- Review Price: £1322.42
The burgeoning popularity of netbooks certainly suggests people want their computers light and portable. For a large number of these the netbook, which offers basic functionality at a basic price, is perfectly adequate – especially as a secondary computer. Yet there will always be power users who accept no compromise and are willing to pay for the privilege. This is where the Asus U6V-2P001E, a fully featured 12.1in ultra-portable, comes in. Unlike an Eee PC this is a premium item with a premium price and even the packaging, a rather smart black worked and moulded cardboard case lined with black felt, suggests this much.
Turning to the notebook itself the impression of classiness continues. In fact, it’s rather reminiscent of Asus’ own U2E 11.1in Ultra Portable Notebook. Our sample has a dark-brown, almost black, lid with blue and gold specks, highlighted by a silver trim. Its hinge is also silver, trimmed with black edges and the lid is incredibly thin thanks to the 12.1in screen using LED backlight technology.
Once opened, the visual design of the laptop inspires mixed feelings. On the one hand, no-one will mistake this for a cheap piece of technology. On the other, the keyboard’s silver finish does look a tad tacky. Apart from this the mix of dark silver screen bezel, light silver keyboard, textured chrome buttons, brown leather palm-rest, dark-brown touchpad, piano-black trim and matte black base gives the whole a somewhat inconsistent look. Don’t get me wrong, it’s quite attractive and still stylish, just not as good-looking as some of the competition.
Although I’m personally anti-leather, I must admit that the real leather palm-rest below the keyboard adds a touch of class and more than a touch of user comfort. The palm area is as large as you’re likely to find on most 15.4in notebooks, providing your hands with plenty of support while typing and the leather is grippy, soft, fingerprint resistant and prevents your palms sweating.
The rest of the typing experience is also very pleasant thanks to an above average keyboard. Keys are large and well-spaced and the layout is excellent, with the left Ctrl key on the outside of Fn and dedicated Home to End keys – the only minor niggle for some might be the lack of a full-size Enter key. Feedback is good, with reasonable depth and a crisp and even response.
There are no dedicated media buttons but at least Play, Stop, Next and Previous have been placed as secondary functions on the arrow keys, though I would have preferred the volume keys to be a bit more accessible.
Unfortunately, from the excellent keyboard we move on to a rather disappointing touchpad. It’s finished in a brushed metal dark-brown layer that feels great and is sure to stand a lot of wear and tear – this isn’t the problem. Where it all goes wrong is the buttons, which are incredibly stiff and require too much pressure. This makes simple tasks like dragging and dropping difficult to the point of being impractical. This wouldn’t be acceptable in a budget notebook, let alone one costing over £1,000, and is a significant black mark as far we’re concerned.
Between the buttons is a fingerprint security scanner. Though Asus also offers a log-in system through face recognition, this is not recommended for anything other than casual use, as the software is still not accurate enough to block lookalikes and is frankly a rather gimmicky feature.
On the hinge reside the LED indicators, with clear icons indicating their function. To the right of these is the textured power button. On the left are another two buttons. One launches a webcam application, while the other launches the secondary ExpressGate Linux OS. It starts up in less than 10 seconds, allowing you access to the Internet, music, online games, photos, IM and Skype. Not everyone may use this, but it’s a handy extra and is less power consuming than Windows.
Connectivity, meanwhile, is exemplary. On the right you’ll find a Kensington lock slot, headphone and microphone jacks, a USB port, SD/MMC/SD-HC/MS-Pro card reader and the tray-loading 8x DVD writer. On either side of the battery at the notebook’s rear we have LAN, modem and VGA, while the front remains clear. The machine’s left side houses an 54mm ExpressCard slot, wireless switch, two more USB ports, power-in and best of all, a rare e-SATA connector in addition to HDMI. Quite simply, you can’t really ask for more than that!
Batteries are one of the few major hurdles left in the race for ultra-portability. We have developed LCD screens that are thinner than a slice of toast and permanent storage the size of a credit card, but the one thing we still can’t shrink much without losing capacity is the battery: you either have to sacrifice portability or usage time. Asus, while not providing a perfect solution, at least gives you a choice and ships the U6 with two batteries.
The first is a small three-cell 2400mAh affair which is also finished in leather on the outside, and sits flush with the U6V’s chassis. With this battery the notebook weighs an incredibly light 1.61kg. Meanwhile, the large extended eight-cell 7800mAh battery adds 500 grams, taking the overall laptop’s weight to 1.91kg; still fairly light, considering it will give you up to five hours use under normal conditions – more if you’re frugal.
However, it does rather alter the sleek machine’s appearance, since the larger battery sticks out over four centimetres at the back. This might not sound like much, until you consider the whole notebook is only 22 centimetres deep. It’s not finished in leather either, or even brown enamel to match the lid. Instead, it is plain black, adding to the incongruity of the look. It does have a grooved pattern, though, making it easy to hold the notebook by.
What’s most amazing is the extent to which the U6V-2P001E consistently trounces its Asus Lamborghini VX3 cousin in the battery life stakes, beating it by a minimum of half an hour in DVD Playback tests and over an hour in others. Interestingly, these notebooks are somewhat similar in terms of hardware, even using the same battery. They only differ in one major respect: the more recent U6V model uses Intel’s new Centrino 2 and its more advanced processors.
Speaking of processors, the U6V is certainly no slouch. An Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 running at 2.53GHz ensures this notebook crunches through most tasks with ease, especially when backed up by 4GB of 800MHz RAM. In fact, this might seem like a slightly odd choice as only 3GB will really be usable with the 32-bit Windows Vista Premium/Business the machine ships with, but it does mean you won’t have to upgrade the hardware if and when you switch to 64-bit.
Elsewhere, the U6V-2P001E continues to entice with a very complete wireless package, including integrated Bluetooth 2.0, WiFi Link 5100 with Draft-N support and, best of all, HSDPA. To this end, a SIM slot can be found just inside the battery compartment.
The impressive specifications don’t end there; with a 320GB, albeit 4,200 RPM hard drive, giving you plenty of storage space for your video and music collections. In fact, you can even add a modest – read undemanding – games collection to that, as the U6V comes equipped with dedicated graphics courtesy of nVidia’s GeForce 9400M. While no powerhouse by any stretch, it gave a playable frame rate in our standard notebook gaming test (TrackMania Nations Forever) at the panel’s native resolution of 1,280 x 800 with full details and 4x anti-aliasing.
As mentioned before, the 12.1in screen is incredibly thin and light thanks to its LED backlight. Colours are nice and vibrant and text is sharp and easy to read. Despite having a reflective glossy screen it’s still possible to view it under most lighting conditions, including direct sunlight – though most of the time that’s hardly a potential problem in Britain! Viewing angles are reasonable, though hampered by the reflectivity and suffering a little from the usual contrast and colour shift.
Apart from the awkward touchpad, the single speaker is probably the only really disappointing aspect here, being smaller even than those found on an original Eee PC 701. It distorts badly with even light bass and only manages anything higher with the already feeble volume turned down.
So, overall, you get a quite attractive machine with some classy touches, stuffed to the grills with features and sporting some seriously capable hardware. Using the large secondary battery also gives the U6V impressive battery life and the keyboard is pleasant, though the touchpad is a pain.
The main consideration, however, is price. Compared to Asus’ own Lamborghini VX3 12.1in ultraportable, there really is no competition. You basically get a better performing machine for far less money; so unless you’re particularly enamoured of the Lamborghini branding, go for the U6V instead.
When it comes to the competition, things are less straightforward. Samsung’s new Centrino 2 Q210, for example, might not have quite as much under the hood or offer as much longevity, but is almost half the price. Unless you’re absolutely sold on the looks of the UV6 and must have integrated HSDPA, it’s a compelling alternative and new models from Sony are also likely to offer stiff competition.
It all comes down to money. If you can afford it, the £1,350 Asus U6V-2P001E probably won’t disappoint. It’s fairly stylish and a great performer – just keep in mind its excellent battery life (using the eight-cell) comes at the price of some of that style and portability.
Score in detail
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