Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch)
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (2013, 15-inch screen)stars
Thanks to new Intel CPUs and upgraded components, the 15-inch MacBook Pro remains a high-end...
Asus Transformer Book T100
The G71 comes screaming out of the box "I AM A GAMING LAPTOP", which currently means racing car red and flashing lights according to most manufacturers. Thankfully, the G71 does it more tastefully than most, and the more annoying bits can, of course, be switched off.
The all-black lid features the requisite manufacturer logo, a blue-lit "Republic of Gamers" logo, a thin strip of blue light beneath this, and two blue LED bars on either side.
The side light behaviour is customisable through Asus' included DirectConsole software, allowing you to either turn the side lights off, have them always on, tell them to react to CPU activity or by fan speed. If you want to pretend you're at a very dull dance party, you can also have them flash twice every two seconds, a quick path to annoying everyone around you. Interestingly, although the sub-menu is provided for the thin strip under the logo, the software doesn't allow you to turn the darn thing off, and you're stuck with the glowing Republic of Gamers logo, unless you get creative with black tape.
There's also two front firing LEDs that can be changed to one of 16 different colours, which can either always be on or off, and flash twice every second so you can emulate a plane taking off. There are two light activation modes — either permanently on, or reacting to the speaker. If the latter is set, the lights cycle through available colours when flashing. In practice, this didn't work — at least when playing off a CD player.
Incidentally the sound is quite good — one of the first times we've been happy with laptop speakers as a whole. Asus' solution follows the typical configuration for a 17-inch laptop: two speakers just below the monitor, two front firing speakers on the lip, and a speaker on the bottom to give more bass. The sound separation is actually rather effective, and tonally for a laptop is reasonably impressive.
Opening the lid reveals more LED goodies, with the trackpad surrounded by a blue LED. We like this, as it helps us find the trackpad in dark lit situations. Sadly despite all these lights, Asus hasn't managed to put them behind the keyboard; backlit keys being one of the most useful features in a laptop.
The LED overload continues with capacitive buttons for trackpad disabling, speed modes, Splashtop and DirectConsole below the monitor. To the left of this is a screen which most handily displays real-time battery capacity — something we wish was a permanent feature on all laptops. It can also display a customised message, CPU and Memory usage, MSN and Outlook mail and meeting notifications, the latter handled by a tray icon called CheckMail.
Speaking of tray icons, we've never seen so many, including LightScribe, Logitech mouse and keyboard, Checkmail, DirectConsole, Google Desktop, Realtek HD Audio Manager, Synaptics Pointing Device, Asus Live Update, a wireless/Bluetooth indicator, Norton Protection Center and the usual Windows icons. It's a fearsome collection we'd like to see either reduced or collated.
Of course, this all comes from the bundled applications. Google Desktop has been thrown in, and the toolbar integration in Internet Explorer has managed to get more annoying. On first load you're greeted by a pop-up asking you if it's OK if it's there. While this does give the option to uninstall it, it's just one more annoyance in the mess of crapware that plagues laptops these days.
Symantec's Norton Internet Security 2009 is installed, but interestingly, the configuration screen that regularly pops up on a lot of laptops at boot time can't actually be closed. The red X has been disabled essentially hijacking user control. Bad mojo there, Symantec.
The laptop otherwise comes with an easy to defeat face recognition "security" software, and Asus' "Splendid" video presets. While we usually tear apart Splendid for its horrific colour mashing, Asus has included a custom configuration tool which at least allows colour temperature adjustments, a rarity on laptop screens. Custom colour settings aren't magnificent though, only allowing increased saturation across RGB, meaning any alteration will simply lead to colour blow outs. Thankfully at its default setting the screen looks great, at an impressive 1920x1200, so you can be sure the bundled Blu-ray drive won't go to waste.