Asus W6 leather-clad laptop
Mrs Peel's notebook?
Review Leather, a material that calls to mind, at one extreme, Diana Rigg, tight thigh-length boots, the crack of the whip and, at the other, well-worn sofas, ancient libraries and the air of long-faded wealth. Somewhere in between sits Asus' latest leather-covered laptop, the W6Fp...
Asus might like to think so, but let's not kid - ho, ho - ourselves that the W6 is a luxury item. Just look at the colours, for starters. It's offered in a choice of pink, caramel and - the covering I got to try - chocolate brown, none of which would look quite right in a boardroom. Where's the black model, or the dark brown version? The W6 isn't entirely the Vertu of the notebook world. And Vegan it certainly isn't.
Incidentally, the application of the leather is well done. The material is bonded onto the notebook's lid, onto the wrist wrest and one to the bar just above the keyboard. The covering fits tightly and is tucked into the machine. There's no question it could get scratched or torn by a sharp object, but Asus bundles a handbag-like case to keep it in.
But back to the colours. The pink version is, well, pink. Enough said. The light-brown version has a camp quality that will suit those non-smokers who wear Camel-branded apparel and accessories in a bid to appear to be worldly and well-travelled. And the darker model? The grain on the leather is too wide, too fogeyish, frankly. It's a look that should appeal to young-old folk who attire themselves in long coats, ties, the occasional waistcoat and brown brogues. And hats.
The dark brown W6 will go very nicely in a battered leather satchel, ideally one with but a single working buckle. Slightly crusty academic? Seller of secondhand books? Would-be author? Tom Baker-era Doctor Who fan? This is the notebook for you.
Get over the looks and it can be notebook for a lot of other people too. It's got a solid spec: Intel Core 2 Duo, 945GM chipset, ProWireless 3945ABG Wi-Fi adaptor, so it's set up for Centrino certification. Asus is offering versions of the machine with 80-120GB of SATA hard drive storage, and up to 1.5GB of DDR 2 memory, though it's only clocked at 533MHz. The W6 has Bluetooth 2.0 too.
The star of the show is the machine's 13.3in widescreen display, set to 1,280 x 800 and coated with a reflective layer to boost the colours and the contrast - though at the cost of a poorer look outdoors. Asus has fitted the screen with what it calls its "splendid video intelligence engine", which amounts to a gamma adjustment and sharpness filter. Adjust if you wish, but the screen's sufficiently smart-looking for me straight out of the box.
The screen's size sets the dimensions of the laptop: a very portable 31.7 x 22.8 x 3.2-3.8cm. This is machine that feels very comfortable to carry under your arm, helped by the weight - or lack of it. It has to be said, the W6 feels so light because it's fitted with a compact, three-cell battery, and as you'll see, that doesn't bode well for its longevity between charges. Fortunately, Asus bundles a second, six-cell power pack that brings a longer runtime at the cost of a greater weight and a slightly bulkier and less visually appealing laptop. But only slightly.
I took the W6 home and handed it to the TOY* boy. What's the first thing he did? Flipped it over, whipped out his Victorinox Cybertool and began unscrewing the base panels. He had the processor covering off before I could say a word and would probably have had the fan, heatpipe and CPU out on the table if I hadn't been there to say 'stop'. But having your loved one scowl at you is a small price to pay to learn that the W6's CPU is effectively upgradeable and the machine's memory and other items are all easy to reach beneath screwed-down panels in the base.
Along the sides, the W6 presents all the ports you'd expect, along with an SD card slot on the left and a volume control wheel on the right - a nice touch that makes for easier sound-level adjustement than either on-screen or function-key controls. There's an ExpressCard 54 slot but no PC Card bay, so old add-ins will need replacing if you buy a W6. In addition to a standard VGA port, there's also an s-video output, but the three USB connectors a more useful, one on the back, left and right sides of the W6, ready for a mouse in whichever hand you prefer to hold it.
Speaking of mice, Asus bundles one with the W6 that's also wrapped in leather. It's optical but not, alas, wireless - the W6 does have Bluetooth, after all - and perhaps a little small for larger-handed folk, but a cute addition nonetheless. And the cord wraps neatly and tidily around the base.
Battery life is what this kind of compact, highly-portable notebook is all about, and the W6 scored a rather poor 79 minutes in MobileMark 05's DVD playback test. Swapping in the bundled six-cell battery upped the score to 155 minutes - enough for a movie. Fortunately, the bigger battery doesn't add greatly to the W6's weight or bulk.
No one would expect the W6 to be a gamer-friendly machine, and it isn't - expect very low framerates in the latest titles. But it offers a reasonable lick of speed for the basics: email, web browsing, blogging, digital music listening, photo editing, productivity work and so on.
If performance isn't a problem, the price might well be. £1,599 for a model with 1GB memory, 100GB HDD and a 1.83GHz Core 2 Duo, is expensive when a similarly specced MacBook will set you back under £1,000 and a Dell Inspiron with a larger screen for just over a grand.
Then again, if you the sort of person who wants the W6's leather look, you're probably not going to be bothered by a trifling extra £500.
Asus' W6Fp grew on me, but you either like the leather or you don't. There's no doubt it makes for a notebook that stands out from crowd, and while the W6 is no Apple, it has an individual quality that many buyers will like. Think the leather looks tacky or just too low-tech? You're not going to buy this machine no matter what. Me, I was more impressed by the size and weight, and by the performance. But then you can get all that from other, less fancy looking machines - and cheaper ones, too. ®
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