Asus W5A: lightweight and fully equipped

Asus W5A: lightweight and fully equipped

A swiveling Webcam and an all-white carbon fibre case highlight the Asus W5A, an ultraportable laptop weighing just 1.86kg (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 centered at the top of this portable's 12-inch 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 barebones 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 $3199 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.

The matching white keyboard's slightly undersize and right keys don't get in the way of typing. The keys depress 2.35mm, 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-inch 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 80GB hard drive also slides out of its own separate compartment in the bottom of the unit.

This W5A updates an almost identical machine reviewed in June with a 1.7GHz Pentium M 735 processor. Equipped with a slightly speedier 1.73GHz Pentium M 740 CPU, the new W5A lost battery life and did not perform any faster, earning the same WorldBench 5 score of 76.

The rear-mounted power pack, which adds about three-quarters of an inch to the footprint of the laptop, lasted 2.9 hours on one charge, 45 minutes shorter than the first W5A we tested.

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.

Local information
Asus W5A WorldBench 5 score of 76 1.7GHz Pentium M 735 processor, 512MB of DDR2-400 SDRAM, Windows XP Professional, 12-inch screen, 80GB hard drive, DVD-Dual Layer drive, V.92 modem, 10/100 Ethernet, 802.11g, touchpad pointing device. One-year parts and labour warranty, eight-hour weekday toll-free support. Upshot: Lightweight and fully equipped, the W5A goes one step further than most ultraportables with a swivel Webcam. It is distributed by Cassa, Ingram Micro and Synnex. RRP: $3199

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