According to Asus, the UX series is 'an intricately crafted series of notebooks that provide both contemporary style and effortless computing on the go'. In human speak, that means they're thin and light, look awesome and have funky new components. The UX50V, reviewed here, is being sold by online retailers for around £910.
To say the UX50V is one of the prettier laptops we've seen would be an understatement. We're constantly showing it off to friends and colleagues as if it were some sort of precious newborn child, and -- like the cutest of freshly birthed offspring -- it never fails to elicit a positive response.
It looks like pretty much any other laptop in the world with its lid closed, but, crack it open, and you'll be suitably impressed. We're particular fans of the screen's edge-to-edge glass, the matte black keyboard with isolated buttons, and the highly impractical, but gorgeous, mirror-effect wrist rest.
The isolated keyboard is particularly worthy of praise. It's very comfortable to type on and, although there isn't quite enough travel in the keys, we had no problem getting up to full typing speed. We also love the fact that the keyboard is backlit, making it easy to work at night without turning the lights on, and the presence of a dedicated numerical keypad.
The aforementioned mirror-esque wrist rest is both a gift and a curse. It's fabulous to look at, and comes in handy as a mirror. But, as with all mirrors, it's almost impossible to keep clean. You may have the cleanest wrists in the world, but it'll be filthy within minutes of use. The mouse trackpad, which sports the same finish, gets even filthier, as -- unless you're using a USB mouse -- it'll collect more fingerprints than a forensic scientist.
The UX50V's 15.6-inch, 1,366x768-pixel display does a fabulous impression of a mirror, too. It's one of the most reflective displays we've seen, so, while it provides excellent perceived contrast levels and looks great when playing movies, it's almost impossible to use without also seeing your reflection. This, in conjunction with the mirrored wrist rest, makes the UX50V annoying and somewhat uncomfortable to use, as you're always contending with unwanted reflections.
Asus has tried to keep the UX50V's ports as well-hidden as possible. The right side is home only to a slot-loading DVD drive, while, on the left, you'll find a Wi-Fi on/off switch and -- concealed behind a flap -- a memory card slot and USB port. The rear of the system is more densely populated. Two additional USB ports join a HDMI socket, D-Sub VGA output and Ethernet jack. You'll also find mic and headphone jacks, although their placement at the rear makes them slightly awkward to use.
The UX50V costs a pretty penny, so one might expect it to be fitted with the latest super-fast components. That isn't the case -- it's fitted with the latest super-slow components. It uses a 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Solo SU3500 CPU, which is designed to maximise battery life at the expense of all-out speed. Asus has thrown in a whopping 4GB of RAM, however, which helps applications launch relatively quickly and keeps the system running smoothly.
The UX50V's graphics system is pretty fancy. It uses both an Nvidia GeForce G105M graphics adaptor and an integrated Intel graphics chip, and can cycle between the pair, depending on the user's needs. The latter is designed for casual use and helps maximise battery life, while the former offers -- and consumes -- significantly more power.
The Nvidia card has the advantage of being compatible with Nvidia's Cuda computing architecture, which allows the GPU to assist the CPU in solving complex computational problems, such as converting videos to iPod format, in significantly less time than the CPU would take on its own.
The UX50V comes equipped with a 320GB hard drive, which is par for the course on laptops of its ilk. A 500GB option would have been good, but 320GB is enough space to store a healthy number of videos, images and applications. Should you need to create backups, the slot-loading DVD drive on the right side of the device allows you to create dual-layer discs of up to 8.5GB in size.
Those who use the drive to play audio CDs will be glad they did. The UX50V incorporates Altec Lansing speakers along its bottom edge, and they're surprisingly good. With the right source material, they're loud and offer a good range of sound. They're in no way as good as a set of external speakers, but they're perfectly adequate for filling a small room with sound, or for enjoying audio while sitting relatively close to the speakers.
Media can be enjoyed in Windows Media Center -- a part of the Vista Home Premium operating system -- but also via Asus' Express Gate V2 software, a quick-booting alternative to Microsoft's much-criticised OS. we've always been fans of the original Express Gate, and V2 boasts an even slicker user interface. Unfortunately, the version on our review sample was unstable and often crashed.
The UX50V's wireless capabilities are very solid. It's capable of connecting to all manner of Wi-Fi networks, and its adaptor is compliant with the 802.11n protocol, which allows for faster transfer rates and a superior connection range than traditional 802.11g.
The UX50V's processing performance won't set your pants on fire. Its SU3500 CPU runs at a modest 1.4GHz and has just one computing core, so it's no surprise it achieved a mere 2,013 in our PCMark05 benchmark test. It's not particularly slow, but, given the machine's price, it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect a little more oomph. The Nvidia graphics card makes up for some of the shortfall -- it achieved 1,891 in 3DMark06, which indicates that the UX50V's capable of running 3D games at a low resolution.
Battery life is impressive. The UX50V lasted 4 hours and 57 minutes in Battery Eater's Classic test, which runs the CPU at full tilt until the battery's exhausted. In the less intensive Reader's test, which simulates the user browsing a text document, the UX50V lasted a whopping 7 hours and 12 minutes.
The Asus UX50V is great to look at, but it's let down by relatively average performance and design features that detract from the overall user experience. Its shiny finish will appeal to magpies and those with design degrees, but the cheaper, slightly less attractive MSI X340 -- or indeed an Apple MacBook -- might be better options.
Edited by Charles Kloet