We’ve got to confess, the unveiling of the Asus Zenbook has spoiled us. The beautifully slender yet sturdy body is a marvel, yet it still makes room for some powerful components for (hopefully) excellent performance.
This makes reviewing the Asus U46SV – another new laptop from the Taiwanese giant – a rather tricky business. It’s not that this laptop is ugly or anything. But imagine embarking on an illicit one-night affair with Megan Fox, then hooking up with Hilary Duff. She’s probably a very nice girl and not bad looking, but you’d be thinking of Megan during sexy time.
Let’s begin by saying we really liked the Asus U36JC, a powerful and well-built ultra-portable laptop. The Asus U46SV is a spiritual successor to the U36JC, but we were surprised by how chunky and heavy it felt when we pulled it free of its box.
The chassis is 38mm thick, which is rather bulky for a laptop of this size. It also weighs 2.3kg – a lot more than the Asus U36JC’s featherweight build. The U46SV won’t exactly weigh you down if you’re carrying it in a bag all day, but we expected something a lot slimmer and lighter. Compared to the Sony VAIO S Series, this is a boxy beast.
We also aren’t massive fans of the Asus U46SV’s aluminium build, which feels strangely like plastic. The lid is especially weak, and bends in the centre under light pressure. Both the lid and the palm rests feature a circular pattern that looks cheap compared to the beautiful finish of the Zenbook.
Still, we can’t complain when it comes to the keyboard. The popular chiclet, or ‘isolation-style’, design means that keys are well spaced, which makes it perfect for touch-typists. The keys are a great size, with no tiny Shift or Return keys to spoil the party. Even the arrow keys get plenty of space, which is a welcome relief.
We also liked the smooth touchpad, which finds plenty of space to spread out across the Asus U46SV’s palm rests. The dedicated mouse buttons aren’t set too firmly and are a haven for grimy fingerprints, but they’re hugely preferable to those pesky integrated buttons.
For some reason, Asus built the U46SV with a jutting lip at the back, which prevents the lid from tilting back by more than 45 degrees. This makes it tricky to get a good view of the screen when this portable laptop is sat on your lap.
Thankfully the 14-inch display goes some way to rectifying this, with decent enough viewing angles. It’s also impressively bright, although blacks aren’t as deep as we’d like and images can occasionally look washed out. However, we still enjoyed watching high-definition movies and browsing our photo collection (holiday photos, not the other kind. Ahem).
Speaking of which, you can carry a large chunk of media around on the 500GB hard drive – over 100 HD films, or around a hundred thousand songs or photos. Only torrent fans should struggle to carry around their entire collections.
A five-in-one memory card reader can be used to boost storage space, or quickly copy your holiday snaps onto your laptop, ready to bore close friends and family. You also get VGA and HDMI ports for outputting to an external display, and three USB ports. One of those is USB 3.0, so you can quickly back up your files to a compatible hard drive.
Asus has also stuck an extra power button above the keyboard, for booting into its Express Gate OS. This gives you quick access to your media and the internet, booting up in mere seconds.
However, we still aren’t massive fans of the stripped-down user interface and limited functionality, and would rather wait the extra 20 seconds it takes to boot into Windows. Let’s face it, we’ve got nothing better to do with our time, except feed Doritos to the office gerbil.
You have built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi for hooking up to wireless internet networks and an Ethernet port if you prefer to trail cables across your lounge. You also get a built-in DVD drive, and in terms of features that’s about it.
We were surprised to see no more, but extras such as fingerprint scanners would probably go unused by most consumers anyway.
Cinebench ’10: 9816
3D Mark ’06: 8771
Battery Eater: 330 minutes
While we’re less than impressed by the build and looks of the Asus U46SV, we can’t deny that the laptop is stuffed with power. One of Intel’s latest Sandy Bridge chips, the Core i5 2410M, is ably backed up by 4GB of memory and is strong enough to run any number of applications at once.
The Cinebench score of 9,816 isn’t one of the best we’ve seen lately – that award goes to the Toshiba Qosmio X770, which managed a stupendous 17,063. However, we’re confident that even demanding users will get years of use from the Asus U46SV.
This laptop also caters to movie and music editors with its Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics card. You can run dedicated editing software without any kind of stuttering or issues, and even have a blast on modern games (although you’ll need to turn down detail levels on the more complex titles to keep a respectable frame rate).
If you’re more into watching movies than fiddling with them, you can enjoy HD video with smooth playback. We recommend plugging in some decent speakers or headphones, though. The Asus U46SV’s built-in efforts are tinny and, strangely, the sound seems to come from the right-hand side of the laptop instead of hitting you head-on.
Despite the excellent performance and dedicated GPU, the Asus U46SV somehow pulls off fantastic battery life. We test our laptops by looping an HD video on full brightness, with performance settings turned to max, which gives a good indication of the minimum life to expect. Most portable laptops manage less than three hours before dying, but the Asus U46SV lasted almost double that before the screen went black.
It’s a damn shame the body isn’t slimmer or lighter, or this would be one of the most portable laptops we’ve used in a long time.
After enjoying our time with the Asus U36JC, we really hoped that the Asus U46SV would be a worthy update, packing similarly strong performance into another light and slender chassis. However, when we pulled the U46SV from its box, it wasn’t quite what we expected.
We certainly weren’t disappointed with the performance. The Intel Core i5 Sandy Bridge processor can multitask with the best of them, while a dedicated Nvidia graphics card copes with video editing and gaming.
Despite the powerful components, you can still enjoy movies for almost six hours before the battery dies. This is one of the best results we’ve seen in a long time. Movies look good on the bright 14-inch screen, even if colours are occasionally saturated.
If you’d rather bash out a novel or chat with friends online, the firm isolation-style keyboard will keep you satisfied. You can store plenty of files on the 500GB hard drive, and you get a decent range of ports, including USB 3.0.
Performance impressed, but the build of the Asus U46SV is a letdown. While the Asus U36JC had a sleek ultra-portable body, this update has a chunkier chassis and weighs a meaty 2.3kg. It’s still portable, but we expected this laptop to be just as light, if not lighter.
We were also disappointed by the build quality. The lid flexes far too easily under pressure, and the design isn’t too appealing. There’s also a lack of exciting features.
While the Asus U46SV is powerful and its impressive battery life makes up in some part for the bulky build, we’d recommend holding off for the upcoming Asus Zenbook instead.