The W3J is Asus' attempt to create a fast, capable laptop with a chassis barely the width of an A4 sheet of paper, and the weight of a couple of bags of sugar. It's a welcome prospect, as compact laptops that deliver plenty of power are difficult to find. The W3J is capable of running games and though it might not look it on the surface, it packs enough grunt to rival, and indeed outperform, larger, more expensive laptops.
It's hard not to like the look of the W3J. It has a clean feel about it, weighs just 2kg with the standard two-cell battery and is compact at just 247mm wide. The entire thing is finished in grey and the top of the lid has a subtle brushed-metal effect.
The laptop's battery forms part of its hinge, meaning it doesn't jut out beyond the body of the chassis. Also impressive is the fact the power button sits on the far right side of the laptop -- again on the hinge. Locating it is difficult the first time you use the W3J, but its unusual position makes a welcome change.
The laptop is just as attractive on the inside as it is on the outside. The keyboard is a comfortable size and feels good to type on. We think it has the perfect amount of springiness and we rarely found ourselves gazing down at it trying to make sure our fingers were in the right place -- as is often the case with small laptops.
To either side of the keyboard are four shortcut buttons. These sit flush with the left and right edges of the laptop, so they're barely noticeable when the lid is open but can (just about) be pressed even when the lid is shut. The left row of shortcut keys controls media playback (including CD playback when the laptop is 'off') and the right-hand keys toggle the Bluetooth adaptor, video source and Wi-Fi, and switch the mouse touchpad on and off. There's also a PowerGear button that lets you cycle between the laptop's various power modes -- some of which promote battery life and some of which enhance system performance.
Below the keyboard is a wide, rectangle-shaped mouse touchpad. Below this is a single, long mouse button that functions as two separate buttons depending on whether you press the left or right half. The seamless button design improves the overall look of the system.
Our one gripe with the W3J's design is the fact it, like most Windows-based laptops, is slathered with stickers. Sure, these are great for identifying which components are inside the laptop, but they make the unit look slightly tacky -- we wouldn't hesitate to remove them the minute we got it home from the shop.
The W3J has some meaty specifications for its size. It's a third-generation Centrino laptop, so it has all the funky Wi-Fi capabilities (802.11a/b/g) that'll appeal to Starbucks regulars. It uses the Intel 945PM chipset, an Intel T2400 processor running at 1.83GHz, and 1GB of RAM, though this can be upgraded to 2GB.
Impressively, the laptop doesn't rely on an Intel integrated graphics adaptor. Instead, Asus has crammed in an ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 card, so playing games is a realistic proposition. It's the same card used in the well-received Acer Travelmate 8204WLMi, and it's perfectly capable of running all the latest 3D titles at a decent lick, though you may have to turn the detail settings down on a few of the most demanding games.
The W3J uses a 14-inch widescreen display, which like most of the other Asus laptops we've seen, is of a very good standard. It runs at a native resolution of 1,280x768 pixels, but suffers slightly from a limited horizontal viewing angle. This means colours may appear slightly warped when not watching from a central position. Some users may also take issue with the fact it uses a glossy coating. This enhances colours and contrast, but it can render the laptop unusable if used in direct light -- you'll either love it or hate it.
One aspect we couldn't fault was the 120GB Hitachi Travelstar hard drive. This provides loads of storage space for such for such a small laptop, so you shouldn't have much trouble stashing a comprehensive library of music or movies. The drive has a slow-ish spin speed of 4,200rpm, making it the cause of a minor system bottleneck, but most users won't notice any sort of lag during everyday use. The W3J has an integrated 8x DVD dual-layer rewriter drive. This in itself isn't much to write home about, but the drive can be used as an audio CD player without the need to boot up the laptop.
A laptop isn't much of a laptop without wireless connectivity and the W3J has that in abundance. It's an Intel Centrino model, so there's 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi capability, which in this case is supplemented by an infrared port and Bluetooth so you can transfer files and synchronise emails on a compatible mobile phone. The Bluetooth module uses the latest 2.0 enhanced data rate (EDR) chipset, which gives faster performance and range.
Also relatively pointless is the inclusion of an ExpressCard slot instead of a more traditional PC Card (formerly known as PCMCIA) slot. Whereas there are dozens of PC Card peripherals, including 3G data cards, there are relatively few ExpressCard peripherals. The situation might change in the future, but omitting PC Card entirely is slightly illogical, in our opinion.
Like most Asus laptops, the W3J doesn't ship with much software. You get a choice of either Windows XP Profressional Edition or XP Home Edition, plus Cyberlink Power Director V3 SE for editing movies, and Cyberlink Medi@Show, which can create picture slideshows and screensavers. Aside from that, there's little else to speak of.
The W3J is a capable performer, though it doesn't run as quickly as laptops such as the Blu-ray-equipped Sony Vaio VGN-AR11, which uses a slightly quicker processor. It clocked up a score of 2,969 in our PCMark 2005 test, which is low in comparison to the VGN-AR11's tally of 4,236, but still high enough to indicate it won't struggle with everyday applications.
What the W3J lacks in core processing performance it makes up for in gaming performance. Its ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 card helped it rack up a 3DMark 2006 score of 2,350, which is a tad more than that achieved by the Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi, despite both laptops using the same graphics card.
Battery life for the W3J was only average. It lasted 142 minutes during DVD playback in our MobileMark test, which is much shorter than the 231 minutes achieved by the Acer TravelMate.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide