The monochrome, sunlight-readable displays remain largely synonymous with e-readers, but they're moving into other devices large and small.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Asus makes some excellent notebooks, and although the company may be best known for its consumer models, it also produces notebooks aimed at the business community. With some impressive specifications that include discrete graphics and a claimed ten-hour battery life, the 14in. U46SV has potential for the mobile professional, at least on paper. How did it fare in practice?
The Asus U46SV's chassis design may not please every business user, but it's not unprecedented. The silver 'spun aluminium' outer casing, which is replicated on the keyboard surround and wrist rest, reminds us of HP EliteBooks like the 8460p. The U46SV and 8460p both have 14in. screens, but HP's notebook is far more solidly built.
The Asus U46SV is a slim 14in. notebook powered by a Core i5 processor and a discrete Nvidia GPU
There's a fair amount of flex in the aluminium lid section, which we were able to bend and bow quite considerably. Asus's design is also little 'blingy': the lid section has a slightly textured surface with a circular patterning, which is replicated on the wrist rest, while a shiny narrow bezel surrounds the touchpad, whose twin buttons are bright metallic silver. Such embellishments are a matter of taste, of course, but are unlikely to have universal appeal.
The Asus U46 has a slim bezel allowing the 14in. screen to sit in a particularly slender chassis. The bezel is not too narrow to accommodate a 0.3-megapixel webcam, though. Another slim-bezel notebook we've seen recently is Acer's 14in. TravelMate Timeline 8481T, which measures just 32.8cm by 25.2cm by 2.2cm and weighs 1.75kg. The Asus U46SV is a slightly chunkier 33.3cm by 24.5cm by 2.46-2.70cm and weighs in at 2.08kg.
There's no clasp to keep the notebook's lid and system unit securely together, so mobile professionals would be wise to invest in a protective pouch.
The U46SV, which measures 2.7cm at it thickest point, has forward-set hinges to give a wider screen opening angle
The lid hinges sit slightly forward of the very back of the base section, allowing, according to Asus, for a wider opening angle and easier use in confined spaces such as an aircraft seat. We've seen this concept before, and it works well, without compromising the area available to either the screen or the wrist rest/touchpad zone.
The 14in. 1,366-by-768-pixel screen is a 'Colour Shine LCD' with a shiny reflective coating that makes it irritating to work with a bright light source to the rear. We also felt that colours were a little washed-out and the display less vibrant than we'd like — despite the presence of several preset colour configurations (soft, normal, gamma correction, vivid, theatre). This is not really noticeable when typing documents, but web browsing and video watching are both a little disappointing. Viewing angles are good on the horizontal plane, less so on the vertical.
The keyboard is the popular 'chiclet' type, with isolated keys that feel very comfortable and rattle nicely under the fingers. Not everyone will like the rather loud 'tap', including coworkers in otherwise quiet offices — there are definitely quieter keyboards to be found. Unfortunately the keyboard isn't backlit.
The U46SV's chiclet-style keyboard is rather loud, and looks cluttered thanks to a multitude of secondary features
Acer's key iconography is a little busy for us, with white italic main characters and turquoise blue icons for secondary features. Acer also includes the AltGr combinations for the non-standard UK characters é, ú, í, ó and á; these, along with embedded number pad icons, result in a rather cluttered appearance.
The touchpad incorporates a range of two-finger gesture controls. Rather than dedicated scroll zones, it supports vertical and horizontal scrolling all over the touchpad, as well as pinch zooming, tapping and image rotation. The touchpad is large, but not wide enough to get the cursor fully across the screen in a single sweep.
There is a row of half-height Fn keys above the number row and just two additional buttons between keyboard and screen: the on/off switch and a button that allows you to step between various usage modes (more on this later). Business users smay be disappointed by the lack of a fingerprint reader.
The Asus U46SV is powered by a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M processor supported by 4GB of RAM (expandable to 8GB). A 5,400rpm hard drive provides 500GB of storage. Business users will be pleased to see that graphics are handled by a discrete GPU, in the shape of nNvidia's GeForce GT540M. Business notebooks often have to make do with Intel's integrated graphics, and this can make for sluggish multimedia performance. The operating system is Windows 7 Professional 64-bit.
There is no integrated mobile broadband, but there's nothing to stop you using a dongle for this purpose. Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) and Bluetooth (3.0) — the latter an option — are all present.
There's plenty of room on the chassis for an optical drive, which sits on the right edge. Behind it are an Ethernet (RJ-45) port, an HDMI connector and a single USB 2.0 port. We prefer the LAN connection to be on the rear, or at the back of one of the sides, where a network cable won't interfere with other ports or connectors.
On the left edge are two further USB ports — one USB 2.0, one USB 3.0. The Asus U46SV supports USB Charger+ for charging external devices such as phones from the notebook's battery even when the notebook itself is not powered. The left edge also carries headphone and microphone jacks, and a VGA port.
The front of the chassis curves inwards, which makes getting to the centrally located SD card slot a little awkward. On the back there's just one connector — for mains power.
Earlier we mentioned a button to the top left of the keyboard. This lets you toggle between four different usage modes — High Performance, Entertainment, Quiet Office and Battery Saving. Each has different settings depending on whether you're running from the mains or battery, and you can configure these modes to your own preference.
A desktop gadget gives access to the power modes and settings if you'd rather not use the button; you can also toggle through the modes using the Fn key and space bar, an option that, as far as we can tell, renders the dedicated button entirely redundant.
Performance & battery life
The Windows Experience Index (WEI) for the Asus U46SV is 4.7 (out of 7.9), which is respectable but unexceptional. The WEI corresponds to the lowest component score, which in this case is for Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero).
The remaining component scores are 6.9 for Processor (calculations per second), 6.6 for Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance) and 5.9 for both RAM (Memory operations per second) and Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate).
Although the graphics scores are somewhat disappointing given the discrete Nvidia GPU, the Asus U46SV should prove a capable performer when faced with mainstream business workloads.
The U46SV ships with an eight-cell 5,900mAh battery that Asus claims can deliver up to ten hours of life. To test this, we chose the Battery Saving power plan and set the notebook to play a DVD movie continuously. Under this regime we got seven hours and five minutes from a full battery charge, which is good going for a demanding test. You can expect to get a full day's work from a single battery charge from this notebook, which is impressive.
Sound quality through the stereo speakers isn't great. There's a lack of bass tones and too much treble, and at top volume — which is nice and loud — the sound is rather harsh. You could use this notebook to deliver multimedia presentations, but don't expect super-high-quality audio.
We expected more from the Asus U46SV than it delivered: the 14in. screen could be more vibrant and less shiny; the discrete Nvidia GPU doesn't boost graphics performance as much as we'd expect; and for all its aluminium materials, there's more flex in the lid than we'd like. This notebook's saving grace, however, is its excellent battery life.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Caption by: Sandra Vogel