When it comes to designing laptops as executive accessories, no company is giving Sony a run for its money as much as ASUS. Case in point: The striking new ASUS U6S, a 3.5-pound ultraportable that is as gratifying to look at and touch as it is to use. And with a reasonable starting price of $1,799, the U6S appeals to your practical side, as well.
Sexy, Ergonomic Design
The rich, dark brown automotive finish on the mag-alloy lid has rainbow flecks that lend depth and interest. And unlike other glossy finishes, this one is surprisingly smudge-resistant. The chassis' chrome trim also evokes the comparison to a luxury car, as do the leather trim on the palm rest and ring of aluminum around the keyboard. The slim wedge design goes from 0.9 to 1.2 inches thick and feels nice in the hand.
We also appreciated the low-friction touchpad surface, but while the integrated mouse button areas lessen the visual clutter, they take a bit more pressure to activate than most. The keyboard is comfortable and quiet and features full-size letter keys though ancillary keys on the right-hand side are smaller than standard.
U6S Display and Speakers
The 12.1-inch LED-backlit panel means a thinner lid than models that use a conventional LCD, as well as better contrast that results in deeper, more vivid images. The 1280 x 800-pixel resolution makes for a crisp picture, but on a panel this size it also means tiny default text and icons. The LCD shows some drop-off in brightness if you aren't perpendicular to it, but overall, its viewing-angle range is good. Pirates of the Caribbean showed good color reproduction and shadow detail, with some motion blur.
The U6S is very quiet in typical operation, emitting just a low whir you don't hear unless you're in a silent room. The built-in speakers won't fill a room with sound, but the audio quality is good and top volume is fine for one user or a small group at a conference table.
Facial Recognition Security Inside
In addition to a fingerprint reader, the U6S offers the company's SmartLogon face-recognition technology, which uses images from the VGA webcam to build and maintain a database of approved users for the machine. In our testing, SmartLogon 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, naturally) 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.
The regular password-protected Windows logon is available as a choice at the login screen, which unfortunately turns the face-recognition feature into more of a convenience than an actual security measure: Even with the SmartLogon Manager utility set to maximum security, a person other than yourself can still log in via just your password. Ideally, there would be a setting that requires both your password and your image to launch Windows.
U6S Packed with Features
ASUS points out that, at least for now, the U6S is the only 12-inch laptop to deliver both an HDMI port and discrete graphics, the midrange Nvidia GeForce 8400M G (with DirectX 10 support). In addition to HDMI you'll also find four USB ports (but not FireWire), a memory card reader, an ExpressCard slot, VGA port, LAN, and modem. A generous 160GB hard drive comes standard, and the integrated multi-format DVD burner is LightScribe-capable.
Plenty of Pep, Mediocre Battery Life
The U6S is powered by a 2.2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 processor and 2GB of RAM, which is not expandable. It scored 2,919 on PCMark Vantage, which is above average among ultraportables, and 86 on MobileMark 2007, which is not bad for an ultraportable. Its score of 3,073 on 3DMark03 is well above average for the class (by more than double), though the U6S is still no gaming demon. We did see a playable 59 frames per second on F.E.A.R., but that was at just 640 x 480 resolution and with most graphics effects dialed down; at maximum res, the machine delivered just 6 fps.
As a daily companion, the U6S is terrific. It boots up in a quick 45 seconds (a welcome relief from the nearly 2-minute load times we've seen from other Vista machines), and applications load quickly. The GPU is more than able to handle Vista's on-screen effects, even with multiple windows open.
The battery delivered only about 2 hours and 40 minutes of runtime under MobileMark 2007 and 1 hour and 30 minutes on our DVD rundown test, which is decidedly low for an ultraportable. Plan on picking up a second battery if you want to get through an entire DVD on the plane.
U6S Wireless Performance
The only other drawback we see as far as road warriors are concerned is the lack of integrated mobile broadband, although you can easily add a modem card to theExpressCard slot. The system's Wi-Fi speeds of 18.4 Mbps at 15 feet and 15.9 Mbps at 50 feet are above average for the category.
The Windows Vista Business OS is appropriate for this notebook class. Missing, however, is a decent DVD player applet, as Vista Business does not include Windows Media Center functions. But in addition to the requisite system utilities, ASUS includes a copy of Nero 7.9 (the OEM version) disc-creation suite.
What isn't missing are the little extras that separate a luxury marque from a mass-market manufacturer. ASUS includes not one but two Targus cases with the U6S: A ballistic nylon shoulder tote and a suede-like slip case. You also get a sharp-looking Bluetooth travel mouse, and ASUS backs the system with a 2-year global hardware warranty (1 year on the battery) with free two-way overnight shipping, a 30-day Zero bright-dot warranty on the LCD, and 24/7 tech support. 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.
That sort of peace of mind is its own reward--as is carrying one of the best-looking ultraportables on the market today. Just have pity for the other road warriors stuck with those boring fleet-purchase PCs.
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