A serious-faced netbook for professional types, but can the NVIDIA-packing N10J overcome Atom’s shortcomings?
The question Asus' N10J raises is very similar to that posed by Sony's Vaio P: can netbooks be serious business tools, or are they really just cheap toys?
Unlike the Vaio P, though, Asus has chosen to increase gravitas by making the N10J bigger than an average netbook. It's almost double the thickness of Asus' own Seashell 1008 or Toshiba's NB200, and solid enough take a few angry boardroom bashings when the latest share prices tick on screen.
Other signs of its earnest aspirations are the silvered finish and the metal trim around the practical keyboard; oh, and this is the company's first Atom-powered laptop which doesn't carry Eee branding.
To reinforce these professional credentials, the N10J is tricked out with a corporate-friendly fingerprint reader and comes loaded with Windows Vista Business, rather than XP, along with 2GB of RAM and a larger hard drive than most netbooks, too.
Which is all well and good, but it's going to take more than cosmetic changes to justify that enormous price point and convince us the N10J should be taken as seriously as it asks.
Ready for Windows 7
The big difference between the N10J and the more common Eee machines is the graphics chip. Instead of the Intel GMA processor, it comes armed with NVIDIA's GeForce 105M.
That doesn’t give it enormous 3D power, but it is considerably better than the Intel affair for video. As a result, the N10J is comfortable with playing back HD files and has the power to run Vista's Aero interface, although we wouldn't recommend it.
The desktop is sluggish even with the fancy effects turned off - but it's worth bearing in mind that it qualifies for a free upgrade to the netbook-friendlier Windows 7 later in the year. So even if its not great in the present, it should get better soon.
Feature rich but pricey
There are downsides to having a 'proper' graphics processor. The first is that battery life is less than half of that in other Asus netbooks. It still gets an average four hours of usage, but this has been one of Asus' great strengths up until now, and there's an expectation that the premium model should do everything well.
It also makes the N10J relatively noisy, as there's rarely a time that the fan isn't on. It's not as loud as the Sony Vaio W, but it's not silent either.
There is a lighter side, though. Like Asus' full-size laptops it comes with the embedded ExpressGate operating system, which boots to a browser in eight seconds, and it has HDMI and digital audio out, both unusual on a netbook.
Unusual, but not unique and available elsewhere for less. The Packard Bell dot m/a, for example, can do HD video and copes with Vista better. It also has a bigger display of equal resolution. The Dell Mini 10, on the other hand, is smaller, with the same screen and HDMI: both are available for £100 less. It's also worth bearing in mind that Acer's excellent dual-core 15inch 5738Z is only £400, too.
In the end, no amount of sprucing up can hide the Atom's weaknesses – better to accept them and get something cheaper and more fun.
Asus N10J review
Well built with lots of features, but plays too hard against the Atom processor’s key strengths in battery life, portability and price