The streamlined and redesigned Asus Eee PC 1000HE takes no prisoners. While the previous Asus Eee PC 1000offered a solid netbook, Acer's Aspire One stole all the attention with its lean and incredibly affordable approach. With the latest incarnation of the Eee PC 1000, the "HE" might as well stand for "Holy Enhancement!" This model bears only a passing resemblance to last year's Eee PC, and improves upon just about everything from the keyboard to the CPU. Better yet, in addition to losing some unsightly girth, Asus also trimmed the price to $400.
Let's take a quick tour around the machine to kick this off. The first, most obvious thing you'll spot is the cut-out keyboard. Just like you'd find on an Apple MacBook Air or on Sony VAIO laptops, the keys poke through the plastic, creating a wide gap between buttons. In that respect, this feels and looks great, and is generally more usable. The trackpad is just spacious enough -- I particularly like its metal framing and the few multitouch functions incorporated into the design. However, I found the pad slightly twitchy to control. No deal-breaker, but I noticed.
You also get a couple handy shortcut buttons hovering along the top of the unit. They do everything from give the CPU a speed boost (more on that below) and user-definable shortcuts to a screen resolution adapter. That is, you can view 1024-by-768 resolutions even though the native resolution of the 1000HE is 1024 by 600 -- it's a special compression mode that Lenovo employs in the IdeaPad S10 as well, and represents a convenience given that some applications default to a 1024-by-768-pixel resolution and won't work otherwise.
This unit's 10.1-inch backlit LED display is bright and capable of good color reproduction; its glossy coating helps the image pop a little more than you usually see on netbooks. However, the highly polished bezel that keeps the screen in place can get a little distracting at times.
A number of aerodynamic nips and tucks make this 10.3-by-7.4-by-1.4-inch netbook just a hair thinner than the older, clunkier Eee PC 1000 we reviewed last year. It's also a little on the "heavy" side for a netbook, weighing 3.2 pounds. That's the price of strapping an 8700mAH battery to the bottom of this thing; Asus promises that the 1000HE will deliver 9.5 hours of performance (We will update this review with the results of the PC World Test Center's battery life tests when they're ready).
Speaking of performance, the Asus Eee PC 1000HE is currently running our PC WorldBench 6 gauntlet and we don't have the results to share with you just yet (we'll update with those results when they're ready). What's interesting to note is that this netbook sports Intel's 1.66-GHz Atom N280 CPU and we're curious to see how it'll do. For the sake of comparison, most of the netbooks that came out late last year used the N270 CPU, which runs at a lower frequency (1.6-GHz) and a slower frontside bus speed (533MHz as compared with 667 MHz in the N280).
The Asus comes with 1GB of RAM, a 160GB hard disk drive, and 802.11b/g/n /Bluetooth wireless. Around the perimeter of chassis lies a fairly standard set of inputs, with one exciting exception--a shared eSATA/ USB 2.0 port -- which I love. I have a couple of external SATA drives, so I can see the value in a netbook including a high-speed data connection like eSATA.
The audio, as on the Eee PC 1000, sounds surprisingly strong for its size. But it lacks a good subwoofer, so don't expect to rock a house party with this thing. Other notable features thrown into the mix: InterVideo WinDVD (which seems to be a little bit of overkill, I'd recommend you try out KMPlayer), and 18 months of 10GB of free online storage.
As a homage to the classic "But wait . . . there's more" pricing from late-night infomercials, Asus is giving a little extra incentive to jump on this netbook early. If you pre-order the machine before its late-February ship date, you'll save $20 off its price. Whether or not it's worth the money, hang in there and we'll update this hands-on with full test results shortly. But I can tell you from my initial testing that this is a fairly solid -- and sizable -- jump over what's come out just a few months earlier, and is well worth a look.