The ultraportable laptop market is a highly competitive one. Asus, Dell, Samsung, Apple and just about every manufacturer worth its salt produces gorgeous, tiny notebooks for the so-called 'road warrior'.
The latest of these is the 12.1-inch Asus U6S -- a machine that is small in stature, big on performance and absolutely gorgeous. They will be on sale from Asus' resellers for £1,499 in mid-November.
You can save yourself the bother of reading this entire section of the review if you just remember these words: the U6S is one of the sexiest laptops we've ever seen. You'd have to be crazy not to like it. Allow us to explain why.
It is, for all intents and purposes, a slightly bigger version of the 11.1-inch Asus U1. Whereas the U1's dinky keyboard made us contort our hands in unnatural, painful ways, the 1.5kg, 300 by 35 by 225mm U6S remains comfortable even when used for long periods.
Our test model sports a glossy, plain chocolate-coloured lid with tiny flecks of sparkly paint under the varnish. It's reflective enough to do your make-up and attracts just as many admiring glances as it does fingerprint smudges. We really defy anyone not to like it.
The brown lid is complemented by a brown leather wrist pad. Asus says this is real cow hide and we're inclined to believe it. The laptop has that authentic leather smell about it, which animal rights activists, vegetarians, etc, should be wary of.
Ports are in abundance on the U6S While the 13.3-inch Dell XPS M1330 had just two USB ports, this has four. Plus, it has HDMI video output and analogue D-Sub for anyone who likes to kick it old-skool. Our only gripe is the tray-loading DVD rewriter drive -- a slot-loading model like on the Dell would have looked nicer.
As touched on earlier, the U6S has a great keyboard. Unlike some laptops, it doesn't flex under force, which is a sign of good build quality. The mouse trackpad is equally comfortable to use, but the accompanying selector buttons are dire. They're extremely stiff and difficult to press -- you'll need an external USB mouse or bionic fingers.
The rest of the U6S appears well built, too. Unlike many Sonys we've tested, the TZ series included, the U6S's battery doesn't feel loose and there are no disconcerting rattling noises. Nothing twists, flexes or bends where it shouldn't, and even the leather seems well fitted. We expect that with a little care and attention, this laptop could last you quite some time.
Ultraportables usually look great, but they often fall down where specs are concerned. Not the U6S. It uses an array of high-end components including a 2.2GHz Intel T7500 dual-core CPU, 2GB of DDR2 667MHz RAM, and a 160GB hard drive.
You can probably count the number of brown laptops with half-decent graphics cards on one hand. The U6S joins that group, thanks to its Nvidia GeForce 8400M G. It won't give the PS3 a run for its money, but it's fast enough so you can enjoy movies without stuttering frame-rates. Everything can be outputted to a larger screen via the aforementioned HDMI port, or the D-Sub port at the rear.
The 12.1-inch display on the U6S is good. The vertical viewing angle is quite limited, so you may need to adjust the angle of the screen to get a perfectly clear picture. It's fine across the horizontal axis so you can watch a movie while sitting next to a friend and not miss the action. Unlike most laptops, the screen is an LED backlit model, meaning it consumes about 30 per cent less power than normal CCFL models. This should help the laptop last longer away from the mains.
The optical drive in the U6S is in no way as impressive as the hard drive. The bog-standard tray-loading DVD rewriter looks a little dated next to the optional slot-loading Blu-ray drive in the XPS M1330. It's fine for watching DVDs and making backups, but we can't help but wish there was a way of playing HD DVD or Blu-ray films, especially since the laptop has an HDMI port.
There's plenty of wireless techology to shout about in the U6S. It's packing Wi-Fi 802.11n, and more importantly perhaps, it has a SIM card slot under the battery, so you can insert your mobile phone SIM and get 3G/HSDPA Internet access pretty much anywhere you roam.
The U6S is small, but in day-to-day tasks it's just as quick as most laptops, whatever their size. It scored 4,594 in PCMark05, meaning it runs at about the same speed as the XPS M1330.
The U6S fared okay in graphics tests. It scored 1,232 in 3DMark06, which isn't bad for a laptop of this type. Like most ultraportables, you won't be running many games on it, but it's quick enough to handle HD movies, and the odd bout of Half-Life 2, if you turn the detail levels right down.
Battery life is fairly poor on the standard 2400mAh battery. It lasted about 40 minutes in our Battery Eater test, which constantly asks the CPU to perform at a high rate. More reassuringly, it lasted 90 minutes with a 7800mAh battery, an extra add-on. The only drawback here is the fact the larger battery juts out of the rear of the laptop by 38mm, and makes the entire unit heavier.
The Asus U6S is a fantastic laptop which can be considered the slightly more suave and sophisticated cousin of the Dell XPS M1330. The clever design touches, solid all-round performance and high portability make it a definite CNET.co.uk favourite.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday