Design and Build Quality
Asus has used bamboo for a handful of products in the past, but non were as widely available as the U43F will be. And based on what we're seeing, we hope that this is a trend that continues. The Bamboo casing is an obvious attempt to fit in with the "green" movement that's going on, and while that's perfectly fine, we also appreciate it from a pure design and style standpoint. The entire lid is covered in a soft brown bamboo shell (matte), and Asus has smartly placed a bamboo overlay on the palm rest rather than sprinkling it with stickers. This is one of the first notebooks in recent memory from Asus that lacks stickers on the palm rest, and we're happy about that decision. This machine exudes class from top to bottom… well, almost from top to bottom.
The chrome accents around the edges are all plastic, and they somewhat detract from the whole package. They're a bit too brash to mix well with the bamboo, and the plastic on the bottom of the machine has too much flex for our liking. We love the brushed aluminum that surrounds the chiclet keyboard, and we wish that brushed look would have carried over where the chrome sits. It's not a deal-breaker, but Asus was very close to design perfection here.
The panel itself is glossy, and the native 1366x768 resolution feels a bit on the low side for a 14" display. The Asus Eee PC 1201PN had this resolution on a 12" display, and the Asus U30Jc had this same resolution on a 13.3" display. So, after viewing those two, seeing that same resolution on a comparatively large 14" is underwhelming. We would have preferred a higher resolution display. Along the front edge, you'll notice a few status indicator LEDs, but the back edge is kept clean.
Along the left edge there are audio in/out ports, one USB 2.0 socket, one USB 3.0 socket, a VGA output, an HDMI output, an exhaust vent and an AC input port. On the right edge, there's an SD/SDHC/MMC/MS/MS Pro/xD card slot, one USB 2.0 port, an Ethernet jack, an 8x DVD Combo Drive and a Kensington lock slot. No other sockets are located along the front or rear. The hinge design for the LCD remains the same as on most of the Seashell Eee PCs (that's to say it reclines a good ways back, but not completely flat like a ThinkPad LCD), and there's a speaker grille atop the keyboard that spans the entire top lid.
The keyboard is of the chiclet variety, which has become extremely popular over the past few months. But the trackpad is new and different for this machine, we're told due to the bamboo overlay. Rather than using a Synaptics pad, Asus went with a trackpad from Elan Microelectronics Corporation. Multi-touch gestures are supported, albeit not as many as on the Synaptics pad. Two-finger scrolling and tapping worked great for us, but we were frustrated that some of these gestures weren't enabled by default. We had to dig into the settings to find them, and we would think that most average consumers (i.e. not power users) wouldn't even think to look. It would be a shame for such a great trackpad to go to waste, so keep that in mind if you end up snagging this machine. The pad itself is leaps and bounds better than some of Asus' other pads, and the bamboo finish is great for tracking against. The single-button click along the bottom isn't our favorite (we prefer a split bar), but it works better than the single silver bar that is on so many Eee PC netbooks these days.
The build quality is a mixed bag. The bamboo lid and palm rest are strong, sturdy and gorgeous. The brushed aluminum top lid and the chiclet keyboard are both firm and rigid. But the plastic chrome accents and the flexible bottom both gave us pause. What's most troubling is that the U43F doesn't look like it, but the reliance on cheap plastics throughout makes it feel of lesser quality. It's an odd juxtaposition. Even the plastic black bezel that surrounds the LCD is easy to depress, giving us even less confidence in the machine's ability to survive a fall. For around $900, we expected the entire package to feel a bit more sturdy.