You may not know it, but electronics manufacturer Asus sells a wide variety of notebook PCs, including everything from thin and light systems to gaming machines and more. Interestingly, their latest effort the U6S, attempts to pair two features it would typically address with entirely separate product lines into a single system – sexiness and business usability. So we’re talking the best of both worlds, right? Well, not exactly… On the bright side, with its leather palm rests and “shimmering” LCD panel, the computer’s definitely not your average, run-of-the-mill boring old corporate notebook. But much to our chagrin as well, the unit’s role as a potential road warrior’s best friend is also hindered by its weight and poor battery life.
Features and Design
Like most ultra-portable notebooks, the U6S features a 12.1-inch widescreen LED backlit display that is incredibly thin and helps keep the system’s weight down to a respectable 3.5lbs. It’s a Centrino machine to boot, featuring a 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of RAM and Intel’s latest 965 chipset, which notably features support for 802.11a, b, g, and the new n wireless networking standard.
Furthermore, the machine comes with Vista Business and includes several Asus utilities designed to offer enhanced security – a must-have for any working professional’s laptop. In addition to a biometric fingerprint scanner, which can log you into Windows as well as remember website passwords, it also cleverly includes facial recognition technology that lets you sign right into the system as well.
Despite the unit’s small size, we’re further pleased to report that Asus has included a lot of expansion options, including four USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI port, an 8-in-1 card reader, headphone and mic jacks, an ExpressCard port and an optical drive. It also includes a VGA (640×480) webcam that includes a number of customization options as well as sound-recording and video-recording capabilities.
Unlike most buttoned-down business notebooks, it’s additionally safe to say that the U6S has quite a bit of flair, including leather palm rests, chrome accents and shiny silver trim around the base that compliments its silver keyboard. (Asus humorously describes the aesthetic as, “luxurious digital fashion for on the go [sic] metropolitan.”) Worth bearing in mind as well: The “S” model we received for evaluation features what Asus calls a “mocha” color, but you can purchase models in white as well – referred to as the U6E.
Image Courtesy of Asus
Use and Testing
Our first impression of the U6S is that it’s very stylish, much more so than most notebooks; Sony’s high-end models included. The leather palm rests are actually very comfortable, which is not surprising in retrospect, though we must admit having never even considered it as a plausible material to use for this function.
Also, after picking the U6S up and performing a visual inspection, it’s impressive how thin the display is. However, the base of the unit seems about as thick as a traditional ultra-portable. Its relative chunkiness sticks out to us since we’ve recently reviewed the Macbook Air and are currently playing with the ultra-thin Lenovo X300.
We booted to Windows in a decent one minute and ten seconds flat, which is average for a Vista machine, and matches what we’ve seen from other notebooks with similar specs. What’s more, we were pleased to find little to no bloatware, which is great. The only extra software we noticed, in fact, were trials of Norton Internet Security and Office 2007, which may actually be useful to certain owners.
Battery life was tested by performing a DVD run-down test, and we found it offered exactly two hours of juice, which is disappointing for an ultra-portable notebook. As always, battery performance can be improved by running the display at minimum brightness levels and disabling wireless networking. However, we tested it with the display at half-brightness with everything enabled. It’s also worth pointing out that this unit includes a bulky six-cell battery that juts out the back of the unit.
In PC Mark Vantage, the U6S delivered a middle-of-the-road score of 1902, which is expected from a machine designed for everyday use. Its general performance in Windows was more than acceptable however, and we never experienced any slowdowns or hiccups.
The facial recognition software was additionally tested and works as advertised, proving a pretty cool option. Essentially, the integrated webcam takes your picture, then at the Windows login screen it’ll look for your face, zoom in on it and proceed to let you in if you pass the security check. It took us a couple times to work after fiddling with lighting and the background. Not exactly reliable, but still cool to see in a notebook nonetheless.
Cheerfully, the webcam also has a lot of wacky peripheral options, such as support for putting an afro wig on your head or decking you out in sunglasses. It’s able to recognize the parts of your head and put the accessory in the appropriate place, which makes the device somewhat fun to play around with between PowerPoint presentations and sales reports, if the mood strikes.
Yes, that’s leather on the palm rests. Be sure to wear matching shoes in public for added effect.
Another interesting feature of note is that the notebook comes preconfigured with four different performance profiles, which can be toggled via a button built into the unit below the LCD. The four modes include Entertainment, Battery Saving, High Performance and Quiet Office. Each choice changes settings for display brightness, when to turn the screen off when idle, and so forth. It’s an interesting feature and we like being able to switch modes so easily.
That said, the biggest disappointment we faced with the U6S is that the left-/right-click buttons below the trackpad require a lot of force to register… More than we’ve ever needed on any notebook ever. Rest assured that your index finger will get a workout each time you have to click something, and it’s completely unnecessary to require this much effort just to, say, browse the Web or open a new application.
Overall, despite a few quirks, the U6S proves a better-than-average notebook with a unique look and several useful built-in features; it’s also relatively affordable too for an ultra-portable. Nonetheless, given the system’s weight and poor battery life, it’s not exactly what we’d call an ideal traveling companion. Think of the laptop instead as semi-portable, and award it style points as well as props for its four USB ports, HDMI port and optical drive – features you don’t often see in this sort of system. In short, if you’re looking for something a bit different than the typical OEM PC, the U6S won’t disappoint, but if you’re looking for maximum portability, well… consider looking elsewhere.
• Snazzy looks
• Decent performance
• Can log in using your face
• Poor battery life
• A bit heavy
• Unresponsive touchpad buttons