ASUS F8VA: who’s this for again?

Shoehorning the ASUS F8VA into one predefined category is a little tricky. It’s got the smaller dimensions of a road warrior’s notebook. But before you lock it up in the office the Blu-ray drive and HDMI output beg you to plug it into your projector and surround sound system. Just as you’re about to get cosy with the latest Bond flick the fingerprint sensor and face recognition software both suggesting high-level corporate security tug at your guilt strings and you remember you’ve really got to get some work done before Monday morning. Back to the study it is then. While you’re there you notice the above average graphics chipset CPU and memory should easily churn through a few rounds of Counterstrike. Whatever is the F8VA owner to do? But is this laptop a jack of all trades yet a master of none?

Considering the screen is only 14.1in across it’s no surprise that as a whole this laptop initially seems quite briefcase friendly. Based on the screen size we don’t blame you for thinking it’d be fine for the occasional interstate business trip. But this small screen belies a fairly deep case of almost 4cm. As a result it’s not the lightest 14.1in-equipped laptop we’ve seen at a touch over two and a half kilograms. And then there’s the battery life. Giving up the ghost only 66 minutes into our DVD play test it’s obvious that there’s just not enough grunt for more than a couple of hours of Word and internet browsing. The weight and battery life combine to create a laptop that will scrape by for emergency outings but is better left indoors.

As a desk-bound productivity PC the speedy components within make this a multi-tasking monster. Both cores of the Intel Core 2 Duo 9400 CPU zip by at a speedy 2.53GHz and when paired up with a whopping 4GB of RAM and Intel’s spritely PM45 chipset deliver a platform that can quite happily run Excel Word a Virus scan and even your media player all at once without breaking a sweat. When the boss isn’t looking it’s also fine for firing up all but the most demanding of PC games. Make sure you don’t try to enable all the bells and whistles with a silly level of anti-aliasing and it’ll masquerade as a mid-level gaming laptop nicely.

As a media player this laptop has the goods for even the most discerning Egbert wannabe. There’s the aforementioned Blu-ray player which won’t go to waste thanks to the HDMI output. Unfortunately there’s no optical out but there is a 3.5mm S/PDIF output – you’ll just need to ensure your amp will work with the necessary adaptor. Unlike my rubbish $1500 Samsung/Blu-ray combo job which only accepts an optical TOSLINK signal…

There’s another nice touch to this laptop’s multimedia side – a TV tuner and Vista Ultimate combo. HDTV viewing is just a tap of the included remote away though it does have its limitations. The tuner is limited to a single tuner so there’ll be no fancy dual recording or even watching another channel while recording your partner’s favourite on another channel.

And yet all of this multimedia functionality is let down by a feature we mentioned right at the start – the 14.1in screen. If you’re going to have a Blu-ray drive and TV tuner wouldn’t you think that this would have at least a 15in screen? Sure you can get around it via the HDMI output and a snazzy LCD screen but we’d have loved a bigger screen. It’s a nice screen though with great contrast and decent viewing angles; and it also includes the obligatory webcam on the top edge. This is mounted on a swivel mount allowing you to… well we’re still not sure when you’d ever swivel it the other way but it’s a nice feature to have just in case.

We’ve already touched on the weight of this laptop and it’ not just due to the heavy-duty components within. The case feels very rugged with very little flex of the keyboard or screen. A single hinge is used to attach the screen to the case but it’s almost the full width of the keyboard so won’t be breaking anytime soon. The keyboard is nice and large but lacks a dedicated numpad due to the small dimensions. The keys have the usual amount of travel with a soft yet firm feel. This comfort sadly doesn’t extend to the touchpad which has horribly stiff buttons. There are a wide range of outputs on the case with five USB 2.0 ports Express Card VGA audio out microphone in IEEE 1394 Ethernet Modem and even one E-SATA. Combined with the HDMI port the result is a laptop that can handle an impressive array of connections.

Nestled between the touchpad buttons is a fingerprint sensor but that’s not the only nod to James Bond in its security suite. The webcam can be used as a facial recogniser – just grin and say hi to log in to Windows. It worked fairly well recognising our ugly mug with a minimum of fuss. Unfortunately it also recognised a photo on our phone as our face so we wouldn’t trust it to guard your latest ICBM plans.

It should be obvious by now that the F8VA is capable of dual duties; desktop replacement and media machine alike. But the sad fact is that it doesn’t excel at either. As a desktop machine the price is too high and it’s too heavy to take on the road. The battery won’t last the trip either. Yet as a multimedia machine it needs a bigger screen to make the most of the Blu-ray drive and speedy processing power. However if you need a laptop that spends equal time in both the study and the lounge room overlooking these minor flaws shouldn’t be too hard if it saves you from buying two separate machines.