Handling, design and build: glossy but doesn't stick out too much
Otherwise, physically identical to the Asus Eee PC 1201N, the version of the 1201NL that we received is not black but grey. Apart from colour preference - a matter of taste - finger marks are much less visible on grey. The finish is still very good, while the machine generally seems solid enough, nice and firm and with a robust screen hinge.
The keyboard takes up the whole width of the machine and has small flat well-spaced buttons (15 x 14 mm). Keying is firm, not noisy and very comfortable.
The multitouch touchpad is part of the shell and you only notice it due to the slightly raised dots. While this makes it slightly odd to the touch, the glide is rapid and precise. The click bar is in chrome and placed just beneath the touchpad. Quality is good, but the click fairly audible.
The webcam is fine. The colours are accurate and fluidity up to scratch. Overexposed areas are not subject to too much burning. Results in darker conditions are much less satisfying.
In terms of noise levels, the Asus Eee PC 1201N is discrete. A slight fan sound is all that can be heard. This does increase a little during heavy operations such as photo or video tasks.
Connectivity is standard with 3 USB 2.0 ports, 1 HDMI, 1 VGA, 1 headpone, 1 mic, 1 RJ45, a 2-in-1 memory card reader and an antitheft port. You also get Wi-Fi b/g/n.
Under the laptop a single panel opens to give access to the RAM. You can remove the battery and it doesn't stick out from the rest of the machine.
|VGA, power supply, fan, USB 2.0, HDMI
|Touchpad and click bar
||Card reader, USB, RJ45, antitheft
Processing: mainly office doc work, HD video possible with the ION on
While the 1201N has an Intel Atom 330 dual core, the 1201NL has just a very standard single core Atom N270. It scores 19 on our index, compared to 100 for our reference machine, the Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi3650 (equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400). This limits it mainly to office doc work like most other netbooks. You can however do some photo and video tasks as long as you're patient. The ION chipset does allow acceleration of some video processing and photo (encoding, image manipulation etc) operations. You then gain a lot in terms of performance.
Equipped with Windows XP, it starts up in 54 seconds and shuts down in 16.
The processor can't handle HD 1080p (Blu-Ray equivalent) decoding on its own. CPU occupation is then up to 100% and the display jumpy. Happily the ION chipset is there to help out and make things more fluid. You need to make sure you activate hardware acceleration to benefit from the excellent decoding capacities of the NVIDIA graphics solution. CPU occupation then falls to around 11% and energy consumption to 26 watts. You can also view HD video using Flash on the internet as Adobe is now offering a new beta version plugin (version 10.1 beta 3 available).
3D gaming: the ION chipset is not allowed free rein
The NVIDIA ION chipset is certainly the highest performance graphics solution on current netbooks. Unfortunately, the Atom N270 and 1 GB of RAM do not allow it to perform at optimum levels. You need a faster processor and at least 2 GB of RAM to hope to do any proper gaming. As things stand here, though the ION is much better than an integrated GMA 950 solution, this netbook won't allow gaming with recent titles. You have to make do with 3D strategy or older 3D games.
Audio: only the headphones out is any good
The sound from the speakers is bad. No breadth or bass, treble dominates. This is standard on netbooks. Best to confine yourself to the headphones out as it has the merit of giving a clean sound.
Mobility, battery life: a big battery saves the day
Thanks to the low energy Atom N270 processor, you get a longer battery life on the 120NL than on the 1201N. With films (brightness at 100 Cd/m², Wi-Fi disactivated and headphones plugged in) it gave 3H43 playback, which is an increase of 10 minutes in spite of a lower endurance battery. This still isn't as good as the Samsung N510 (4H06) or the Compaq Mini 311c (4H52).
The 6 cell battery (4400 mAh) doesn't take up too much space but battery life would have been better with the 5600 mAh used on the 1201N.
At 1.38 Kg, the 1201NL is lighter than the Samsung N510 (1.4 Kg) or the 1201N (by 80 grammes). One important plus is that the charger is truly tiny. It takes up very little space in your bag!