The W3J is Asus' attempt to create a fast, capable laptop with a chassis barely the width of an A4 sheet of paper, and the weight of a couple of bags of sugar. It's a welcome prospect, as compact laptops that deliver plenty of power are difficult to find. The W3J is capable of running games and though it might not look it on the surface, it packs enough grunt to rival, and indeed outperform, larger, more expensive laptops.
It's hard not to like the look of the W3J. It has a clean feel about it, weighs just 2kg with the standard two-cell battery and is compact at just 247mm wide. The entire thing is finished in grey and the top of the lid has a subtle brushed-metal effect.
The laptop's battery forms part of its hinge, meaning it doesn't jut out beyond the body of the chassis. Also impressive is the fact the power button sits on the far right side of the laptop -- again on the hinge. Locating it is difficult the first time you use the W3J, but its unusual position makes a welcome change.
The laptop is just as attractive on the inside as it is on the outside. The keyboard is a comfortable size and feels good to type on. We think it has the perfect amount of springiness and we rarely found ourselves gazing down at it trying to make sure our fingers were in the right place -- as is often the case with small laptops.
To either side of the keyboard are four shortcut buttons. These sit flush with the left and right edges of the laptop, so they're barely noticeable when the lid is open but can (just about) be pressed even when the lid is shut. The left row of shortcut keys controls media playback (including CD playback when the laptop is 'off') and the right-hand keys toggle the Bluetooth adaptor, video source and Wi-Fi, and switch the mouse touchpad on and off. There's also a PowerGear button that lets you cycle between the laptop's various power modes -- some of which promote battery life and some of which enhance system performance.
Below the keyboard is a wide, rectangle-shaped mouse touchpad. Below this is a single, long mouse button that functions as two separate buttons depending on whether you press the left or right half. The seamless button design improves the overall look of the system.
Our one gripe with the W3J's design is the fact it, like most Windows-based laptops, is slathered with stickers. Sure, these are great for identifying which components are inside the laptop, but they make the unit look slightly tacky -- we wouldn't hesitate to remove them the minute we got it home from the shop.
The W3J has some meaty specifications for its size. It's a third-generation Centrino laptop, so it has all the funky Wi-Fi capabilities (802.11a/b/g) that'll appeal to Starbucks regulars. It uses the Intel 945PM chipset, an Intel T2400 processor running at 1.83GHz, and 1GB of RAM, though this can be upgraded to 2GB.
Impressively, the laptop doesn't rely on an Intel integrated graphics adaptor. Instead, Asus has crammed in an ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 card, so playing games is a realistic proposition. It's the same card used in the well-received Acer Travelmate 8204WLMi, and it's perfectly capable of running all the latest 3D titles at a decent lick, though you may have to turn the detail settings down on a few of the most demanding games.