Construction: Field Tested (cont.)
Keyboard – The W5A's keyboard is the typical of Asus' other products. In fact, the keyboard layout is the same as the one seen on the previously reviewed V6V. The only difference is that color scheme has been inverted so that the keyboard buttons are white and the text is black. There is reasonable tactile feedback considering this is a consumer notebook, but it feels pretty average. That being said, if you consider Dell and HP/Compaq average, this keyboard is below-average.
The only two problems we have with the layout is, one, that the home/end/page up/page down keys are all clustered on the right hand side. While this means you don't have to stretch your fingers to access them, you don't get the same feel for the notebook, because their placement is counterintuitive when it comes to keyboard ergonomics. "Correct" placement is debatable, but generally speaking, it should be a three by two button arrangement in the upper right hand corner. The second problem is that the Fn key is in the lower left hand corner. Technically, we find that correct placement is for the Fn key to be to the right of the left CTRL key. For some people, this may not be a problem; for others it will be.
On a similar note, we should mention that it helps to have the space above the left and right arrow keys empty. We have been finding recently that notebook companies choose to use this space, but that often leaves the end-users with a somewhat unnatural feel. This is the case with the W5A. The unnatural feel is compounded since the W5A does not use a full sized keyboard.
LEDs and Buttons – There is one true LED strip, which is located on the front left side of the system. The LED strip includes LEDs for (left to right): power status (blue when powered on), charging status (solid blue when charging), hard drive activity (blinking blue when active), wireless status (blinking blue when active, solid blue when connected), caps lock (blue when active), and Bluetooth status (blue when active).
There is no secondary strip of LEDs for keyboard key statu, like num and scroll lock.
The only problem we have with the LED strip design is that it has a relatively low plane of vision. While they cannot be seen when the notebook is closed, there is a LED strip on the back of the display that indicates power and battery status. In our opinion, it would have been better to use a color other than blue so that the user can easily distinguish the LEDs from one another.
Touchpad & Buttons – The touchpad is spaced appropriately, enough so that switching between the keyboard and touchpage is about the same as any other average notebook. However, the fact that the notebook has a width wider than its length changes things, especially since this is technically an ultra-portable. I have average sized hands, and normal typing mode, I found that my wrists were over the lip of the notebook. This is something I rarely see with other ultraportables, because it tends to make it uncomfortable to type.
Compared to other notebooks, the touchpad has a fairly smooth texture. Compared to its predecessor [the S5N], it has more of a grainy feel to give better tracking. However, this seems to be due to the fact that the W5A uses a carbon fiber composite versus the carbon fiber body of the S5N. Whatever the reason for texture, we find it an improvement over the S5N, whose inherently smooth surface only progressed to get smoother over time and eventually provided zero texture for tracking/scrolling. We have to note that we haven't used this notebook nearly as long as the S5N, so we can't form any solid long term conclusions.
Like the previously reviewed V6V, the buttons for the W5A are covered by a single metallic plate. As you can see from the picture, the buttons are not separated. Instead, pressing either the left or right button only depresses them in the front, while the upper portion basically stays fixed. We think this is a poor design, for several reasons. The most important reason is that it doesn't give good tactile feedback, and it has more resistance than typical buttons.
There is a button for Power4Gear and a toggle for WiFi (802.11b/g and Bluetooth) in the upper left hand corner. We will get to Power4Gear later in the review.
Microphone – Fortunately, there is an integrated microphone on the W5A, which is good for those that like audio messaging and the like. Of course, this is supposed to go hand in hand with the built in camera for A/V messaging. Our only problem is that this microphone doesn't seem to be of the same quality as integrated microphones we have seen on notebooks from Dell or IBM.
Speakers - The speakers on the W5A are reasonably good considering this notebook's size, but they are below the quality we would expect for a multimedia notebook. At max they are loud enough to be heard in an adjacent room. It isn't loud per say, but a person in the adjacent room will make out the audio.
When we listened to Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know," the audio clarity wasn't as good as some other consumer multimedia notebooks, i.e. the instrumentals and voice inflections get slightly distorted above roughly 35% volume. When it comes to movies, you probably won't hear the difference at max volume to distinguish distortion, unless there is an audio track playing during segment of video.