A built-in, swiveling Webcam highlights the Asus W5A. This small, off-white laptop shows its stuff on a 12.1-inch WXGA wide screen, and the entire notebook weighs just 3 pounds without its power adapter. You can record video or snap stills at all angles using the adjustable lens, which is mounted in a small chrome frame built into the top edge of the screen.
The capture software, LifeFrame, is elegant and powerful compared with the bare-bones apps that come with most camera-equipped laptops; it includes features such as interval and motion-detection shooting and a 3X digital zoom, and it even has a sepia-effect setting. As with most built-in PC cameras, picture resolution is low, just 352 by 288 pixels in this instance. The camera is easy to use. Just press one of the three shortcut buttons on the right-side screen frame. Along with activating the lens and launching the capture software, they turn on the microphone for recording sound with your video, let you take a snapshot, or zoom. Snapshots appear onscreen as thumbnails that you can drag into e-mail messages and other locations. A blue LED indicates that the camera is on.
Even without considering the camera, the $1749 W5A is impressively equipped overall, featuring a three-in-one memory card reader stacked above a left-side, fixed multiformat DVD burner and a FireWire port, plus an S-Video out port and three USB 2.0 ports. A status panel handily located on the front edge uses easy-to-read bright blue icons. Both short- and long-range wireless communications are covered with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
The W5A's native resolution of 1280 by 768 pixels results in icons we found readable, if a tad small, on the 12-inch wide screen. Movies are letterboxed, as on most laptops, but the AsusDVD software does give you two options to banish the pesky bars by choosing either a pan and scan option or zooming into the picture. Crispness suffers (especially when zooming to the limit of nine times), but at least you have a choice. The laptop's tinny-sounding stereo speakers, embedded in the lower frame of the screen, are no great shakes. However, we liked the handy right-side volume jog.
The small, firm keyboard didn't disappoint us. Despite slightly undersized right-shift and backspace keys, typing was easy. So was using the small white-skinned touchpad with the no-gap mouse buttons. The W5A's PowerGear 4 button, located at the top of the keyboard next to the Wi-Fi switch, lets you toggle between eight different power-saving modes. We didn't formally test the power savings, but it seemed to work well--lowering screen brightness when appropriate, for instance. It's fun to use, too.
The rear-mounted battery, which juts from the back of the unit by about three-quarters of an inch, lasted 3.6 hours on one charge, about average among all sizes of laptops we've evaluated at the PC World Test Center. In our speed test, the 1.7-GHz Pentium M 735-equipped W5A earned a WorldBench 5 score of 76, some 5 points shy of the Sony VAIO VGN-A190's score of 81; the difference is not statistically significant. (We consider this VAIO a good general benchmark for ultraportables.)
Note: Shortly after our testing was completed, Asus discontinued use of the 1.7-GHz Pentium M 735 processor for this model. It is now available with the 1.7-GHz Pentium M 740, which we have not tested in the W5A. For this reason, we could not consider including it in the June Top 15 Notebook PCs chart.
The motherboard holds 256MB of RAM; in our test system, another 256MB was installed in the single memory slot, which is easily reached by removing two small screws from a cover in the hard metallic bottom of the laptop. Unusual for a three-pound portable, the hard drive is also user-accessible. The W5A's drive is located in a separate bottom compartment behind a panel held in by a few screws.
The W5A comes with a printed manual and a thorough Acrobat-based manual (although the latter has no links, making it difficult to search-navigate. Two black carrying cases-- a full-size nylon one and a soft slip-on--are included.
Lightweight and fully equipped with a DVD burner and an S-Video-out port, the 3-pound W5A goes one step further than most ultraportables with a basic PC camera.
WorldBench 5 score of 76, 1.7-GHz Pentium M 735, 512MB of DDR2-400 SDRAM, Windows XP Home, 12.1-inch screen, 40GB hard drive, DVD-ROM and CD-RW combo drive, built-in V.92 modem and 10/100 ethernet, Bluetooth, 802.11g, touchpad pointing device, 4.9-pound weight (including AC adapter and phone cord). One-year parts and labor warranty, 8-hour weekday toll-free support.