If People magazine ran an issue of the world's most beautiful laptops, the ASUS U2E would grace the cover. But it isn't enough that the luxurious 3.2-pound ultraportable (priced at $2,699), aimed at business professionals, is clad in premium leather and has a stunning polished plated hinge. A 32GB solid state drive, an LED-backlit panel, an ultra low voltage Intel Core 2 Duo processor, and a thin built-in optical drive also make this notebook one of a kind.
Sexy Design, Small Build
Nigel Barker, fashion photographer and a judge on America's Next Top Model, called the U2E a true "man bag," thanks to its leather-clad chassis. The rich, black, premium leather finish on the lid feels a lot like a brand-new car seat. The leather not only makes a fashion statement, but its extension under the keyboard makes for a seriously comfortable palm rest. The luxury feast extends to the notebook's polished plated hinge, which ASUS says is meant to be reminiscent of cuff links. These stainless steel accents add some serious fashion sense, but they can also get easily smeared with fingerprints.
Measuring 10.9 x 7.6 x 1.0 inches, the U2E is slight enough to tuck into the smallest carry-on, and at 3.4 pounds with its nine-cell battery (4 pounds with the charger), it's light enough to carry all day. Usually with such diminutive dimensions we see sacrifices, but that's not the case with the U2E: The system sports an HDMI port for easily hooking up to a larger screen, three USB ports (but no FireWire), a 8-in-1 media card reader, an ExpressCard slot, VGA port, LAN, modem, and a DVDRW drive. With all that, and a three-cell battery, the U2E weighs 2.8 pounds--less than the 3-pound MacBook Air, although that system sports a much larger 13-inch screen.
Keyboard and Included Extras
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For its size, the keyboard is extremely spacious and comfortable; a coating on top of the keys feels soft, and a slight gray speckle adds a nice subtle touch. Likewise, the touchpad has enough room for two fingers, and the mouse buttons provided sufficient tactile feedback. Nevertheless, ASUS includes a sharp-looking Logitech Bluetooth mouse. The company points out that, at least for now, the U2E is the only 3.2-pound laptop with an 11.1-inch screen to incorporate a multi-format DVD burner. ASUS also throws in a thin carrying case, a 160GB external hard drive, and an HDMI cord.
Nice LED Display, Weak Speakers
The glossy, 11.1-inch display employs backlit-LED technology, rather than the CCFL backlight used on most notebooks, making the U2E's screen not only 20 percent brighter but 50 percent lighter and thinner. Additionally, the LED consumes less power than a traditonal LCD. The 1366 x 768-pixel panel was crisp, and colors looked clean. Streaming episodes of 30 Rock on Hulu.com looked quite good; colors were bright, and we saw no motion blur. To our disappointment, vertical viewing angles weren't up to par. Moving just slightly off axis caused a substantial reflection shift, and the hinge restricts the screen from being able to lie fully flat.
Click to enlargeThe speakers were weak; we struggled to hear Tina Fey's voice when watching those 30 Rock episodes; plugging in a pair of headphones helped, though. Audio quality was fine for making a call over Skype, but even with the volume turned all the way up, it was tough to hear our callers from 15 feet away. We did appreciate the system's 0.3-megapixel webcam, however, which provided clear video images devoid of pixelated facial features.
Slow but Accurate Facial Recognition
The webcam also works in conjunction with the company's SmartLogon face-recognition technology, which uses images to build and maintain a database of approved users for the machine. Like our experience with the 12.1-inch ASUS U6S, this feature was easy to set up and use. Simply launch the SmartLogon Manager utility and select the user account you want to add a photo for (you'll be prompted for the password of that user account) and snap a photo for the database. The next time you are prompted for your Windows login, the SmartLogon utility compares your face to the photo before letting you in.
We did not find ASUS' SmartLogon as responsive as Lenovo's VeriFace technology, however. It took the system 30 seconds to log us in using our face--about twice as long as it took on the Lenovo IdeaPad Y510. Set to maximum security, though, the SmartLogon Manager utility was just as effective; it wasn't fooled by a similar-looking female, someone of the opposite sex and a different race, or even a picture of the approved user. Combined with the notebook's fingerprint reader, the U2E is one of the more secure ultraportables money can buy.
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One Smokin' SSD
One of the U2E's standout features is its 32GB solid state drive (ASUS also offers the system with a 1.8-inch 120GB hard drive). Vista booted in a quick 43 seconds, and applications loaded quickly. In a side-by-side comparison with the Fujitsu LifeBook P1620, a similarly sized ultraportable, programs loaded twice as fast. We did notice, however, that the U2E became warm after a few hours, and the fan was loud during heavy use. For those who are worried that the 32GB SSD isn't large enough for their storage needs, ASUS includes a 160GB external hard drive in the package.
ASUS U2E Performance
The U2E is powered by a 1.06-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Ultra Low Voltage U7500 processor and up to a whopping 4GB of RAM. It scored 96 on MobileMark 2007, which is right on track for an ultraportable. Its score of 981 on 3DMark03 is low for its class, but you're not buying the U2E for its gaming prowess. When it came to graphics-intensive tasks, the U2E performed as we would expect for an ultraportable; a streaming video of a Michael Jackson concert was smooth but became choppy when we attempted to run a virus scan at the same time.
Strong Battery Life and Wi-Fi
ASUS includes both a three-cell and nine-cell battery standard with the U2E. The three-cell battery, which fits flush with the back of the notebook, delivered only about 2 hours and 10 minutes of runtime--decidedly low for an ultraportable. The nine-cell extended-life battery, which lengthens the back by a bit more than an inch, provided a seriously long runtime of 7 hours and 33 minutes. The U2E also comes with ASUS' Power4 Gear, a management tool that allows you to choose among four preset power options, including High Performance, Entertainment Mode, Quiet Office, and Battery Savings. According to ASUS, the Battery Savings mode buys 20 percent more battery life than High Performance mode.
The U2E's Wi-Fi speeds of 17.1 Mbps at 15 feet and 15.8 Mpbs at 50 feet are above average for the ultraportable category. There's no integrated mobile broadband option, but you can easily plug a modem card into the ExpressCard slot.
Software and Warranty
The U2E comes preinstalled with Microsoft Vista Business, ASUS DVD, Media Show, PowerDirector and Nero Suite 7.9 (the OEM version). ASUS backs the system with a two-year global hardware warranty (one year on the battery) with free two-way overnight shipping, a 30-day zero bright-dot warranty on the display, and 24/7 tech support. ASUS laptops purchased in North America are also covered by the company's accidental damage warranty that covers damage from spills, electrical surges, fire, or drops for one year.
Asus U2E Verdict
Click to enlargeThe U2E is hands-down one of the best-looking ultraportables on the market. However, its closest rivals--the $3,098 MacBook Air and the $2,936 Lenovo ThinkPad X300--pack larger, 13-inch screens, better performance scores, and larger solid state drives, all for just a few hundred dollars more. Nevertheless, the U2E's fashion-forward design, along with its small and light build, DVD burner, and array of ports, make it a first-class luxury business notebook.