Asus U80V Inverness
Not content with ushering in its set of Seashell-inspired laptops, Asus has now unleashed its U-series notebooks upon the world. And when Asus' marketing spiel promised us an "exquisitely crafted, thin and lightweight notebook", we put on our Sunday best and waited excitedly for the courier to arrive. But, to a certain extent, we wish we hadn't made the effort.
We say to a certain extent as some of the U80V's features are both innovative and rather exciting. Certainly, if you like flashing lights you'll love it. The backlit keyboard doesn't actually flash on and off, but the three brightness settings allow you to see the keys clearly whatever the lighting conditions.
The real novelty is the multitouch trackpad, however. Stroke your finger around the pad and, thanks to a bed of tiny LEDs underneath, a row of lights follows your every touch. It's a neat party trick, along with the range of two and three-fingered gestures for flicking between active programs, scrolling around documents and the like - a feature few other laptops can boast.
But we have mixed feelings about Asus' implementation. When the gestures worked well we found ourselves flicking to the next picture with a swish to the right, zooming in and out of web pages with a pinch of the fingers, but other times it simply ignored our commands. The trackpad is also just a shade too small. While the U80V gains a physical rocker button in comparison with the MacBook Pro, you lose crucial space for gesture.
Cast your gaze upwards, and the glossy, LED-backlit display is almost as eye-catching as the keyboard and pad. A light sensor automatically adjusts screen brightness depending on the amount of ambient light, and the glossy finish only adds to the impact.
Unfortunately, this is where things start to go awry for the U80V as it's pretty unremarkable in every other regard. Measuring 14in across and with a modest resolution of 1,366 x 768 pixels, it doesn't provide the most spacious of Windows desktops, nor the last word in image quality. Differentiating between black and dark grey isn't one of its strong points, and as it struggles at the brighter end of the spectrum, particularly with the lightest of shades, our test images and video files were left looking washed out and lacking in contrast.
Nor are we convinced by Asus' claims of craftmanship. The U80V is far from ugly, but we've seen it all before. The gloss-black lid is becoming a laptop design cliche, and opening it up to find the keyboard surrounded with yet more shiny blackness came as no surprise.
And, crucially, where Dell's Studio XPS notebooks are lovingly crafted from top to toe, Asus' U80V looks like the design team got bored halfway through. Both the screen hinge and underside of the laptop are manufactured from matte-black plastic, which looks a little cheap next to the gloss finish above.
As far as build quality is concerned, the U80V tries harder to impress. Although there's little doubt the plastic construction feels cheap to the touch, get heavy-handed and things begin to look up. The base feels resilient enough to survive a few knocks, and only the flexible lid gave us cause for concern. Consider the modest 2.22kg weight, and Asus hasn't done too bad a job.
It's difficult to accuse the U80V of being under-powered too. The 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9550 sprinted through our benchmarks, to finish with a result of 1.30 overall. Its 4GB of DDR2 memory is ample - despite losing a gigabyte to the 32-bit OS and its memory addressing requirements - and with such a powerful specification at the helm, it's all the more impressive that the U80V manages more than 5hrs 30mins of battery life under light use.
There's even a little gaming ability thanks to the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4570 graphics purring under the hood. Don't expect to be playing Crysis in high detail - even Medium settings at a resolution 1,280 x 1,024 saw the Asus struggle to hit the 15fps mark - but for light gaming it's up to par.
All things considered, we're underwhelmed by the U80V. It's well appointed with novelties, but the essentials have been all but forgotten. A mediocre display, average keyboard, uninteresting looks - it's a damning assessment for a notebook that's meant to be "exquisitely crafted". No matter how fast the processor, Asus will have to price the U80V ruthlessly to make it a real competitor.
2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9550; 4GB 533MHz DDR2 RAM; 320GB hard disk; ATI Mobility Radeon HD4570 graphics; 14in 1,366 x 768 TFT; D-SUB, HDMI, 3 x USB, ExpressCard/34, 802.11bg + draft-n WLAN; 10/100/1000 Ethernet; Bluetooth 2.1; 1.3MP webcam; 3-in-1 card reader; Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit; 353 x 243 x 34mm, 2.22kg.
Not as exquisitely designed as Asus would have us believe, this laptop will have to be aggressively priced to compete
Author: Jonathan Bray