Asus has transformed itself from a boring motherboard manufacturer into the world's favourite laptop-builder faster than you can say "Eee PC". A new 8in version of its Linux maestro is in the pipeline, but to keep us busy until then the Chinese company has launched another alluring ultraportable – the U2E.
While clearly inspired by the Eee PC's outrageously slight frame, the U2E is a very different beast. It's available in two 11in versions: a black leather hard-drive number (reviewed here), and a more expensive brown leather version with 32GB of solid-state memory. But the big difference is that, rather than Linux, these chaps pack Windows Vista Business.
The U2E is impressively small. It boasts the same build quality that had us happily using the Eee PC as a doorstop, but open it up and the U2E's glorious 11.1in WXGA screen leaves a strong impression on your retinas.
Thanks to the aspirational Vaio-like styling, so does the machine's design. The whole thing's lined with leather – inside and out – with supposedly 'hand polished' steel trimming the edges. With the machine's slogan etched into the metal and the battery LEDs glowing an attractive white, product placement in the next Bond movie wouldn't be out of place.
Under the leathery skin
The 1.06GHz Core 2 Duo U7500 processor is a little slow compared to the guts of the new top-spec Toshiba Porteges and Sony's latest Vaios, but with 2GB of RAM – pretty much standard on this new wave of Vista laptops – it copes well with the bloated demands of Microsoft's money-spinning new OS.
Movies play perfectly and look sensational on the 1366x768 native screen, making it ideal if you're stuck in the airport departure lounge. Plus the panel's one of the more efficient LED-backlit jobs, helping the U2E last for around three hours on one charge – or even longer if you plump for the optional 32GB solid-state drive.
The 'for business' angle means you get special features to boast about at marketing conferences, such as fingerprint recognition – nice to have but rarely used. The face-recognition system of the U2E's integrated webcam also rapidly becomes annoying once the novelty of showing it to people has worn off.
Asus' software offers a password-remembering system for filling in forms and personal data on the internet. Which, again, could be quite handy, but it's the sort of thing you're likely to switch off after a few hours of annoying prompting.
Despite the U2E's tiny size it comes with an unbelievable array of connectors. Micro-DVI and VGA mean you can cable any old monitor up to it, and there are a MacBook Air-humbling three USB sockets, built-in DVD burner, Ethernet connection, card reader and Express Card slot – all in a case not much bigger than the Eee's.
Asus also chucks a wireless Bluetooth mouse and spare battery in the box, which is generosity beyond belief.
The U2E's an extremely well made and decent performer with a style of its own and every feature you'll ever need. It's also remarkably solid, so you'll have no qualms about chucking it in your man-bag with your keys, wallet and Swiss Army knife. We like it a lot.