Unsurprisingly, the 1215N takes a lot of inspiration from Asus' stylish and slim Seashell range. It certainly makes a sleek impression thanks to its clean lines and tapered edges, and is overall quite stylish.
Thankfully, the company appears to have listened to our incessant complaints regarding glossy lids, and the finish used here is semi-matt. While it still picks up fingerprints, it's not nearly as bad as the shiny print magnets found on the majority of portable machines. Thanks to a lovely, almost soft-touch feel, it's also much nicer to hold.
Opening this Eee PC up, the screen bezel and keyboard surround might be glossy, but the palm-rests and touchpad are finished in a single piece of the same soft plastic as the lid. This not only looks great but is ergonomic, and the pad's flush chrome delineating strips and buttons add the finishing touch to this attractive combination. Our sample is all-black, but the 1215N is also available in muted brown, grey or red.
As you would expect from a netbook costing over £400, build quality is generally solid – with the unfortunate exception of the keyboard area, which displays an alarming amount of flex. So much, in fact, that it may become an issue for touch-typists who hit their keys firmly, as it adds unwanted feedback and an annoying rattle.
This is even more of a pity as, without this issue, the keyboard would actually have been very good. Layout is spot-on with all keys and shortcuts where you would expect them. Key size and spacing also work well, and feedback for individual keys is both springy and surprisingly deep. Last but not least, the large touchpad rarely interferes with typing.
The multi-touch touchpad itself is an absolute pleasure to use. Its soft but smooth surface is one of the most tactilely satisfying we've used and it's very responsive. Though its buttons are integrated into a single rocker switch, there is no dead zone, a feat most manufacturers fail to achieve. Sadly, the shine gets taken off by the buttons being far too stiff for comfort.
Getting to the 12.1in screen, compared to the humdrum 1,024 x 600 resolution we usually find, the 1215N's 1,366 x 768 gives you far more breathing space. Not only can you play 720p video without any cropping or downscaling, but you have far more room for work and play. We only wish this resolution was standard across the netbook board, as the Dell Inspiron Duo is only one of the few recent entries to feature it.
Unfortunately the display features a reflective, glossy coating, though this does help perceived contrast and colour saturation. In fact, blacks look black and dark detailing is quite good, with only the darkest two shades virtually indistinguishable. Meanwhile, white purity remains surprisingly intact. Colours are vibrant but not unrealistically so. Backlight distribution is even, though there is some very minor light bleed from the bottom and right-hand sides. There's also little to no sign of banding or other artefacts.
While that's all very positive, vertical viewing angles are very poor, meaning you'll need to open the screen to its maximum in order to get the most out of it. Horizontally, things are considerably better, but you'll still want to sit as centrally as possible. Overall, we'd say the 1215N's screen is above average, and its high resolution makes it an absolute pleasure for productivity.