Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Asus U2E-A1B: Style and Usability

Round Up: Five Powerful, Light Ultraportables
By

Style

The U2E has "executive" written all over it. This ultraportable’s calling card is its leather skin, which gives it a very high-end, professional sheen—like an attaché case, billfold or luxury car interior. After seeing it, you won’t forget it, and after touching it, you’ll know that the leather does more for the computer than add a bit of glam. That’s because, while the leather is a bit stiff—at first it feels like nothing more than a nubbly plastic—it warms to the touch and makes your wrists (the leather extends to the wristpad) feel so much more comfortable than plastic or metal ever has. Leather also breathes, and it smells good too.

Leather isn’t for everyone. The U2E also comes in a brown leather variety, which might appeal to more people, but in general, the leather gives the machine a more masculine look. To truly go ga-ga for the U2E’s style cues, you probably need the kind of ego that necessarily comes with high-paying, high-ranking executive roles (or the aspiration to get one of those jobs).

Leather aside, the U2E also has other high-end touches, including gun-metal chrome hardware on the lip of the chassis and at the centimeter-round screen hinge. These bits of hardware are incredibly solid, making the U2E’s build quality feel the least flimsy of all the computers in this tiny-machine roundup. These chrome bits, however, are fingerprint magnets: after a while, the chrome started to look oxidized with the brownish tinge that finger oils can create. To keep the metal looking spiffy, you’ve got to detail these parts like a Mercedes-Benz.

One other complaint about the screen hinge is that it doesn’t bend back quite far enough—only to about 130 degrees. But on the other hand, when you close the lid and then reopen it, you discover that there’s no latch. The lid simply stays shut and lifts open when needed—a classy, clean design.

Ports

Asus managed to include nearly every single port one could hope for on a machine of this size, with the exception of a Firewire port. Instead, Asus provides a Micro-DVI and a VGA port (double video output duty) on the left hand side of the machine.

On the left side you’ve also got the power jack, a Wi-Fi on/off switch, a fan, two USB ports, an ExpressCard slot—the U2E doesn’t have a built-in Broadband chip so you’ll need an external device here if you want to go that route—and the headphone and microphone jacks. The headphone provides strong audio output.

On the front of the chassis there’s a 4-in-1 SD card slot, as well as two panels of wheezy and thin speakers pushed over on the right-front side (you’ll want to use the headphone jack instead of listening to anything on them).

On the right-hand side of the computer is the built-in DVD-RW drive—an impressive accomplishment for Asus, given this machine’s slim size. Past that is one more USB port, giving the Asus a total of three—more than any Apple MacBook, all of which are bigger than this unit—a gigabit Ethernet port, and a modem port as well.

Size and Weight

The back of the U2E features no ports, just a barely protruding battery. This ultraportable has less junk in the trunk than any other ultraportable in this roundup.

There might as well not be a battery in there; it is the smallest one available for the U2E, and frankly, its performance stinks (see the Battery section below). But in exchange for that miniscule battery life, you get a much more svelte machine. It’s not the lightest in our bunch, but the U2E packs an optical drive and a 120 GB hard drive, and still manages to come in under 3 pounds (2.9 to be exact). The power brick adds another 0.68 pounds, bringing the travel weight to 3.6 pounds. In terms of size and shape, the U2E is smaller in dimensions (at 10.9” length x 7.6” width x 1.1” thickness) than any of the other ultraportables here with built-in optical drives.

Packaging

Ultimately, consumer electronics packaging doesn’t much matter—fancy packaging probably just drives up the price of a machine. But the U2E’s packaging goes beyond what is normally seen: it comes with a multi-tiered, well-designed box with satin pull-tabs for storage, a Logitech re-branded Bluetooth mouse, and a high-quality suede slip-case. You probably won’t want to throw any of this away.

Style Score: 4.5

Usability

Display

With all the convenience that comes with a tiny ultraportable, also comes compromise, and the areas that most bother consumers are a smaller screen size and tiny keyboard. Three of our five ultraportable sport an 11.1” display; for some, this size, especially set to the full 1366x768 widescreen resolution, can cause some squinting. Eyesight and perhaps age may be factors here; for me, 11.1” doesn’t pose a problem, and the Asus LED backlit and glossy screen is extremely vibrant. We wish the screen hinge could bend back further for more viewing angle options, but when viewed head-on, the screen looks better than a full-sized laptop with a matte screen. The display is also sturdier than some of the other ultraportables’ screens, such as the Sony TZ. Like all the notebooks in this roundup, the U2E also has a low-resolution Webcam built into the top of the bezel.

Keyboard

Aside from netbooks like the Acer Aspire One, the Asus’s keyboard is one of the smallest put into an ultraportable—those of you with large or even average-sized hands will complain. I have small hands, and the U2E’s keyboard requires some economy of movement from me, but I don’t lose any accuracy while typing on it. This probably has more to do with the quality of the keyboard than its size. The keys have the traditional slanted-sides shape, even though they are small; visually, they sparkle, due to a metallic coating. They’re not slippery, but slightly grainy, which I like in a keyboard, since texture improves accuracy. The individual keys have a nice spring to them, but the keyboard as a whole does not bounce during typing—many small notebook keyboards sink quite a bit when even just one key is depressed. They keyboard is solid, even over the optical drive on the right-hand side.

Trackpad and Buttons

The trackpad on the U2E can’t compete with the keyboard in terms of quality; it is coated in some kind of brushed metal, which makes it feel striped. Texture on keys feels good, but texture on a trackpad, especially when inconsistent, is confusing. When running my index finger up and down this trackpad I felt lines, which occasionally made me feel like I had reached the top or bottom of the trackpad when I hadn’t. And even when I turned the trackpad sensitivity all the way up, the cursor still seemed to move slowly and cover little ground. My fingernail also got caught on the metal strip that separates the trackpad from the mouse buttons below. I would try to click the strip, thinking I had reached the button, but I wasn’t there. The buttons themselves are solid, once you actually reach them. They are small enough to depress fully from any part of the button, and they require a hearty click to activate them. I appreciate that last aspect—few unintended clicks here—though some folks might find that their fingers are working too hard for each click.

The U2E’s keyboard chassis doesn’t include any multimedia buttons; all controls are operated by the blue function icons activated by the Fn key. Other than the power button, there is one other button on the chassis, on the left opposite side of the power button. This button features an icon of a little running man, and can be configured to operate various power management settings on the U2E. It’s not incredibly useful, and the lack of other hardware controls saves space on this already space-strapped machine.

There is a very small fingerprint scanner on the right hand side of the keyboard chassis. Most consumers seem to eschew this type of security, but in many corporate settings it is de rigueur for protecting sensitive data. It also fits with the "executive" theme of this notebook.

Noise, Heat, and Power

The U2E makes virtually no noise when plugged in, but when running on battery, its fans get rather loud. Keep in mind, though, that the point of this ultraportable machine is to use it without wires. The noise level doesn’t appear to be tied to what applications the computer is running.

The top of the computer stays cool, but the underside is always warm to the touch; again, when running without power, the bottom can get hot. Some of the heat and noise can be attributed to the U2E’s underpowered CPU (the weakest in this roundup), which strains occasionally, though almost never during basic Web browsing, word processing, or emailing. With such a low-power processor, this machine is bound to stay pretty cool to the touch most of the time.

During basic computing tasks I never noticed an obvious sluggishness with the U2E, but don’t even bother asking this machine to play games with near-modern graphics, render photos or encode video. Even though our review unit has more RAM on board than any of the others in our roundup (3 GB), the extra gig didn’t seem to help. How bad could this machine have been with only 2 GB RAM? See the Performance section for more information about where the U2E may struggle.

Usability Score: 4

Display all 18 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 5, 2008 4:23 AM
    Thanks for writing this article; I have been interested in how these things perform.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 5, 2008 7:55 AM
    these are all at the high-end of the price spectrum, have you considered the asus eee pc or acer aspire one? i have one of these, and while it's not exactly a gaming powerhouse it does all you need in a small laptop... mind you the linux distros these things come with can be a real pain
  • 0 Hide
    JJeng1 , November 5, 2008 8:37 AM
    A possible reason for the fingerprint reader placement. Look into the options of the fingerprint software, as sometimes the reader doubles as a scroll wheel.
  • -4 Hide
    Regulas , November 5, 2008 11:26 AM
    Rubbish, get the the new Macbook, 13" screen plenty of power no viruses and no bloated Vista for the low end of cash stated in this review.
  • 0 Hide
    bjornlo , November 5, 2008 2:44 PM
    Quote:
    Rubbish, get the the new Macbook, 13" screen plenty of power no viruses and no bloated Vista for the low end of cash stated in this review.

    Typical ignorant fanboi BS.
    Get your facts straight. Nothing wrong with a Mac other than total cost of ownership and slightly reduced software choices... although the default browser is very unsecure (but fixable, DL any other). But, there is nothing special about them except their style and slightly better ease of use for the "technologically challenged".
  • 1 Hide
    Placebo , November 5, 2008 3:29 PM
    First of, Macs are rubbish. Buying one is alright for the creative crowd, whose fav. software is exclusive for OSX. Other than that, the company would have already closed up, if not saved by the mighty (LOL) Ipod-brand.

    Regarding the otherwise brilliant review, how come the Dell M1330 isn't mentioned, or even tested, its not even on the site?!?!

    Best selling product in the category for almost two years. Anyone buying should look into it. Had one for around a year, can honestly say its the best electronic device i ever owned.

    Its cheap, lightwight and with supurb spec!

    www.notebookreview.com for notebooks :-)Sry... they jus do a better job.


  • 0 Hide
    cruiseoveride , November 5, 2008 3:42 PM
    Linux > OSX >> Windows

    I wish the IBM one was cheaper.
  • -1 Hide
    boostercorp , November 5, 2008 7:01 PM
    i guess i never understood why you'd need such a small underpowered laptop and also never knew who would buy such a thing.
    But if you're on the road alot like me it would be more handy then dragging around a 8 pound 17" laptop like i 'm currently doing.

    i only hoped they'd be a little less expensive cause i bought my 17" for € 899 and got a shedload of stuff i didn't need like that fingerprint scanner ,bluetooth ,ir , ...
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 6, 2008 1:07 AM
    Can we post a review of ultraportables with eSATA and Express Card ? I think the ASUS U6V (not sure) has one, the Dell E4200 and E4300 have eSATA but no Express Card. The Lenovo X200 and X300 series have some great features. I really hope manufacturers start making machines with eSATA and Express Card and not one or the other. Oh and How about the Toshiba dynabook R6 ?
  • -1 Hide
    enforcer22 , November 6, 2008 9:53 AM
    "Rubbish, get the the new Macbook, 13" screen plenty of power no viruses and no bloated Vista for the low end of cash stated in this review."


    O your right and look i cant do anything i want to do with it either.. I also cant get it to look like a computer instead of a over priced pos paperweight. Linux is as usless to me as that over priced thing keeping my desk up to.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 6, 2008 10:47 AM
    @comedy
    have you actually read this article. NO! If you read the very first page, you will understand why we need these so called "ultraportables", and can't stand the new fashion of eee pc's, that can barely surf the net.

    We need these things to be small, so they can be with us at all times, but also powerfull enough to run heavy software. For an example, i would need one to be able to run apache server, illustrator cs4, firefox, dreamweaver cs4 and perhaps even photoshop at the same time.

    See some of us make a living from the nets and are not stuck in the office, so we want a computer that can perform in the tasks we need to accomplish, but also easily travel the world with us. One!
  • 2 Hide
    onesloth , November 6, 2008 4:04 PM
    For the price range of these machines, this article should have included the MacBook Air. It meets all he requirements the author chose, with the exceptions of not having a screen too small to read nor keyboard too small for serious typing.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 9, 2008 3:28 AM
    Is there a reason the P8020 and the Sony TT weren't reviewed here? I know they're new, but it would be more informative to review the latest models, especially considering the advances in Intel's Centrino 2 package.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , November 9, 2008 2:14 PM
    Mac Book Air beats all these hands down. While you can install Vista on a MacBook Air? Why would you. A notebook with OS X has a way better battery life and it runs faster then Vista. It's also more secure.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , November 9, 2008 10:42 PM
    Not having the Thinkpad X200 feels like a big slap in the face. It is a 12.1" notebook with an optional LED Backlit 1440x900 screen, something none of these offer. Plus it runs normal, not low-voltage, Core 2 Duo processors for outstanding performance. I just don't understand at all why it was not included.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 16, 2008 1:06 AM

    @Anonymous 11/06/2008 1:47 AM

    take it easy, i was ASKING why not, the article doesn't specify those particular programs - and while yes, they're not 'powerful' they are portable, so i asked about it.
    the atom isn't so bad, i have a core2 laptop (19 inches and about 10 kilos) and while it outstrips the atom one in performance, they can both run the same stuff, it's just one is a bit faster than the other...

    perhaps you should think about going back to the office, all those programs you're running will suck the life out of any battery, get a desktop, a comfy chair and a window.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , January 16, 2009 6:52 AM
    Windows is an operating system for those who need the absolute best software compatibility they can get. Windows has trouble running at times and it is has security wholes. Windows was designed to be played with and be customized to how you want it (lol staying with in copyright of course) to be for you.

    Mac OSX is a very stable operating system that comes with most all of the software you need and is by far the easiest to use. I still can not get used to the fact everything is done for me though. If you are technically challenged, do not care for Windows, or if you love Apple products then the Apple Macintosh is for you. The big flaw with Apple is there is ABSOLUTELY NO DIY COMPUTER BUILDING. I do not care for the hardware you get stuck with and can not change. Hardware customization is very important for those actively upgrading.

    Finally, there is Linux. Linux is the best running operating system you can get and is also the ultimate OS in customizing (if you have the know how). Linux has so many distributions to choose from such as Fedora Core, Red Hat Enterprise, Ubuntu (the most common from what I have seen), etc. Linux has been the choice operating system for many programmers due to the ease of customizing, low requirements, compatibility with most hardware, and most of the time the OS is free. Lol Linux is probably the only OS you can get for free only due to the fact that it has been in what I would think to be a never-ending "Beta." Linux is not very common due to the lack of it being less-user friendly for the technically challenged, however recent distributions have begun to solve that issue with Windows emulation and user-friendly GUI. Linux does not suffer from spyware and virus attacks due to Windows being the most pre-dominent OS on the market.

    One note on Mac OSX. OSX has a core and kernel with Linux FreeBSD coding at the heart. That's right Mac users you use Linux. This version of FreeBSD is just tweaked with ALOT of eye candy and a very-user-friendly GUI. This makes it very secure for the most part. However, concern has been growing within advanced users as the popularity of Apple computers are increasing. Windows is attacked not only because Microsoft can't build a brick wall to stop a virus, but also because of the fact it is the most used OS. If Mac OSX becomes the dominant OS of the world, expect spyware and viruses to begin infiltrating your hard disks. In the mean time make the switch from using Safari to Firefox. You will save the headache of someone stealing your logins or even worse your financial info. Sorry Apple users but Safari sux just as much as Internet Explorer. Make the switch to Firefox.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 1, 2009 4:44 PM
    is it just me or...
    @Sony Vaio TZ298: Style and Usability page
    it states about using SSD HD yet at "Noise and Heat" section it mentions about "the drives were spinning" as far as i know SSD HD does not spin.
    or it might be the author plugs in supplied external optical drive.
    correct me if i'm wrong.