Back in January 2007, we reviewed the Asus U1 -- one of the most stylish ultraportables of its time. Now, just over a year later, Asus has released its natural successor, the U2E.
It too has an 11.1-inch widescreen display. It too is unashamedly sexy. But the U2E ditches the smudge-tastic piano black seen on the U1 in favour of real cow hide -- lovingly stretched over the lid and palm rest. It also incorporates an built-in optical drive and comes in two flavours -- a black entry-level model, and a 'mocha brown' special edition that ships with a 32GB solid state hard drive. Prices start at around £1,100.
The U2E is the epitome of style. The vast majority of the lid is swathed in genuine leather, as is the wrist rest and areas surrounding the left and ride sides of the keyboard. Asus says this is real leather, and unless it's gone to the extreme lengths of spraying the laptop with cow-scented perfume, we're willing to accept its claims.
Leather on its own does not an attractive laptop make, so Asus has thrown in some extra flair. The hinge has a shiny gunmetal finish that's visible whether the lid is open or closed, and more gunmetal can be seen on a mottled strip directly above the keyboard, and at the front edge of the laptop. The whole effect is stunning. When you see a U2E in the flesh, it will melt your icy, geek heart.
The U2E is an ultraportable, which means it's very small -- 277mm by 194mm by 24mm -- and very light -- 1.25Kg. Despite these petite dimensions, it packs a shedload of features. Most notably, you get a DVD rewriter drive crammed into the recesses of the right hand side. You also get three USB ports -- two on the left, one on the right -- as well as analogue D-Sub and HDMI video outputs. Also, let's not forget the fingerprint reader, 0.3-megapixel webcam, Ethernet port and modem jack. All this in a chassis smaller, lighter and less expensive than the MacBook Air. Apple, are you listening?
Ultraportable laptops have a tendency to sacrifice usability for portability -- in other words you can take it anywhere, but you'll give yourself RSI if you use them for any great length of time. The U2E should be fine for many users -- but those with unusually large hands should be aware that the keys are very closely packed together, meaning you have to be more precise with your typing than you'd have to be with an ordinary desktop keyboard. If you're at the keyboard for hours at a time, you'll almost certainly feel a cramp.
A quick glance at the Asus U2E's specification tells us what sort of crowd it's aimed at. It uses a 1.06GHz Intel U7500 ultra-low voltage CPU, which is slow but steady. It's designed to prolong battery life, save the planet and tuck animals into bed -- except cows. There's plenty of memory to assist the CPU -- 2GB of DDR2 in the black U2E and 4GB in the mocha brown version. The whole thing runs on top of Intel's GM965 chipset
Storage in the U2E is an interesting topic. The standard model uses a 120GB hard drive of the 1.8-inch laptop variety. This is divided across two partitions, one 55GB segment that houses the operating system and any associated applications, and another 48GB segment where you can dump miscellaneous data. The rest of the space is assigned to a hidden recovery partition.
The mocha brown U2E ships with a 32GB solid state drive, which
offers the advantage of faster file access, quicker boot times and
potentially longer battery life. But unless these factors are extremely
important to you, we recommend going for the bigger 1.8-inch drive.
One major difference between the Asus U2E and the U1 is the presence of a DVD rewriter drive. This adds weight to the system but the upshot is you can now play DVD movies and create disc backups. Some might argue that an optical drive is a superfluous addition to ultraportable laptops, but given the choice, we'd rather have one than not.
The U2E makes a fairly good media playback tool, but the 1,366x768-pixel, 11.1-inch screen does suffer from a limited vertical viewing angle. It's also highly reflective so it's difficult to see what's going on if you use the laptop outdoors or in front of a bright light source. One positive note is the fact that it is LED backlit, which helps prolong battery life. Some users might want to output video via the HDMI port. While this is perfectly feasible, the ultra-low voltage processor can't always be relied upon to pump full 1080p video without dropping the occasional frame.
Security is always worth considering with laptops -- just ask MI5. Anyone with sensitive data will relish the inclusion of a fingerprint reader, which works as an alternative to entering long, tedious passwords. This reads from the live skin layer, meaning people can't just swipe your severed finger to gain access. The U2E also comes with full TPM hardware solution to help prevent hackers capturing your passwords.
As you'd expect, the U2E is fully Centrino compliant. It'll happily hook up to Wi-Fi networks that use 802.11a/b/g and even has 802.11n compliance, for those lucky enough to own other high-speed 802.11n hardware. The laptop also uses a Gigabit Lan adaptor plus a modem port
Other things you might need to know about include a 2-year global warranty, a carry case, 3- and 6-cell batteries, a wireless Bluetooth mouse, and a copy of Windows Vista Home Premium.
The U2E's performance is adequate. The 1.06GHz CPU and 2GB of RAM are sufficient to run Windows Vista Home Premium edition smoothly. It's certainly not the sort of laptop that you'd use for encoding video, rendering 3D graphics, or running 3D games, but it rarely feels sluggish. It scored 1,851 in PCMark 2005 and 193 in 3DMark 2006.
The U2E's lasted 1 hour in our BatteryEater render test, which is disappointing. We put this down to it using 3-cell battery, which doesn't hold a lot of charge. Asus says the U2E will also include a larger 6-cell battery in the box, although we were unable to test this as our review sample didn't include one.
The Asus U2E is a fantastic laptop. It's far slower than rivals such as the Sony Vaio TZ series or MacBook Air, but it's stylish, feature-rich and in many ways more desirable than many of the alternatives.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday