Asus U2E-1P014E review

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Interest in ultraportable laptops has been growing recently, with both budget Eee PC clones and dearer premium featherweights generating headlines. The latest manufacturer to throw its hat into the ring is Asus, with the 1.3kg U2E.

The U2E looks more like an attaché case than an ultraportable laptop, coming with a leather-clad lid and wrist-rest. The design instantly marks it out from more glossy competition like the MacBook Air and Sony Vaio TZ31, both of which veer towards a more smooth and respectable, board-room image.

Lavish touches extend beyond the lid: the hinge between screen and base is classy silver, and the trackpad, as well as a ridge along the edge of the base, are finished in (admittedly fingerprint-attracting) brushed metal. The keys even have the merest hint of glitter about them; the only concession to the more gregarious styling of other ultraportables.

The build quality is a bit more variable, with the base rigid and sturdy, and the screen considerably less so. There’s a definite amount of flex in the lid, and slight pressure on the back of the panel caused image distortion. Still, it wasn’t as bad as the wobbly lid of the Sony, which needed even less persuasion to flex to and fro.

Conversely, while the Asus may trump the Vaio’s screen for sturdy construction, the image quality is where Sony’s ultraportable impresses. Both screens have a native resolution of 1,366 x 768, but the Asus loses out with a dimmer and less detailed panel, despite LED backlighting – the Sony screen is sharper and reproduces colours with more clarity and depth. That’s not to say that the U2E has a bad screen – it’s perfectly capable for work and surfing the internet – but placing the two diminutive machines side by side only served to highlight the gulf in quality.

Asus has chosen a traditional keyboard layout as opposed to the scrabble-tile design of the Vaio. Benefits are immediately obvious: the keyboard feels a lot sturdier than the slightly bouncy Sony, and it’s somewhat more comfortable for extended typing sessions thanks to the respectable travel on individual buttons.

The trackpad exudes similar quality. A brushed metal surface, while an unconventional choice, works superbly, letting fingers easily guide the cursor around the screen. The only problems here are minor: the buttons don’t quite depress enough to be wholly satisfying, and the trackpad has no scroll function. Asus has also included a small travel mouse that connects via the built-in Bluetooth, and proves useful when sat at a desk.

The U2E offers greater connectivity options when compared to its rivals. The requisite VGA output is complimented by a micro-DVI socket, and Asus has included a DVI-I adapter in the box. There are also a few features that improve security: a fingerprint reader is standard on all Asus notebooks, and a TPM chip adds another layer of protection.

Performance is an area where the Asus loses ground to Sony’s Vaio and the MacBook Air. The Intel Core 2 Duo Mobile U7500 processor runs at 1.06GHz and, while power-efficient, doesn’t offer blistering speeds – it’s the worst-specified part in that range. But while it might look significantly worse on paper, with respective 2D benchmark scores of 0.59 and 0.62, neither this or the Sony is slow enough to be unusable. Just don’t expect to multitask or run intensive applications with any responsiveness.

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