At over three centimetres deep, Asus' U50 achieves a rare aesthetic trick for a notebook with a 15.6in screen: it appears much thinner and lighter than it actually is. The dimensions aren't anything particularly special, but there's a design deftness that makes it feel a little bit out of the ordinary.
The glossy black plastic chassis may attract more grubby fingerprints than an MP's expenses bill, but it has a solid and slender touch that feels more refined than, say, the Sony FW.
Perhaps it’s more subliminal than that, though: thanks to a bright, LED-lit screen and an illuminated keyboard, opening the U50 up is a dazzling show that automatically adjusts to fit the ambient room light. As any makeover show fan knows, that immediately suggests more space than there really is.
Rounding off the aesthetic is a mousepad that's designed to wow in two different ways. The practical bonus is that it's proper three-finger multitouch, as seen in Apple's MacBooks and Asus' EeePC range.
The style flourish, though, is that rows of LEDs light up when you touch it, tracking the horizontal position of your fingers as they move around. It's gimmicky, yes, but again adds to that overwhelming sense of brightness emanating from the chassis.
Our only slight concern about the build quality is the chiclet keyboard. Because it’s removable it’s also, unlike Sony or Apple rivals, slightly less robust and the top rows are especially springy. Asus has, though, told us that this is only a problem with pre-production samples and it’ll be corrected in retail models.
There are no such issues with the sound, though: the integrated Altec Lansing speakers are also a cut above the norm, giving the U50 real potential as a multimedia box.
Why no CULV?
The thing about the U50 is that if Asus wanted to create a thin and light 15incher, it probably should have followed the lead of other manufacturers and gone for Intel's latest low-power processors, rather than the full-fat Core 2 Duo in this machine.
For a start, it could have created a chassis that really was svelte, rather than just seeming it, like the Samsung X360. A low-resolution screen, basic graphics card and no Blu-ray drive means the U50 doesn't demand the extra CPU overhead it offers, and leaves it in a limbo between truly thin-and-light laptops and high-performance ones.
More importantly, though, it would have helped the battery life. The U50 barely makes it past the two-hour mark before needing a charge, and that's not good given the quality of the competition at the moment.
There's a lot to like about the U50, but it doesn't compare favourably value-wise with similarly specced and sized laptops like the Dell Studio 15. The Dell isn't as ambitious, but it is half the price.