Does Asus's SideShow-toting laptop give a bravura performance or produce a decidedly disappointing spectacle?
Innovation in laptops usually means some decidedly geeky tweak to the processor that you'll barely notice or another millimetre shaved off the case so the makers can claim the crown of thinnest laptop ever. The W5Fe breaks that trend with a genuinely new inclusion – an external display that exploits Vista's SideShow functionality.
A useful SideShow
A slight mound on the laptop's lid holds a 320x240 pixel 2.8in display, has 1GB of dedicated flash memory and runs a slimmed down OS and mini-applications Microsoft calls 'gadgets' but which the rest of us know as 'widgets'. Pre-installed gadgets include a music player, a picture viewer, a battery status indicator and a Windows Mail inbox viewer.
SideShow syncs information from your hard drive and stores it in the flash memory. This means you can only access pictures and songs that have been synched and you can't get at new emails. The media player is useful if you often use your computer to listen to the music but flicking through images and reviewing your emails on a 2.8in screen may be nothing more than a novelty.
Light and slight
SideShow may not be lifechanging yet but gadgets that exploit the power of applications like iTunes and Skype are rumoured to be the on the way and a whole range of third party creations are already available to download from the Vista Gadget Gallery website. Besides, the W5fe has a lot of other things going for it.
Asus have always made attractive and well put together machines and this is no exception. The 12.1in screen is bright and remains readable at even the most extreme angles. The chassis is agreeably light at 1.7kg and despite being so slight the keyboard is comfortable and easy to use.The W5fe is a very well-designed laptop. Buttons on the side of the screen bezel control the microphone and rotatable 1.3MP webcam, while the USB ports are very sensibly set out with one on either side and one at the rear making it easy to connect more than one peripheral even if they’re a little bulky. The Wi-Fi switch is above the keyboard beside a PowerGear4 button, which lets you cycle through battery life or speed promoting power modes.
The range of power saving modes may come in handy as the W5's 3-cell battery is slight in size and capacity, topping out at just under 2 hours with moderate use. If you're going to be away from a power source for long, an extra battery may come in useful. It's also worth noting that 3D graphics are well served by the integrated Intel graphics card.
The specs are also generous with a speedy 2.16Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo T7400, 1547MB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive. The option of a next gen drive would be nice (and is on the horizon) but the built-in DVD burner does the business and the multimedia card reader is a useful addition.
The light construction feels fine even when used on your lap and doesn't pump out too much fertility jeopardising heat. The W5's robust construction makes it ideal for travelling and while SideShow may not yet be a vital inclusion it's sure to draw admiring looks when you use it to check an email or share a playlist.
Asus W5Fe review
SideShow may be no more than a novelty, but the W5fe is a great lightweight laptop with superlative specs