You don’t have to flick a switch. Or press a button. Or reboot. You don’t even have to lift a finger. The ASUS UL50VF-A1 ($849), a relatively lightweight 15.6-inch notebook, is the first laptop that can automatically switch between integrated graphics mode (when you need endurance) to discrete mode (when you need more power) almost instantly. The breakthrough behind this capability is Nvidia’s Optimus technology, which is intelligent enough to seamlessly turn the GPU on or off based on the task at hand. We’re not enamored with the design, but overall the UL50VF-A1 is a highly versatile machine.
Measuring 15.1 x 10.1 x 1.0 inches and weighing 5.2 pounds, the UL50VF-A1 is roughly the same size and weight as the Dell Latitude Z600. That’s a compliment; you won’t find many thinner or lighter notebooks with this display size. Unfortunately, we’re not fans of the glossy black chassis, a look ASUS has become somewhat addicted to. The brushed aluminum lid picked up fingerprints quickly, and smudges also marred the deck and bezel in short order. Unless you polish the system regularly, it can get downright grimy.
Overall, the UL50VF ran cool. After playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, we measured temperatures of 93, 98, and 100 degrees Fahrenheit when we took the temperature of the touchpad, the space between the G and H keys, and the underside, respectively. All of these temperatures were slightly warmer than usual, but the notebook didn’t cause discomfort when it was sitting on our lap.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard features non-glossy, island-style keys that delivered a decent amount of feedback. Some will appreciate the full-size number pad to the right of the keyboard, but the result is a slightly undersized right Shift key. We also noticed quite a bit of flex in the lower-right portion of the keyboard.
South of the keyboard is a textured touchpad area that allowed us to whip the mouse across the screen with ease. The single mouse button, however, felt mushy and offered poor feedback. (We prefer two distinct buttons.) Above the keyboard is a power button to the right and an ASUS Express Gate “instant-on” button to the left.
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Display and Audio
The high-resolution 1366 x 768 display showcased bright colors during both Web surfing and watching episodes of Fight Science on Hulu. The reds in a martial arts fighter's training suit really popped. However, like other glossy displays, this one kicked back reflections during darker scenes. Viewing angles were sufficient enough for two people to take in the visuals.
The Altec Lansing stereo speakers provided enough sound to comfortably enjoy Lenny Kravitz’s “Lady,” but we would’ve liked additional volume to really rock out. We did hear good separation of high- and low-end sounds, which allowed us to clearly make out individual instruments.
Ports and Webcam
Taking a trip around the UL50VF-A1’s perimeter reveals three USB ports, VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, headphone, and microphone jacks, a 3-in-1 memory card reader, an 8X DVD drive, and a Kensington lock slot. The connection ports are all built into the left and right sides of the machine for easy access.
ASUS includes a 0.3-megapixel webcam embedded above the display, which we used to chat with friends in Meebo. Buddies reported very murky images. The video feed, however, didn’t suffer from any lag when we moved about quickly. ASUS’ facial recognition software allowed us to log into the system using our mugs, but we discovered that it works best in well-lit areas.
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