Spritely performance and an attractive case design makes the Asus ideal for home office tasks in an IKEA-obsessed age.
Style-conscious bohemians who want to steer away from the bland offerings of most laptop manufacturers will find the Asus W5A appeals to their tastes. Rather than a sedate black, this laptop is all-white. Apple helped to establish this look with the iBook -- if you liked that design, but are committed to Windows, then the W5A is the closest match to Apple's chassis in the PC realm.
The Asus is not just a looker. Under that bright white hood there's a 1.73GHz processor, a DVD writer and a small Webcam ingeniously built into the screen. Travellers may find that the lack of a decent catch on the screen and the conspicuous mug-me styling makes the Asus less than ideal for field work. Others will love its neat layout and lightweight chassis.
The lid on the Asus is a pure-white plastic compound which feels slightly grippy to the touch, while the base is a silver grey. The Asus is lithe, at 30mm thick, and it doesn't weigh much more than two bags of sugar with the battery. The DVD drive is not swappable, so there's no weight to be shed there. At 305 by 240mm, the top of the Asus is a couple of centimetres larger than a sheet of A4 paper. If your current handbag, rucksack or briefcase can store A4 documents, the chances are the Asus will fit just as easily.
The Asus' keyboard is a delight to use -- the finish on the keys gives them a very lightly knurled feel. Although the depth of travel on the keys means it's possible to catch your fingers on adjacent keys during fast typing, you'll only notice this if you have a very fluid typing style, where your fingers barely rise above the board during transition from character to character. Although the pure-white colour of the keys certainly makes this machine gorgeous to behold, you should be aware that the Asus will benefit from regular cleaning -- the keyboard has a tendency to advertise the dirt and grime it collects.
Underneath the Asus there are hatches that make it easier to replace key components like the memory or hard disk. Although the hatches improve accessibility, they still require you to use a screwdriver, not something that's often to hand. Because of this hatch-based system, there's no need to take the entire laptop apart to access upgradeable parts -- reducing the risk of static damage when you're tinkering about with the machine.
The left-hand side of the Asus includes a VGA port for external monitor connections, one USB port, a microphone socket, a headphone socket and a PC Card slot. On the right-hand side there is a DVD drive, another USB port, FireWire, Ethernet and modem connections. Asus has made the wise decision to leave these ports uncovered, so there is nothing to snap off or lose when you plug peripherals into the laptop.
The battery bundled with the W5A slots in just below the screen-hinge, on the rear of the laptop. This battery runs almost the entire length of the W5A and is uncomplicated to unclip if you need to change batteries during travel. Unfortunately, the battery sticks out from the rear of the unit in an unsightly bulge. It's almost as if it were an afterthought -- as though the engineers realised they needed to fit a battery into the chassis a few minutes before they had to submit the final plans.
As with the other models in the current Asus range, there is no mechanical catch to keep the screen clipped to the keyboard during transport. Not only is there no catch, there's no magnet to keep the lid shut either. When it's closed, the laptop screen sits against the keyboard, held by gravity and the resistance of the hinge. Carrying the Asus loose in a large bag puts it particularly at risk -- there's the possibility that a sharp object, such as a key, might slip between the screen and keyboard, scarring both.
The Asus W5A runs an Intel Pentium M processor with built-in Wi-Fi and 512MB RAM. This means its hands are bandaged tight, ready to go several rounds with any home office task. Hobbyist video editing and older games are not beyond the W5A and the onboard FireWire connection makes it compatible with almost every camcorder out there. Disappointingly, this is a four-pin FireWire port, not a six-pin version. This means you won't be able to power FireWire devices via the FireWire port.
Tragically, the Asus' widescreen display suffers from the same kind of reflectivity problems that seem to be plaguing the entire laptop industry at the moment. We would have preferred a completely matte finish to the display. Some users may find the superior contrast these reflective screens claim to offer makes them worth the frustration, but we find them extremely hard to live with. If you work in a strip-lit office, the mirror-like LCD is especially distracting, and in almost all daylight environments we found the reflections a nuisance.
Those who enjoy video editing and want to use software like Premiere to edit footage will want to increase the on-board memory. There's space to install 1GB in the Asus, but no more than that. Video can be played back on an office projector or television screen. The W5A includes a TV-out in the form of an S-video connector, and most televisions bought in the last five years will support this. Almost all projectors are also compatible with this form of video output. Although S-video doesn't come close to DVI and even struggles to match VGA, S-video is good enough for most presentations. The Asus is equipped with VGA-out as well, so you can always hook the laptop up with a VGA connector, achieving an edge over basic S-video.
The built-in DVDÃƒ,Ã‚Â±R/RW burns movies or data onto optical discs. CD playback is passable, but the built-in speakers are one step above a malfunctioning railway station announcement. Anyone with any interest in decent fidelity will need to attach headphones, or use a headphones-to-phono connector to rig this into their stereo system. Amateur singers and voice-note makers can attach a microphone.
Narcissists will enjoy the W5A's integrated 1.3-megapixel camera, which can either take still images or record video. Used in conjunction with the bundled Webcam software, the camera allows video conferencing without the complexity of adding an external USB camera. The built-in lens is easy to angle and swivels a full 180 degrees so that you can record what's behind, as well as in front of, your screen.
As was the case with the Asus W3, we occasionally felt it was weird that the Asus W5A vents hot air through its right-hand side chassis vent. Right-handers in a cold environment will enjoy this unintentional heating facility for their mouse-hand -- on the whole we enjoyed the sensation.
Battery life on the W5A is specified at 3-4 hours in Office Mode and our experience confirmed this. As you would expect, extensive use of the DVD drive or hard disk will increase power consumption and decrease battery life. You can always purchase extra batteries and use these to extend the laptop's uptime.
Power users with needs beyond Microsoft Office and basic video editing will want to look elsewhere for their kicks. The Pentium M processor is swift at most tasks, but will creak and groan if a game of Half-Life 2 is thrown in its direction. Gamers will always demand more performance than a laptop of this size can hope to provide, so this is no real loss. Those looking for a heady mix of style and performance could do a lot worse than consider the W5A for their primary laptop. In a market riddled with mundane black hardware, the creamy calm of the Asus falls like a balm.
Company: Synnex Australia
Phone: 1300 880 038
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