ASUS W5A

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ASUS W5A

Pros

  • Webcam features and software

Cons

  • Poor speaker quality, uninspiring performance

Bottom Line

Lightweight and fully equipped, the 1.8 kilogram W5A goes one step further than most ultraportables, coming with a swivel Webcam.

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A swivelling Webcam and an all-white carbon-fibre case highlight the ASUS W5A, an ultraportable laptop weighing just 1.8 kilograms (not including its power adapter). Vanilla-hued laptops are not my favourite, because of the smudge factor if nothing else, but I had a ball taking snapshots and making videos using the ASUS Mobile Vision Camera W5-A01, a rotating camera set in a snazzy chrome frame centred at the top of this portable's 12" wide-aspect screen, and the LifeFrame Webcam software. The Webcam swivels 180 degrees for shooting in front of or behind the laptop. Three screen-frame shortcut buttons provide a quick way to activate the camera and take a picture, zoom into a scene digitally up to three times, and turn on the microphone for sound with videos. LifeFrame puts the bare-bones Webcam software found on other laptops to shame with its rich set of options, including interval capture, motion-detection, and even special photographic effects such as sepia. Pictures appear alongside the live window as drag-and-drop thumbnails bound for a folder, email or the recycle bin. Picture quality isn't bad for a 1.3-megapixel PC camera, but I was disappointed in the 30-frames-per-second video. The audio usually kept up with the action, but quick movements blurred. Still, I was happy enough with the quality to send a few pictures and short videos to friends I haven't seen in a while.

Beyond the camera, the W5A is nicely equipped overall, featuring a three-in-one memory card reader, a FireWire port, an S-Video-out port and three USB 2.0 ports. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi handle your short- and long-range wireless communications needs. However, a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combination drive is the only optical drive available for the W5A, so you would be able to burn CDs but not DVDs.

The matching white keyboard's slightly undersize and right keys don't get in the way of typing. The keys depress 2.35 millimeters, a tad shallow compared with a full-size keyboard's 3mm travel, but I liked the firm feel. Atop the keyboard next to the Wi-Fi switch is another handy feature: a power mode button for toggling among eight settings depending on whether you're plugged in or using the battery.

Boasting a native resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels, the W5A's 12.1" screen is readable and makes a fine small movie screen, too, but you'll need headphones. Despite a nifty volume jog dial provided on the right side of the case, the stereo speakers--located beneath the screen--emit terribly weak audio.

The W5A is fairly easy to expand for a small laptop. Although a base 256MB of memory comes built-in, you do get one accessible slot for upgrading the RAM. The 40GB hard drive also slides out of its own separate compartment in the bottom of the unit.

Equipped with a 1.73GHz Pentium M 740 CPU, the notebook earned a PC WorldBench 5 score of 76. The rear-mounted power pack, which adds about a couple of centimetres to the footprint of the laptop, lasted 2.9 hours on one charge during our tests.

But I still like the W5A for its good keyboard and fun camera. Those looking for a lightweight laptop with a built-in Webcam that's super-easy to use can't go wrong. To sweeten the pot, ASUS throws in a battery-operated cordless Logitech mouse, two nylon carrying cases (one is a sheath), and a pretty good Acrobat manual.

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