Asus Bamboo U53JC
Bamboo is a cool material: it looks good, reduces our use of plastics and is ecologically sound because bamboo is a sustainably renewable source. It's used for the lid and wrist rest for this new 15-inch display laptop from Asus. Asus has made laptops with bamboo before and this return gives us another chance to take a gander at the eco-friendly material.
At first glance, there's something slightly outdated about the smooth wooden-looking covering, like a half-timbered house. At least the mouse pad is styled to match the rest of the wrist rest area, complete with one long bambooish strip that works as left and right mouse buttons. A neat chrome ridge defines the edge between the trackpad and mouse bar. Outdated or not, the laptop looks good: strikingly different and pleasant to touch, though the manufacturer's claim that it is reminiscent of designer furniture may be a little rich.
It's not light, mind, so although it doesn't sport a super-large display - it's a 15-incher - you might want to use it as a desktop replacement rather than a lug-anywhere portable. The display isn't especially high resolution at 1366 x 768 pixels.
The keyboard that sits above the bamboo strip is comfortable enough to use, with widely spaced keys and room for an extended keyboard - as a result the trackpad is slightly off centre, below the space bar.
The power button is a small chrome bar that sits (as you'd expect) at the top right of the keyboard. Top left, meanwhile, is the Express Gate option which loads up in around 10 seconds and gives you basic functions - internet access - for instance. This increasingly popular option is clever and a handy extra feature. Annoyingly, to power the machine down again requires mousing to the bottom right of the screen - couldn't the chrome Express Gate key default to instantly shut it off?
Connections are good, and even include one USB 3.0 for much faster data transfer speeds, to accompany the 2x USB 2.0 ports, VGA, Ethernet, and headphone and mic jacks. There is no sign of HDMI however. On the wireless front you get Wi-Fi b/g/n and Bluetooth.
The machine also promises to perform well - Asus claims CPU performance is boosted by 11 per cent and battery life extended to over 10 hours - because of its Super Hybrid Engine which aims to monitor processing loads and adjust the power used. The processor of choice is a 2.27GHz Intel Core i5, with 4G RAM.
Whatever the claims, it certainly feels nippy enough, helped along by a speedy graphics card, the Nvidia G310M. And in our tests the battery did go on and on, presumably because the engine is smart enough to realise that you don't need the graphics card working full tilt when you're just typing a document, say, thanks to Nvidia Optimus technology onboard.
Do you need bamboo in your computing life? Probably not, but it looks swell. And although there's certainly a premium to be paid for the inclusion of bamboo here, the specs and styling are classy enough to have pushed the price pretty much up there anyway. And those specs mean this is a nippy, enjoyable-to-use laptop with a lot going for it. If it were lighter or smaller (there is a 13-inch screen version) then this would be a cool-looking, stylish portable. As it is, it still looks good but you might want to keep it on your desk.