ASUS U6 Bamboo (U6V-2P048G)
Wooden construction, but plenty of personality
- Bamboo panels, built-in optical drive, portable size
- Sluggish hard drive, touchpad buttons still need refining, screen has a narrow vertical viewing angle, no FireWire
The wooden panels on the Bamboo actually look good, and its guts are also impressive. It's not a laptop for everyone; it's mostly for people who want to make an impression, and anyone who just really loves wood.
Price$ 3,499.00 (AUD)
Remember the good old days, when your TV and amplifier sported wooden panels and gave you a sense of warmth and comfort? Well, the days of consumer electronics with wood features are back: ASUS, the tech company that is always up on the latest fashions, has released a laptop that incorporates bamboo panels for its lid and palm rest. The U6 Bamboo Series, as it's called, is actually not as tacky as it sounds; rather than being a throwback to the '70s, the laptop's wood looks quite tasteful. It also feels good to the touch, and, most importantly, doesn't compromise the usability of the laptop.
The Bamboo isn't a laptop for everyone, obviously. But it's one to consider if you want an ultraportable laptop that's not just a run-of-the-mill workhorse. It's very much a statement laptop, not just for whoever owns it but also for ASUS. The company is touting its green credentials with this laptop, as bamboo is a plentiful, renewable and recyclable material — not to mention it's very strong, yet light. However, the packaging for the unit still contains too much plastic wrapping for its accessories. ASUS still has a long way to go in this area.
While the treated bamboo exterior is the main attraction of this ultraportable, its size and power under the hood shouldn't be overlooked. It's a 12.1in laptop with an LED-backlit screen, and it's based on an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 CPU. It runs at 2.53GHz, and with 4GB of RAM, an NVIDIA GeForce 9300M GS graphics adapter and a 320GB hard drive. This unit is fully kitted out for swift office application performance and multitasking. It will also do quite well in tougher tasks such as file compression and 3-D rendering.
In WorldBench 6, the laptop recorded a score of 88, which is a relatively fast result but slightly shy of what we expected; in the Blender and iTunes tests, it recorded times of 1min 15sec and 1min 10sec, respectively, which is what we expected from the 2.53GHz CPU. The laptop's 5400rpm hard drive was slower than we were expecting, which explains the slight sluggishness in the WorldBench 6 test. It recorded a very slow average transfer rate of 11.39 megabytes per second in our tests. However, our test laptop was an engineering sample, so hopefully it won't be as slow in the retail models.
In 3DMark06 the unit recorded a score of 1854. The NVIDIA graphics card is there just to take some of the load off the CPU and RAM when processing graphics, so it won't be any good for games, but it'll let you watch videos smoothly, and will also drive the unit's HDMI output.
HDMI is just one of the modern conveniences of this laptop; you also get 802.11n wireless networking, e-SATA, an ExpressCard/54 slot, and a SIM card reader (but there is no 3G module). It has three USB 2.0 ports, an SD card reader, Gigabit Ethernet, a webcam and a DVD burner. All this for a weight of 1.6kg when using the laptop's 3-cell, 2400mAh battery! However, this battery won't last long at all. In our DVD rundown tests it lasted only an hour. The 6-cell battery, which sticks out of the chassis significantly (as you can see from the pictures), lasted 3hr 48min, which is a much better result. But it does make the notebook heavier (1.9kg) and harder to carry around with you. Our engineering model held the battery without any problems, but it did jiggle a little in its slot, which wasn't comforting.
What was comforting was the touchpad. This is also made out of wood, just like the palm rest, and it was accurate during our tests. People who used it were worried about splinters, but unless you chip the wood, you shouldn't have to worry about them. The left- and right-click buttons, which are also bamboo, were a little hard to press, but again we chalk this up to it being an engineering sample.
The Bamboo's keyboard is very comfortable to type on, with full-sized buttons that provide plenty of travel and response; it also doesn't suffer from any layout problems. Only the arrow and function keys are undersized, which isn't a problem.
Despite prolonged use the laptop didn't get overly warm, but some heat travelled up through the bamboo palm rest. However, it never got uncomfortable.
The overall build quality of the laptop is solid and it feels great (apart from the afore-mentioned issue with the big battery). Although some people bagged the unit and made jokes about how it will fit in nicely with a '70s station wagon, the colour and grain of the wood is very pleasing to the eye. We wish the entire unit was constructed of bamboo!
The laptop's screen is latch-less, so it opens and closes very easily. The screen has good contrast and brightness, but only if you view it from the correct vertical angle. We constantly had to adjust the screen to get a good view of it.
We're not too sure how the wood will hold up over time, especially from sweaty palms, and you'll probably have to refrain from sanding it back and re-finishing it if it does ever develop any stains. Likewise, be sure to purchase a suitable travel bag for the Bamboo Series to make sure the wood doesn't get scratched or chipped.
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