Setting you back £1,599, Asus' W6Fp is not the cheapest laptop around, but it is one of the kinkiest -- if you're into leather, that is. While some will find the leather-bound panelling a turn on, others will think it's horrendous. Ultimately, it's all down to personal preference, but it will no doubt find favour with the flamboyant. For everyday use this latest member of Asus' 2006 leather collection is wonderfully portable and packs some of the newest Core 2 Duo gear from Intel.
Like its smaller S6F sibling, the W6Fp's most notable design feature is the real-leather finish. This has been hand-pressed and bonded to the rear of the 13.3-inch screen, along the palm rest below the keyboard and, unlike the S6 series, above the keyboard. It's a permanent finish which Asus says has undergone rigorous testing and should age gracefully. Whether it survives the ravages of time in the real world remains to be seen.
The W6Fp is currently available in two leather colours -- dark chocolate or camel. Our review sample is the latter, with the rest of the chassis finished in a combination of gunmetal-grey and silver. In all honesty, a camel of this colour would be ridiculed by its mates. More caramel than camel, it stands out from the crowd like a sore thumb -- cool if you want to draw attention, not so good if you prefer subtlety.
Is it stylish? Yes, maybe. But based on the equal number of "ooh, that's cool" and "yuk, that's minging" reactions in the local coffee shop, it clearly depends on the individual. Either way, the majority of punters thought the leather finish was a funky idea and we think it smells great.
As for build quality, there's no doubts here. It's screwed together well and feels just as solid as other Asus laptops. It's a compact and highly portable unit too, tipping the scales at around 1.86kg with the standard 3-cell battery, and a smidgen over 2kg with the 6-cell battery (also included). Be aware that the higher capacity battery juts out at the back, slightly spoiling the aesthetic.
The silver-coloured keyboard makes a great contrast to the leather and feels good to type on. There's very little flex in the board, indicating the build quality, and each key has a firm action with just the right amount of travel. The Enter, Shift and Backspace keys are almost full-sized, while the Page Up/Down, Delete and Arrow keys are placed intuitively. A similarly coloured touchpad and seamless left and right click buttons compliment the stylish look.
For convenience, USB ports are located on the left, right and at the rear. The DVD writer is positioned on the left, together with a 4-pin FireWire port, Ethernet and modem ports, and a handy card reader that accepts SD, MMC and Memory Stick cards.
On the right are headphones, S/PDIF and microphone ports, an ExpressCard slot and a rocker switch for controlling the volume directly. A VGA port is thoughtfully placed towards the rear, together with an S-Video out and AC-in. None of the ports feature flaps to prevent the ingress of dust and grime, but we doubt anyone would use the W6Fp in the desert -- camel looks or not.
While it's clear that Asus has focused on style, substance will also determine the popularity of a laptop. In this respect, Asus has made no major compromises on the hardware. For starters, inside is a 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo 2 T5600 CPU backed up by 1GB of 667MHz DDR2 memory.
That's plenty for number crunching and presentations, and with the 'two cores is better than one' ideology it's good for some light image editing too. The Intel 945GM Express chipset only offers integrated graphics though, which is pants for hardcore gaming.