Unlike its screen, the Eee PC 1215N’s audio performance is somewhat sub-par, and Asus doesn’t do its stereo speakers any favours by placing them at the bottom of the netbook, where putting them on a bed or on your lap is likely to muffle them. Even on a flat surface there is distortion at maximum volume, which is very audible but by no means room-filling. In fact, a lot of it comes across as distinctly cramped and muddled, lacking in presence, clarity and bass.
When it comes to performance, you would be forgiven for thinking the 1215N is not a netbook at all. Dropping it in at the deep end, we played a 1080p Flash video, which is enough to bring your average Atom-powered machine to its knees. However, this Eee PC played it back full-screen without a hint of stutter.
We decided to up the stakes, and ran the Flash video again – with a 720p .MOV trailer running in the background, and with video acceleration disabled. Flash was smooth and the trailer stuttered occasionally but was watchable, which is very impressive.
High bitrate 1080p can still be a problem for the CPU, but that’s where Nvidia’s ION2 takes over. Basically, for daily use there’s almost nothing the 1215N can’t handle, which immediately puts it in a whole different ballpark to most netbooks. However, as you can see it just can’t match up to AMD’s competing NEO processor, of which the 1.3GHz K325 is found in the Dell Inspiron M101z.
Gaming is just about possible, but only at very modest settings on undemanding titles. In our standard TrackMania Nations Forever test this Eee PC managed only 22.6 frames per second, which is barely playable and no great improvement over Nvidia’s original ION graphics, though it’s still superior to Intel’s integrated graphics on most Atom machines. Interestingly, it gives very similar performance to AMD’s ATI Mobility Radeon HD4225 which supports its NEO CPU.
With a weight of 1.4kg, this netbook stays well within the ultra-portable category and is significantly lighter than Dell’s (admittedly more powerful) Inspiron M101z.
Battery life is on the good side of average, though this is partly due to Nvidia’s Optimus ensuring that Intel’s frugal integrated graphics are used whenever appropriate. Its 5,200mAh, 56Wh battery should give you around seven hours, and managed a decent six hours and 40 minutes in our battery test, running a looped video at 50 percent screen brightness.
Overall then, we have an impressive machine. Its performance is comfortably superior to other Intel-based netbooks (though AMD’s platform still rules supreme here) and battery life is good, but it’s let down by poor build in the keyboard area. However, the main problem with the 1215N is that at £430, it’s not just its performance that’s approaching laptop territory but its price as well.
If you truly can’t afford more, this EeePC bears consideration. However, if you can stretch to £500, the Inspiron M101z will be a better option for many, with double the RAM, a more competent CPU and larger hard drive making up for the shorter battery life. If you want something a little less conventional, the Packard Bell Butterfly Touch is also available for under £450. It’s not as light nor as powerful in the graphics department, but other specs are stronger and it offers tablet-like functionality with its swivelling capacitive touch screen.
Asus’ Eee PC 1215N is the most powerful Intel-based netbook we’ve tested, enhanced by an attractive design and great-feeling soft plastic finish. However, it’s let down by its poor keyboard and premium price tag, which puts it up against AMD’s NEO-based ultra-portables and even Intel’s own CULV machines. Though it certainly survives the encounter, it doesn’t come away unscathed.