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Asus is always one of the first to integrate new technologies, for the simple fact that it either helps design or create so much of it. As such then, it's no surprise to see its logo on the first notebook we've seen in the labs featuring Windows Sideshow. Sideshow is a Windows Vista only technology that uses an external screen on the laptop lid to let you gain access to your email, music and other content, without having to turn on your machine.
If the notebook itself looks familiar at all, that's because it is. Asus has essentially just shoehorned the Visa Sideshow screen into the lid of an W5F - creating the W5Fe.
Even so, there's certainly no denying that the Sideshow screen in a very eye catching feature, and when road testing the W5Fe on my recent trip to China for IDF, it drew quite a few comments. But how useful is Sideshow in practice?
The Sideshow feature operates from 1GB of NAND flash built into the notebook. Vista features Sideshow Gadgets; applications that are designed to make themselves available to the Sideshow screen. Only two are built into Windows Vista by default - email via Windows Mail and music via Windows Media Player. More Gadgets can be downloaded and installed via a Microsoft web page - the link is right there inside Control Panel.
However, before I set of on my recent trip to China I installed Office 2007. As I expected Office installed a Calendar Sideshow gadget but I was amazed to discover that there wasn’t a Gadget for Outlook email. Even more surprising was that it wasn't available on the web site either. Accessing emails would seem to me the number one use for the Sideshow screen and the lack of an Outlook gadget rendered the whole thing rather pointless for me.
However, if you are happy using Windows Mail, then the sideshow feature is quite cool. The 2.8in 320 x 240 display sits inside a larger reflective area that’s quite eye catching. Naturally the screen is a drain on battery power, so it can be switched off via a slider switch. However, Sideshow is optimised for a low power draw and the screen goes into a sleep state when not used so you won't get penalised too heavily for leaving it on. Navigation is straightforward - there's a Menu button at the top, a Back button at the bottom and Enter button for making selections surrounded by a four-way directional panel.
The icons are quite cute and you move between them in a manner akin to Windows Media Center. If you are happy using Windows Mail for your email there is enough resolution for at least 12 lines of text, which is good. In the settings you can choose between themes, change the default language and adjust screen brightness. Also you can tell it how long to keep the screen on for and whether to lock the buttons and whether to require a password when it turns on. This is important if you have sensitive data on your machine. There's little point protecting Vista with password if you leave Sideshow as a backdoor for thieves or nosy parkers.