advanced codec like H.264 would no doubt have a greater hit on battery life, but most users can expect to get through three movies (as long as they’re not the Lord of the Rings trilogy) on a single charge.
Going beyond light use
Of course, all of that battery life and storage capacity provides more interesting possibilities for the 1000HE than word processing and trolling around Internet forums. Curious, I set out to discover what the 1000HE was truly capable ofto find the limit of the netbook’s capabilities. It might help to read this section of the review with Paul Engemann’s Push It to the Limit playing in the background. (I know the song helped me write it.)
Most of my time with the 1000HE was spent testing multimedia capabilities, taking into consideration the scenarios you might find a netbook incommuting, traveling, or just lounging on the couch. I enjoy a number of podcasts, both audio and video, which I’d be sure to take with me on my Eee PC. As expected, the 1000HE handled them with ease. iTunes was surprisingly snappy with 1GB of RAM (admittedly without a large library), and I had no trouble watching my favorite video podcasts. High-definition content was generally off-limits, but standard-resolution QuickTime video played without issue.
Flash content has taken over the Internet, and unfortunately, it’s one of the key areas where the Eee PC’s horsepower can fall short, particularly if sites are streaming their video content in H.264 format. Standard-res video on YouTube is no problem, but watching TV episodes on Hulu is a more difficult prospect, especially if you’re using the 1000HE’s “Power Saving” profile. Running with the Syper Hybrid Engine in “High-Performance” mode cleared up any stuttering issues with Hulu, but I still couldn’t watch episodes in full screen. And don’t even think about touching that 480p button on Hulu or watching HD content on YouTube. The Atom just can’t keep up.
I didn’t bother trying 3D games with the 1000HE, since we already know how Intel’s GMA 950 behaves in games, and it’s usually not pretty. Besides, few 3D games lend themselves to being played on a small, low-resolution laptop with only a touchpad for input. However, older 2D titles tend to work just fine, as long as the 1000HE’s vertical resolution of 600 pixels is enough to show the entire user interface. In a pinch, you can always switch to 1024×768 with vertical scrolling if the game absolutely requires it. The Eee PC 1000HE offers a great opportunity to dust off the games you haven’t touched in a decade and remember a simpler time, before high-dynamic-range lighting and breast physics.
The ample 160GB storage capacity also affords a great opportunity to bring your music library on the goor if you’re a serious bookworm, a large collection of e-books. I personally prefer my novels to be of the graphic variety, and although its display resolution isn’t optimal for that purpose, the Eee PC 1000HE makes a surprisingly good device for reading digital comics. A benefit of the netbook’s diminutive size is that you can comfortably prop it on its side, viewing the display in portrait mode and reading it like a book. It’s a move that can garner a few confused stares at the bus stop, but that’s never stopped me.
The Eee PC 1000HE won’t usher in a new revolution for netbooks, but that’s hardly the point of this model. As a modest update on an already familiar platform, the 1000HE succeeds in improving the areas that are most important to netbook owners. The keyboard has received substantial upgrades, both in layout and key design, which make it one of the most comfortable netbook keyboards around. Though there are some build-quality kinks to work out with the new design, Asus will hopefully continue to refine the ideaa chiclet-style keyboard is certainly a great fit for an Eee PC. Nagging touchpad issues are unfortunately still present, and it’s up to Elantech to improve its drivers. Based on what we’ve seen from previous Eee PC 1000 models, unfortunately, that might be wishful thinking.
Battery performance has gotten a large boost, and with seven hours of Internet use on a single charge, the 1000HE has the best battery life we’ve seen in a netbook yet. Let’s also not forget that, although it’s a minor speed bump, the Eee PC 1000HE is the first netbook available with Intel’s Atom N280 processor. In a market with largely identical products and specifications, these features set the 1000HE apart from the competition. Perhaps most importantly, Asus implemented all of these improvements without shifting from a $399 suggested retail price.
The 1000HE isn’t perfect, of course, but several of its issues are inherent to the netbook concept. The display resolution is still slightly lower than it should be (720p would be ideal), and Intel’s GMA 950 continues to hamstring multimedia performance. That’s unlikely to change unless Nvidia’s Ion platform makes it into a netbook, at which point we should finally see hardware acceleration for high-definition content, not to mention acceptable 3D performance. Losing some of that bezel to increase the LCD size wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.
Even though it’s not flawless, the 1000HE manages to take one step forward without taking two steps back, and it remains worthy of the Eee PC name. Folks interested in getting caught up in the netbook craze (or perhaps upgrade from an older, less-capable netbook) would do well to consider the Eee PC 1000HE. It’s clearly one of the best options in this category.