Asus's 'Seashell' design for its Eee PC range has been around for a while now, but it's still the most elegant look for the modern netbook to be seen in. Sleek and angled, it makes full use of Apple's MacBook Air playbook to disguise its girth with rounded edges and thin lids. With its 12.1in screen, the Eee PC 1215N is the largest of Asus's netbooks, too, proving that the Seashell doesn't have to be small to be beautiful.
As ever, though, it's what's inside that counts. And like the Samsung NF210 and the cheerfully exuberant Acer Aspire One Happy, Asus has upped the stakes for netbook performance by throwing in a dual-core version of Intel's Atom processor. Unlike its rivals, however, Asus has gone all-in, selecting the fastest version of the Atom available (1.8GHz) and coupling it with NVIDIA Optimus graphics for video decoding and even a stab at some 3D games. You'll get Starcraft II running in a reasonable low-res mode, for example, and older first-person shooters too.
Just as impressive is the fact that despite the extra processing power, you can still get around six hours of battery life from the 1215N under normal useage. It's not huge, but better than previous Optimus netbooks we've looked at.
Not twice as good
Unfortunately, what the 1215N really teaches us is the truth about silk purses and pigs' ears. You can throw as many cores and gigahertz at the Atom as you like, but underneath it's still a cheap processor that can't do essential things, like 'out of order' processing.
What that means is that if you open up more than a couple of windows on the 1215N, you'll find it almost as irritatingly sluggish as any other netbook. Web apps can become inexplicably laggy and any video that Optimus can't accelerate is still choppy as hell.
That's not to say the 1215N is a terrible machine. The keyboard feels a little flimsy compared to the less elegant but tough Samsung design, and the mousepad isn't quite up to Asus's usual standards, but it is still a very good netbook. The screen in particular is better than most.
But it has the same practical limitations as other netbooks, and is almost twice the price of the new Acer Happy.
If it's a cheap laptop you're after, any sub-£500 model with a 'proper' processor will outperform it. Dell's M101Z, meanwhile, is the same price, just as portable and faster, even if it lacks the battery life. Asus's own UL30A is less than ?100 more expensive, and remains the ultimate wallet friendly thin-and-light.
It's the economy, stupid
While the 1215N proves there's an upper limit as to a netbook's performance, there's still a place for them in our hearts. Even after the forthcoming tide of tablets, netbooks will be popular because no one has figured out how to write more than a few hundred words on a touchscreen yet. But they'll be popular because they're cheap and functional, not because they're a budding desktop replacement. The 1215N is a valiant, but doomed attempt to turn a netbook into something it isn't, and there's no way to honestly recommend anyone should buy it.