There's a reason they don't make station wagons with wood-grain panels these days...
In this world of dime-a-dozen laptops, it’s tough getting your latest lappy to stand out on crowded store shelves. Manufacturers are running out of gimmicks to catch the eye. Pink cases look like wannabe Macs, facial recognition is so July 2008, and fingerprint scanners are as ubiquitous as space bars. Some bright spark at ASUS, who was obviously a fan of the station wagon in the Brady Bunch, came up with a rather unique idea. Why not wrap a laptop in bamboo instead of plastic, thus lending it an eco-friendly image? Not only does your run-of-the-mill laptop now have the thumbs up from David Suzuki, it’s also a fashionable centrepiece that won’t look out of place on your $6,000 carbon fibre coffee table. The result is the ASUS U6V-2P048G, which we’ll simply refer to as the Bamboo.
Being a bunch of computer nerds who think Thundercats T-shirts are pretty cool, it was obvious we weren’t the best folks to judge the merits of this laptop’s aesthetic direction. Enter the girlfriend and her posse. The author’s better half, plus two friends, are all addicted to shoes, handbags, Sex in the City and other fashiony things that men don’t understand. It was only natural to get them to cast their discerning eyes over this notebook’s wooden exterior. Sadly for ASUS, if these girls are anything to go by, the Bamboo needs some serious cosmetic surgery. Two of the three immediately disliked it, with the third saying “the outside looks pretty, but why did they use that yucky wood stuff on the inside bits”. Yes, very technical feedback indeed, but damning all the same. Now that the beauty pageant part of the review is over, let’s dig into the meaty, boy bits.
We were very interested in the physical side-effects of using such a flexible material instead of plastic or metal. As expected, the result is a relatively flexible notebook. The screen area twists very easily, even when measured up against the lightest of plastic notebooks. Thankfully the main body of the notebook remains nice and rigid, due to its metal frame. The bamboo’s heat dissipating properties seem equal to plastic, with the base getting slightly warm to the touch, but not overly so.
Using wood within the touchpad might not have been the smartest idea. While it feels invitingly smooth and warm to the touch, it lacks the necessary conductivity or sensitivity to function as a touch pad. In other words, we’d rather run our fingers over a cheese grater all day than be forced to use this inaccurate, hellish pointing device. The mouse cursor seemed to operate as if it had a mind of its own. Don’t even get us started on the touchpad buttons, which required extremely heavy presses to register. We were perplexed to read a recent local review and not see a single mention of this touchpad from hell. Perhaps they used a mouse. Unlike the touchpad, the keyboard is very pleasing on the fingertips. As mentioned previously, the entire case is quite rigid, so there’s very little keyboard flex, and all of the keys are placed intelligently.
By now you can probably tell we’re not sold on the Bamboo concept. But forgetting about this notebook’s penchant to look like a Panda’s snack, what about the rest of its components? Well, considering the rather high price tag, it’s a little surprising to see that ASUS has decked the Bamboo out with mid-range components.
Intel’s PM45 chipset houses a Core 2 Duo CPU clocked at 2.53GHz, which is the motherboard/CPU combo of choice for most mid-range laptops. NVIDIA’s 9300M GS video chipset – another in-vogue component for machines that balance price and performance – provides moderate processing power for games. It’s ample for HD video though, which is where the Bamboo’s HDMI output might come in handy. 2GB of memory helps keep Vista Premium responding in a timely fashion, but we’d have preferred a faster drive than the 5,400RPM sloth within. At least the onboard WiFi is high end, supporting all formats including N, and there’s an e-SATA port as well.
The screen is perfectly adequate, at 12.1” and WXGA resolution. Yet for the price, we expected at least 14” of display real estate. A side effect of the smaller screen is a smaller form factor though, which has led to a low weight. At only 1.57kg, the Bamboo is extremely lightweight.
Note that this lower weight is when using a three cell battery; the bamboo ships with a six cell version as well. Using the larger battery, which adds another couple of hundred grams to the weight, we were extremely impressed with the machine’s battery life. We managed to get almost three and a half hours of DVD playback when using the six cell unit, so it’s entirely plausible that you’ll get six or seven hours when using productivity applications.
Overall performance of the Bamboo was middle of the road thanks to its 2.53GHz CPU, 2GB of memory and sluggish hard drive. With a PC Mark score of 3467, even ASUS’s own F8VA beats the bamboo (at 3947), and is a grand cheaper (but also a kilo heavier). Taking all of the components and features into account, we can’t help but come to the conclusion that buried within this unique, wooden exterior lays a $2,000 notebook.
The bamboo is an interesting experiment in notebook building, using a material we’d never expected to see in a laptop. Sadly, based on our expert committee of fashionistas, combined with our tinkering under the wood, the Bamboo is best left as an experiment rather than your new laptop. A select few, who absolutely must have a laptop that looks totally unlike all others, might buy the Bamboo just to be different, but for the rest of us, it’s not a very wood, errr, good buying decision.