How many dead cows does it take to make a laptop? In the case of the Asus U2E deluxe edition, it's at least one: it comes with a leather finish on the lid. It does also have some interesting stuff going on inside, thanks to its solid-state hard drive, which distinguishes it from the U2E we reviewed earlier this year. If you're tempted, it'll set you back the not inconsiderable sum of £1,300.
The first thing you notice about the U2E is its quirky styling. Instead of the shiny black chassis we've come to expect from pricey ultraportables, this one is decked out in brown leather. The leather is used not only on the lid, but also inside surrounding the keyboard and trackpad. The finish may not be to everyone's taste, but one thing you can say for it over more glossy designs is that at least it doesn't show fingerprints.
Thankfully, it's not just the styling that's interesting. Asus has also gone to a lot of effort to make sure that this machine is a marathon runner rather than a sprinter when it comes to battery life. Not only has it decided to use LEDs for the screen's backlight in an attempt to save power, but it's also fitted the laptop with a solid-state hard drive.
This does mean that you only get 32GB of storage space for your files, but because the drive has no moving parts, it should draw less power than a traditional hard drive. On top of all this, Asus also supplies the machine with two batteries. The smallest 3-cell battery fits flush with the chassis, while the larger 6-cell battery obviously stores more juice, but does protrude from the rear of the case by about a centimetre.
In our BatteryEater test, the 6-cell battery unsurprisingly put in a very impressive performance. It managed to keep running for a whopping 5 hours 49 minutes. Considering the U2E we reviewed in March only clocked about one hour with the smaller battery, this is a seriously impressive improvement.
There's plenty more to like, too. Perhaps surprisingly for a laptop with such petite dimension, Asus has managed to cram a DVD rewriter into the chassis. The screen is also very good. It might be small at 11.1 inches, but it's bright and text and graphics look crisp and sharp thanks to the 1,366x768-pixel resolution.
The keyboard also feels very comfortable to type on and there's a surprising number of ports dotted around the machine's small frame, including a micro-DVI port for connecting it to an external display, three USB ports and an Express Card slot and a memory card along with network and modem ports.
The U2E is certainly not without its downsides. Perhaps the most obvious is the lack of storage space available on the solid-state drive. Next to traditional laptop drives that typically offer well over 100GB of storage space, the 32GB available here may leave you feeling a little cramped for space.
Also, it's not exactly a speed demon. In our PCMark test, it managed to rack up a relatively low score of 3,189, although it's nearly three times better than the original U2E. Its 3DMark result is also higher at 473, but it still means you won't be using it to play the latest games.
While the ultra low voltage U7600 1.2GHz processor is perfectly usable for day-to-day tasks like picking up email and working on Office documents, if you chuck loads of multitasking at it, it's going to start to feel the pressure. Another issue is that the when you're really taxing the machine, the laptop's fan kicks up a racket and quickly become quite irritating.
The U2E is a great little laptop that packs lots of features into its small chassis. Still, there's plenty of competition out there and our main concern is that although it's expensive, it doesn't quite have the wow factor of the Apple MacBook Air or Sony's power house VGN-TZ21WN.
Edited by Shannon Doubleday