So I went with Asus, and it came yesterday. I've only been able to use it for a little while, so this review will be updated in the future as I get more experience.
I ordered from Portable One, the A8Js is their MX model. Order placement and customization was easy, and after about a week, it shipped, and arrived two days later. I haven't had to deal with them in any other way, as of yet.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that is came with a carrying case (which is nice, and has space for other things), and an optical mouse. I'm not sure if that is Asus or Portable One's doing, but it is certainly nice, and they are certainly good quality considering what I paid for them.
Build and Looks
One of my major apprehensions in buying the Asus was that I didn't like the look of it from pictures. The style just didn't appeal to me. Bu I must say, in person, it looks a lot better. The plastic feels very nice, it is not the cheap stuff I was afraid it would be made of. Also, it is a lot brighter and more pristine that I ever expected (at least now, before it's been scratched up). This it the first widescreen laptop I've owned, so I may be simply unused to it, but it seems very wide (imagine that). When closed, it appears to be not very deep compare to its width, and the screen seems panoramic. But again, this is my first widescreen laptop.
UPDATE: After getting familiar with the laptop, I find that I'm still impressed not so much by its width, but its width to depth ratio. It is not deep at all, which is actually nice and gives more desk space.
The computer has all the helpful static indicator lights, and some convenient buttons for turning on and off wireles, Bluetooth, as well as toggling some of the built in video and power mode changers that the computer comes with.
Much to my dismay, however, there is NO external volume control. You have to use Function + F11 or F12. Naturally, that means volume control only works when the operating system is being run. Thats a really annoying and stupid design flaw. And it sure was nice of them to throw in a little pre-startup jingle that you can't turn down on the fly.
The screen closes and opens just fine, no loose hinges, but the button for releasing catch is poorly designed. It is kind of imbedded on the lower part of the laptop, and it difficult to push in, you kind of have to use the side or your thumb, which is annoying.
Keys- No complaints here. They are quite, evenly spaced, good sized, and easy to press. My biggest complaint in this department is that the arrow keys are too tall and narrow, but I came from a laptop with especially short and wide keys, and I'm sure its just a matter of getting used to it, even if it is still a tad annoying.
Layout- For the most part it is normal, with some exceptions. The Fn and left Control keys switched, which is moderately annoying, and totally unnecessary. The Home, Page Up, Page Down, and End keys are arranged vertically, in that order (top down) on the right side of the laptop, above the right arrow key. I personally prefer that configuration on laptops, so I'm pleased, but its something to note for those who care or are used to something else.
Flex- This is something I never really noticed about keyboards until I read about it online. It has never bothered me, and I can't imagine the person who types so hard that they notice, but just for the heck of it: The keyboard does have some flex I guess, mainly on the left side, around the E key. It isn't noticeable or bad.
The touchpad feels the same as the rest of the body, and has very sleekly cut lines defining it. It has scroll wheel functionality on the right. The buttons are integrated into one big button, with no visual difference, but they work separately anyways.
When I first heard about this, I wasn't too happy, and thought it would bother me, but in practice, the touchpad feels very nice, and it is incredibly easy to use right and left click. I've had no troubles with the mouse and it's button(s) and have been liking it very much, even though I was expecting to be displeased with the smooth integration.
The natural sensitivity seems to be too low for the touchpad, which is only slightly bothersome.
The included drivers for the touchpad has a convenient feature of automatically turning off the touchpad when an external mouse is plugged in. Actually, that's probably pretty standard by now, but since I'm coming from an older laptop, it's a nice feature to me.
Also, as I said, it came with an external optical USB mouse anyways.
Noise and Heat (So far)
The noisy DVD drive problems you've heard about are completely true. It is loud for a drive runnin, and then it grinds, sounding at times like a steam locomotive, and sometimes it sounds like some rat DJ is inside it. It seems to work just fine, and a loud DVD drive is better than a loud anything else, but it is certainly odd and kind of annoying.
The fan is certainly quiet and not bothersome in normal use. I haven't noticed it pick up, but I haven't done many serious tasks yet.
I'm noticing that it is getting a little warm around the upper right corner of the touchpad area, and the palmrest areas I general are kind of toasty just typing, but it isn't annoying.
The DVD drive is noisy, but it isn't terrible. It does, however, noticably vibrate the laptop. There's no rattling or shaking, but when you put your hands on the palmrest, you can feel the internals vibrating. Once again, it doesn't seem bad enough to seriously worry about, but it is kind of annoying.
Update: After several reboots, a game installation, and some light gameplaying, there has been no excessive heat or noise issues.
When the game was being installed, the DVD drive was relatively loud, but it did not do the louder grinding sound I had heard earlier.
Update again: Another install, and more use, and I actually haven't even noticed the DVD drive again.
I'll be keeping an eye on noise and heat as I do more, use it longer, and do harder tasks.
I recently installed and started playing Star Wars Republic Commando. I ran perfectly well on full settings and a high (but not max, I haven't tried that yet) resolution. I really couldn't have asked for better performance, especially in a laptop. While playing, it ran so nice that I completely forgot that I shoudl probably be paying attention to how well it is running.
I've only played Empire at War a lttle bit, but I was running at max settings, perfectly. I never got into seriously heavy action, and I didn't experience all the possible environments (I played one space skirmish) however, but it ran great regardless.
I'll be adding more on this later.
2 million digits in 1 min 1 sec is damn good if you ask me.
I'm trying to download 3dMark now, so I should ahve some scores from them sometime soon.
Simply put, it's crappy. It's not bad really, but the speakers just don't sound good. They are pretty weak and sound pretty bad when they get load and there is a lot going on. They work just fine and get the job done, certainly, but they are very unimpressive. Part of the problem is that the holes for the speaker sounds to go through are not very well designed and placed. They are on the front of the bottom part of the laptop, which on this model is sloped to that the speakers point down (actually, on a nice surface the sound bounces back up, so it's not a huge issue. But the holes are odd little slivers that are not a particularly attractive part of the laptop.
I admit, I'm not acoustical engineer and can't really say how flawed the setup is or isn't, but the end result is mediocre sound.
Also, remember that the computer has no external volume, making for an unsatisfying although functional built in sound experience. Not that there aren't alternatives, I have some nice USB headphones with volume control and a mic that I wil probably use a lot anyways.
The computer comes with some neat software (called LifeFrame) that lets you do several cool camera effects, just enough to amuse you when you're bored I'd wager. The quality it meh, but no complaints at all for an integrated webcamera. Also, there is a mice right on the surface of the computer that easily enough picks up your voice when talking normally from a normal distance. Note also, you can still use the camera without the software, but you lose pretty much every feature.
Sample Webcam Pic1
Sample Webcam Pic2
Both are taken at the maximum resolution (800 X 600) and otherwise default settings. I didn't post them directly here because they're large, boring and kind of ugly.
After some preliminary activity, I was pleased. Today I spent a while figuring out which running processes I did and did not need. I was restarting the computer many times as I periodically tested to make sure that nothing was breaking as I disabled things. It was about an hour of frequent restarts, wireless on, and bluetooth enabled whenever I forgot to turn it off after a reboot. All on battery. After that, I installed the game Star-Wars Empire at War (fairly recent, 2 disc game). I patched it, and played it for about several minutes before I finally got critical battery alarm.
In total, it was about 1 hour and 40 minutes of battery life, with wireless on most of the time, bluetooth on some of the time, a full game installation, many reboots, and some game playing at max settings, and full screen brightness the entire time. I'm certainly pleased with that, myself.
I did another field test recently. I was doing some web-browsing with wireless for about an hour. Then I spent pretty much the rest of the time doing word processing, with wireless off. With Bluetooth off the entire time, and screen brightness turned down (less than half, enough to be clearly visible, but not bright), I got a total of 2 hours, 24 minutes until it hibernated at 5%.
That's not stellar for simple stuff like Word, but for me, anything better than 2 hours is good enough. It is different for everyone, but if you're really concerned with batterly life, I don't think this is the right computer, because you're probably looking for something very mobile, in which case the A8Js is a bigger and higher performance than you're looking for anyways.
The computer came with its share of "bloatware," but it could have been a lot worse. No spy or ad ware, no AOL, not nearly as much as there could have been. Most of the preinstalled stuff was Asus stuff that could actually be useful. There were only a few things that I flat out didn't want, or were weird apps I've never heard of, but most of it I actually considered keeping, because it was some useful utility (but I decided to get rid of them anyways because it simply wasn't worth the space).
That's another nice thing, it was simple to get rid of whatever was on there. I had no troubles getting rid of any of it. Also, it is extremely easy to get any of it back with the driver cd, no reformat necessary.
One piece of software that stood out was the Intel wireless stuff. It came with some components that were unnecessary, but the wireless button didn't work without some of it. In the end, I had to keep the basic wireless connection manager (even though I'd rather just use the windows interface) but I found that it was simple enough to simply disable, even though it had to be there.
Also, note to buyers: The internet will tell you that the Hcontrol process is an unecessary Asus process, but you can't use the keyboard (aka only) volume control without it. At the time I suspected this, I was too stupid to test the other function keys and built in buttons, but the volume is certain. In short, don't disable Hcontrol.
I don't generally consider Port Placement to be a very important factor, but they certainly did it right on this laptop. Close to the front on the left side, there are the mic/headphone jacks, firewire, and a USB port. Further back, is the DVD drive and the memory card reader. On the right side, there are 2 more USB ports and an infared port. In the back, there is the rest of the standard stuff, including secuirity hole, modem/ethernet ports, power, etc. Also, 2 more USB ports. Yeah, 5 total USB ports, all 2.0. Awesome.
I am having an interesting trouble with one of the USB ports, though. On the right side, the one closest to the front, doesn't seem to work with either of the two different optical mice I've tried. It does work, however, with my flash drive. I don't know what the deal is with that. But there are five frickin ports, so having troubles with one isn't really worrying me.
When the computer came, it had an awkward 60%/40% partition on the hard drive. One of the first things I did was reformat to get rid of it. The reformat process took an stupidly long amount of time. But after both recovery discs and the driver CD, it was back to exactly as it had come, with all the same apps installed, and the un-partition worked fine, thankfully.
UPDATE: I've updated a few sections a few times, and added stuff. The review is mostly complete now, but I'll be updating miscellaneous things as I use the computer more.