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.
That said, the W6Fp hasn't been designed with gaming in mind. It's more about style, portability and connectivity. As mentioned earlier, the array of ports is impressive, and being a Centrino laptop, 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi comes part and parcel. A Bluetooth 2.0 module is also included, which is great for transferring files or synchronising contacts with mobile devices. For convenience, both wireless protocols can be switched on and off via the switch located on the left above the keyboard.
Next to this switch is a switch for the Asus Power4 Gear+ utility that offers several power modes that vary CPU frequency, screen brightness and Windows' power-management schemes -- all of which affect battery life. Seven modes (High performance, Game, DVD movie, Email/Office, Presentation, Audio listening, Battery-saving) become available when you unplug the mains.
The 13.3-inch TFT WXGA display is of the widescreen variety, with a 1,280x800-pixel resolution -- ideal for watching movies on the go and for keeping the default font size legible. It has a glossy coating that Asus refers to as a 'Colour Shine glare-type'. Granted, the colours do shine through -- not necessarily accurately, but it definitely enriches them. As for the term 'glare-type', there's no disputing that -- in all but the darkest of rooms the screen is very reflective.
Storage is catered for by a capacious 100GB hard drive, and the integrated DVD rewriter does away with the need to carry a separate optical drive. It's a multi-format dual-layer writer too, which can write up to 8.5GB of data to dual-layer DVDs. It can also write and rewrite CDs at 24x and 16x respectively, and can write to standard DVD at up to 8x. This drops to 4x for DVD + and 'minus' RW formats and around 2x for dual-layer discs.
With a hard drive this big, many users will no doubt store and watch movies on the W6Fp. With this in mind Asus includes a neat little utility -- Asus Splendid Video Intelligence -- to boost the contrast, brightness and vibrancy of the picture. This can help bring out the detail in dark scenes. The built-in speakers are rather tinny so we recommend using headphones or external speakers.
Completing the package is a matching leather-clad USB optical mouse, a snazzy sleeve and shoulder bag, and a reassuring two-year collect and return UK warranty (one year for the battery). Software includes Windows XP Pro SP2, Symantec Norton Internet Security 2005, and a helpful set of Asus applications for configuring and managing the W6Fp.
During everyday use we found little at fault with the W6Fp's overall performance. As mentioned before, hardcore gaming isn't really practical, but it coped fine with basic image editing. It did become a little sluggish with large TIFFs, but that's understandable. It was also very quiet -- the only real indication that the fans were in operation was an occasional stream of warm air that blew across from the vents on the right side.
Synthetic benchmarking with PCMark 2006 revealed a score of 3,040, which is good and in line with our expectations. 3DMark 2006 testing revealed a score of 218, which is rubbish. An awful F.E.A.R frame rate of 7fps only serves to reinforce the point that the W6Fp isn't a gaming machine.
Battery life was fine, too, but it is variable. With the 3-cell and 6-cell batteries, we respectively managed around 105 minutes and 180 minutes for general typing and surfing with the Power Gear4+ system set to 'high performance'.
One thing that did stand out was the range of the Wi-Fi aerial. It regularly picked up four or five networks dotted around a four-storey block of apartments -- including a notoriously weak signal previously undetected by a PC equipped with a Wi-Fi expansion card.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Elizabeth Griffin