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Having chided netbooks in general for the lack of diversity, it's fair to say that Asus delivers more features than most. Okay, so the 1.66GHz Intel Atom N280, 1GB RAM and 160GB hard drive won't set hearts aflutter, but at least Asus does deliver Draft-N Wi-Fi - hardly a given even now - as well Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR. There's also a 1.3 megapixel webcam that boasts stereo array microphones, rather than just the single mic granted most netbooks. These might be small details, but when there's so little dividing one netbook from another, these small details gain a greater significance.
Of even greater significance, however, is the keyboard and after much trial and error Asus might have finally cracked it with the 1008HA. Even the 1000HE, whose isolation keyboard was a massive improvement over previous efforts, lacked a little depth and feel for our tastes, but the 1008HA garners no such complaints. Instead of an isolation keyboard Asus has used a tile-style one, where the keys are completely flat save for a slight recess between each key. This allows for large and clearly defined keys, but most importantly the depth and positivity that was lacking in the 1000HE.
Asus has also been very clever with the layout, creating a larger right-Shift key by reducing the vertical cursor keys to half-height - keeping them on a single row. This does take a little getting used to, but it's a smart and innovative way of ensuring they don't obstruct day-to-day typing. At this point we should add for our UK readers, who might be fretting, that our sample has a US-spec keyboard, so the half-height Return key will be replaced with a patently superior UK-style key in retail boxes.
As there's precious little space for dedicated shortcut keys there's a large array of secondary functions mapped onto the F1-F12 keys. On F1 there's the 'sleep' shortcut, with F2 and F3 duplicating the wireless radio and touchpad functions. Next is a resolution switch shortcut on F4, with F5 and F6 taken up by brightness controls. F7, meanwhile, turns off the display completely and this is a very useful feature to have if using your netbook as a music player.
F8 is reserved for switching between integrated and external displays, while F10, F11 and F12 keys comprise mute, volume down and volume up respectively. This just leaves F9 which, when in Windows, launches the Task Manager, but at boot-up will launch a quick and easy system restoration tool powered by Symantec Ghost 11.0.
Even the spacebar is called into action, providing a quick way to switch between the three modes (Power Saving, High Performance and Super Performance) of Asus' Super Hybrid Engine power management tool. This helps ensure better battery life by underclocking the CPU when on battery, as well as providing a mooted performance boost by overclocking it when required. For power saving the Hybrid Engine proves pretty useful, though we're less convinced by the optimistically titled 'Super Performance' mode.