Construction: Field Tested
Charger –The charger for the W5A (65W) is fairly small in size, compared to the chargers provided with most other "standard" notebooks. When compared to other ultra-portable notebooks, though, it is a little bigger. Of the notebooks we have looked at recently, the closest thing to its size are the chargers for IBM's ThinkPad notebooks.
The two things we don't like about the charger design is that it doesn't provide a way to tie up extra cabling and uses an angled plug design. The angled plug design is really unnecessary, because the power port is placed on the back side of the notebook. The result is that the spot where the power cable meets the angled plug is going to be somewhat bent overtime and may eventually wear down the electrical contact. We have seen this happen in the past, which is a simple point that Asus can fix.
Display –The W5A only comes with only one display option: 12.1" WXGA glare type LCD display (native 1280 x 768).
This notebook is clearly a multimedia focused notebook, unlike its predecessor it has wide display, uses a glare coating, and includes an optical drive. While wide aspect ratio display are becoming all too common place, they are still generally used to enhance the multimedia experience. This also goes for the glare coating, too a lesser extent.
We need to clear up the glare type issue (Asus calls it "Color Shine"), as this has been discussed by many but few people really understand the benefit and disadvantages. First, the glare type display does make just about any multimedia experience relating to video better, provided a top notch display panel is used. However, it is not due to the better specs of the LCD display panel. Instead, the glare coating give the perception of an increase in vivid colors, text, background, etc, via an increase in contrast.
The down side is that even under normal lighting conditions, there is going to be some glare from lighting sources if you focus your eyes on the reflective spots of the screen. The advantage is fairly visible once you switch to a dark theater like setting, where a side by side comparison is noticeable in the tone of a person's skin for example. Under normal lighting conditions, like an office or library, the advantage of glare type LCDs is still visible, but you are going to have to get used to glare from nearby light sources. As you move to the outdoors, glare type displays are out of their element, as the images look dull and washed out.
There is still a catch when it comes to the multimedia experience. Without a sufficiently bright display to add the glare coating onto, the multimedia experience can actually be worse. This is where glare type displays set themselves apart. For example, we were watching Wyatt Earp side by side (the one with K. Costner) on the Dell Inspiron XPS Gen 2 (glare), Dell Inspiron 8600 (no glare), and the Asus W5A (glare). When we got to garden and wilderness scenes, the foliage and green on the glare displays was a deeper hue that seemed more realistic. However, once we got to the gun fight at the Ok Corral, the W5A was at a particular disadvantage as the brightness of the panel was lower compared to the other two laptops. The characters, background, and dust seen on the W5A were all deeper hues in a setting that was suppose to be bright and light, as the characters shot up the alley with the sun boring down on them. Unfortunately, given that Asus hasn't chosen a top of the line display panel, the W5A's average display panel along with glare coating is going to be caught at a disadvantage in such scenes.
Movies that have really dark scenes, though, won't be affected in the same way without a significantly bright display to add the glare coating. There will be more "vividness" in those scenes, but it will come at the cost of having more portions of the scene in the shadows. For example, we watched Underworld and Matrix Reloaded on all three computers and found that the first combat scene between Neo and the agents was harder to view on the W5A because there was a lost of detail, This was partially because of the glare coating, which deepens the hues of all colors used in the scene, enough so that the faintly visible shadows were made too dark.
With 16 display settings, the display has a wider range from bright to dim, than other notebooks. However, at its brightest setting (16) it still isn't as bright as the display on our older Dell Inspiron 8600 (15.4" UltraSharp WUXGA). While it isn't a poor quality display per say, it is somewhere in the average or slightly above average range. Though we would consider it an above average display, a glare type coating needs to be used along with a display panel of excellent quality.
The dimmest setting (1) is a bit too dark for us to be comfortable to use in a dark room. At that level, you really shouldn't be doing anything, its hard enough just tracking the cursor around, and it only does a disservice to just about all thing multimedia related. Even for typing, the lowest setting we recommend is 3. The battery and AC settings do not share the same brightness levels (battery settings a little dimmer than AC, about 2 levels).
Fan - The fan was on the majority of the time we had the notebook running. In general, the notebook is quiet. The fan is barely audible. You actually need to put your ear an inch or two above the keyboard to heard the whisper like whirling sound. While the fan is just about always on, it speeds up intermittently. At max speed, you will definitely hear the noise. Its has a very distinct buzzing like sound that lets you know the fan is basically working overtime to cool the notebook. For the W5A's size, this fan is one of the loudest [at max] we have heard. The person sitting next to you will probably look your way to see where all the noise is coming from. Even though the fan only speeds up for short periods of time (usually less than a minute), if the fan is at max speed, you will quickly find it annoying and distracting.
Generally, it only went to max speed once we were getting into CPU intensive tasks. If you are just milling through your daily computer routine: e-mail, word processing, browsing, etc., the fan will come on intermittently when needed and drop down to low speed quickly. When we were watching a highly compressed two hour Divx encoded movie (45% CPU load max), we noticed the fan only went to max speed 5 or 6 times.
Heat – After about five plus hours of straight use, the notebook was still relatively cool to the touch. The only place that got warm was the bottom of the notebook where the CPU, memory, and hard drive were situated - designated by access panels. It only gets warm, not hot. So, you should be able to comfortably put this notebook in your lap without being unhappy with the heat.