I’ve been looking at Netbook’s for awhile now, since before they became one of the must buy holiday items. In fact I’ve been keeping up with them since they were more of a novelty item with only one or two choice out in the marketplace. Since then the little sub-powered laptops have exploded with dozens of competing models at any given moment, and more coming out all the time. When asked which of the current models I’d like my choice was the Asus 1005ha-pu17 (in blue). It’s the newer edition that comes with the 250GB hard drive and Windows 7 Starter edition.
My first impression was “Damn is this thing small!” My wife got a new MacBook for Christmas, and putting this thing next to it made for a striking size comparison. An older model MacBook has been my prime machine for a couple of years now and after just a little while of playing around with the Netbook it made a 13 inch screen seem gigantic. The machine has a 63w, 6-cell battery that makes in back heavy. The plastic case feels nice and solid, not like a cheap little toy. Like many people have commented it is a finger-print magnet. For me this doesn’t detract from my overall impression of the machine as it is easy enough to keep a microfiber cloth hand to periodically wipe it. While many people complain that it has a glossy screen rather than the less reflective matte screen, I’ve become used to using the glossy displays and actually like the more crisp graphics the provide. Though the glossy on this screen doesn’t seem nearly as glossy as the MacBook.
Technologically speaking this machine isn’t exactly a speed demon. Windows 7 Starter loaded fairly quick on it (though the first boot I had to jump through Windows 7 setup hoops). While I haven’t actually tracked the boot time, it seems to go from powered off to the login screen quicker than my MacBook running Snow Leopard. But that’s about the only time it beats it in speed. You can certainly feel a pokiness when browsing certain webpages, or doing other tasks. It’s not unacceptably slow though. Going in to owning a Netbook you have to understand that you’re trading some speed capability in return for a small and inexpensive form factor. However for most of the normally daily tasks I do online the speed of the Asus is more than adequate.
Right now I’ve been splitting my time between the Windows 7 Starter edition that came with the netbook, and Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10. I’ll go in to my thoughts between the two in a separate post. Suffice it to say, both operating systems are fairly snappy on the netbook. Certainly no matter which way you go in terms of your OS I’d say you’d be quite happy with the performance.
The built in web camera is actually better than I expected it to be. While in most literature it lists the webcam as a 0.3 Megapixel model, it certainly captures images that are on par with my Macbook’s 1.3 Megapixel camera. When testing it out with Skype I was told my video was coming through clearly. It stays fairly sharp as long as you have adequate lighting. In dimmer lighting the image can get fairly grainy, though for most of what I’d use a built in webcam for, it was acceptable. The microphone doesn’t have as much pick up as I’d like, and I was told during the Skype conversation that I sounded a little more muted, as if I was positioned further from the mic than when I used Skype on the Macbook. Still, if you’re going to be doing a lot of Skyping or other types of voice chat I’d imagine you’d invest in a decent Bluetooth headset or microphone. The speakers are fine for being small. It certainly wouldn’t be my first choice for listening to music on, but it’s certainly no worse than a lot of FM channels from a decent radio. It was also acceptable for most Youtube videos.
Speaking of video I tried out a few different things. DVD’s I ripped using Handbrake’s default settings ran just fine under VLC media player. There were only one or two little pauses during an approximately 2 hour long movie. It certainly didn’t detract from the film. The screen is bright and crisp and the video looked clear and attractive. It was very easy to sit back and enjoy a movie with the netbook on my lap. As I mentioned earlier I haven’t had problems watching Youtube videos that other’s have mentioned when reviewing this model. I attempted to watch some videos on Hulu and this is where I ran in to problems. Flash is a resource monster, it devours all that it can find. While watching animated shows such as the Simpson, or Family Guy, I only noted some stuttering, watching a live action show was painful at best. Even lowering the quality of the playback did little to alleviate the problems. I had similar problems watching things via Netflix. For hockey fans, I was able to watch NHL Gamecenter in fullscreen mode, though I had to drop the streaming speed to the middle setting.
The killer aspect of this machine for me has been the battery life. I had seen the advertised 10 hour battery life for this model, which I took with a grain of salt. My Macbook was originally rated at just shy of 6 hours, but even turning down the brightness, and keeping the wireless off I am lucky to get about 5 hours. So I was wondering how much I’d have to throttle back the netbook in order to see anything close to the 10 hour rating. So after installing and updating things I made sure the battery was fully charged, unplugged it, and began my normal activities(using Windows 7 Starter). Checking e-mail, IM’ing friends, web browsing, and the occasional video – all activities I primarily wanted a netbook for. As I didn’t have any Bluetooth devices to use with it I kept Bluetooth turned off. The day wore on and the battery meter ever so slowly inched its way towards zero. All told, I was able to eke out a couple minutes shy of nine hours with the machine set for battery saving settings. Yes, some application load times, and response times were a tad sluggish, but it was a compromise I was willing to make in return for the long battery life. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to continually see these long lasting battery times during regular usage. The only time I saw shorter battery life was when I did heavy downloads, updates, and installation – things that were fairly hard drive and processor intensive. Even then I was able to continually get at least 7 hours of battery life. I can say I am quite pleased that entire workday can be had on just a single charge.
On to the smaller items. First off the keyboard is cramped. I am happy for the nearly full sized keys, but they are pressed quite closely together. I don’t have overly large digits, so I haven’t found it painful to do lots of typing on the machine. When switching to or from a machine with a larger keyboard it does take me a bit of time to adjust, but overall I’m happy with the spacing/size/and responsiveness of the keyboard. The bumpy trackpad through me off at first. I wasn’t sure what to make of it and it felt a bit odd on my fingers. However after a little use I quickly came to find it perfectly acceptable. The two finger scrolling doesn’t always work as well as it should. My biggest trackpad complaint is the button. It feels a bit on the flimsy side. Also I would prefer a separate left and right click button, not the long button bar they provide. While it does its job I’m not overly fond of it. Mostly I’ve been using the tap-to-click on the trackpad as a way to avoid the button bar.
My overall impression is that this is a well designed and thought out portable computing machine. It’s not going to be a workhorse. I would be hard pressed to use it as my primary machine, but as a supplemental machine to use for travel (either around town or across the country) it fits the bill, and even exceeds several of my expectations about it. As long as you understand the limitations of using a netbook, then you will find this machine a joy to use.