- Review Price: £299.99
Like other higher-end netbooks (now there’s an oxymoron if ever there was one), the 1015PEM uses Intel’s N550 Atom processor, offering dual cores that run at 1.5GHz. It still won’t give you even close to the same performance as a mid-range laptop CPU, but does facilitate smoother multi-tasking and (non-HD) Flash video, as well as undemanding 720p material.
Unfortunately, the rest of its internal specifications are par for the netbook course. This means weak, integrated Intel GMA 3150 graphics with no digital video output, 1GB of RAM, and a 250GB hard drive. There’s also a generous 500GB of online storage – though this is a one-year trial, after which you have to pay for the service.
However, on the connectivity front it’s a different story. Wi-Fi is up to the fastest N speed and Ethernet is of the Gigabit variety, while Bluetooth is version 3.0 (which supports a data rate of up to 24MB per second compared to its predecessor’s 3MB). Best of all, two of the 1015PEM’s three USB ports are USB 3.0. For the impressive benefits this brings, you should have a read of our comprehensive look at USB 3.0. Suffice to say that for external storage enthusiasts, it’s essential.
Other connections are what you would find on any netbook, including an analogue VGA output and USB 2.0 port on the left. The right side houses microphone and headphone jacks, and a memory card reader supporting SD/HC and MMC.
However, there are a few other clever touches that set this netbook apart from the crowd. One of these is a physical shutter for the 0.3 megapixel webcam, operated by a small switch set above it in the screen’s bezel. Some might consider this a pointless addition, but especially for less technically proficient consumers it’s a great way of absolutely ensuring you’re only being filmed when you want to be (cough, American Pie, cough).
Another nice touch is a small rocker switch above the keyboard. One side is a dedicated wireless button, which alternately turns Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (or both) on or off, confirmed by a dynamic on-screen icon. The other side toggles Asus’ Super Hybrid Engine, which Asus has nicknamed SHE. This will switch between Power Saving, High Performance and Super Performance, adjusting parameters to favour either battery life or speed. Again it’s confirmed by an on-screen icon so you’re never in any doubt as to which mode you’re in.
As already mentioned, on the design front little has changed from previous Sea-shell models like the 1005PE, and that’s no bad thing, as it was a very attractive design to begin with. The thin lid and sharply tapered edges give a very sleek impression, while chromed highlights and blue LEDs complement its glossy black and white aesthetic. Mind you, if white’s not your thing the 1015PEM is also available with red or blue lids or all in piano black, though we would probably stick with white because it shows off fingerprints the least.
Build quality on most of the machine is good, though above the keyboard there’s significant creak and more flex than we would like. If you’re after something a little more rugged, it might be worth considering the Samsung NB30 or even Dell’s Latitude 2100.
Asus’ netbook keyboards have never lived up to the superb example provided by HP with the likes of its Compaq Mini line, and unfortunately that hasn’t changed here. Layout is decent while key feedback is actually surprisingly deep and positive for a chiclet-style keyboard, but the keys are too small to be comfortable.
At least the multi-touch touchpad is a pleasure to use. Tastefully delineated by two flush chrome strips, it’s large and responsive but doesn’t interfere with typing. The pad’s buttons, integrated into a large chromed rocker switch, offer excellent feedback though they suffer from a large central ‘dead zone’ which makes right-clicks more strenuous than they should be.
Getting to the 10.1in screen, as usual we’re dealing with a sub-HD Ready 1,024 x 600 resolution. Black levels and dark detailing is surprisingly impressive, despite Asus thankfully foregoing that glossy screen coating we love to hate. We could just about differentiate between the two darkest shades in our test pattern on the 1015PEM, though inevitably white purity takes a noticeable hit.
Combined with excellent sharpness, unusually good horizontal viewing angles and minimal banding, watching films would be a pleasure were it not for noticeable light bleed from the bottom and side edges – in fact, this is the worst case of it we’ve come across in quite some time. Still, the display is excellent for productivity, and if you can ignore the bleed it does a decent job for entertainment too.
Audio was loud but not particularly refined, suffering from distortion and a lack of clarity at its maximum. Turning the volume down improved things, but bass was still almost completely lacking. It’s usable but by no means best in class.
Worth a quick mention is the small task bar Asus has added to the 1015PEM’s Windows 7 Starter installation. Accessed via a drop-down tag at the top of the screen, this gives you a convenient way to get at various Asus-specific apps, services and settings, including the company’s Web Storage, Game Park, and the option to enable or disable SRS sound and USB charging. Like the webcam cover, it’s especially useful for first-time users.
Asus makes impressive claims about the battery life; allegedly the 5,200mAh, 56Wh unit should be good for up to 11 hours. In our testing, however, it gave considerably less than this, managing just over six hours with a video looped at 50 percent screen brightness. This is a good hour less than the single-core 1005PE, so if you’re looking to get a Seashell netbook it’s worth seeing if you would rather have the extra power or more time away from a socket. On a side note, it’s impressive that Asus has managed to keep its netbook’s weight below 1.3kg despite the large battery.
Finally, on the value front the £300 1015PEM holds up reasonably well. It has no glaring faults, though we certainly wouldn’t consider the keyboard ideal for extensive typing sessions. The undoubted highlight is the (for now) rare addition of USB 3.0, which gives you lightning-fast transfer speeds with compatible external storage. Of course, many won’t even use this feature, especially on a netbook.
If that’s you, Samsung’s £320 NF210 might be a better alternative, as it offers an impressive eight hours of battery life despite featuring the same dual-core Atom CPU. The Acer Aspire D255 is also a worthy contender now that it’s available for under £250 – in fact, it’s probably the most attractive option of the three in terms of value for money.
If you want USB 3.0, Asus’ Eee PC Seashell 1015PEM is one of the first netbooks to offer it and therefore an easy choice. If not, there are plenty of other options around, though this Seashell might still be worth picking up if you don’t mind its keyboard.
Score in detail
Battery Life 7
Processor, Memory & Storage
|Processor||Intel Atom N550|
|Processor Speed Standard (Gigahertz)||1.5GHz|
|Memory (RAM) (Gigabyte)||1GB|
|Hard Disk Drive (HDD) (Gigabyte)||250GB|
|Hard Disk Drive Speed (RPM)||5400rpm|
|Solid State Drive (SSD)||No|
|DVD Optical Drive||No|
Graphics & Sound
|Graphics||Intel GMA 3150|
|Display (Inch)||10.1 in|
|Operating System||Windows 7|
|Battery life (Hour)||361hr|
Unlike other sites, we thoroughly test every product we review. We use industry standard tests in order to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever accept money to review a product. Tell us what you think - send your emails to the Editor.