by Anton Shilov
03/25/2004 | 01:21 PM
The Internet and multimedia have indisputably redefined the way we use personal computers and the way we treat our mobile gadgets. In the past many generations of personal digital assistants as well as notebook computers were not able to connect to the Internet, but were still considered as valuable devices by all end-users. Now that we have cell phones with Wi-Fi capabilities, there is hardly a point to get other mobile devices without capability to connect to the global network on the run.
Broad set of capabilities available in today’s mobile computers is not a lot behind of contemporary personal computers. For instance, there are notebooks with the latest processors, chipsets as well as graphics cards. However, regardless of technology perfection, there is always a trade-off between capabilities, performance, size, battery time and price. If the trade-off is viable, the product becomes a success among customers, if not, no would be impressed.
Our today’s guest – ASUS S5200NE is an example of ultimate convergence between the power of Intel Centrino technology and design skills of ASUSTeK Computer – one of the largest computer hardware makers on the planet.
For about $1500 you are going to get a notebook that may be a bit behind other models in terms of expansion capabilities and performance, but that is very light, compact, comfortable, reliable, fast and stylish. Besides, at the end you are going to find out that this 12.1” laptop that weigh only about 1.3 kilograms is able to accomplish every single task a larger notebook can. However, ASUS S5200NE is so light that you will be able to easily carry it with you almost everywhere in contrast to more powerful mobile computers. Is ASUS S5200NE a viable solution for business on the run? Read further!
As you probably understood from the introduction, ASUS S5200NE is a notebook based on Intel Centrino technology featuring an Intel Pentium M microprocessor, an Intel core-logic and an Intel WLAN adapter.
ASUSTeK Computers supplies a number of computers with different configuration within the S5200-series laptops, though, there are two major notebook models in the family: S5200N and S5200NE. The former comes in black body and builds in Intel Pentium M processor at 1.40GHz, 1.50GHz, 1.60GHz or 1.70GHz; the latter – ASUS S5200NE – is white and is based on Ultra Low Voltage Pentium M 1.0GHz processor. There are no substantial differences between S5200N and S5200NE notebooks apart from those mentioned.
It is pretty evident that the S5200N is intended mostly for those, who value performance of their mobile computers, while the S5200NE is extremely stylish and will be an astonishing choice for those looking for a beautiful notebook, even not very powerful one. Personally I prefer to have a stylish gadget rather than a fast one, as I do not play games and my tasks do not require a lot of computing power. Furthermore, the S5200N weighs 1.35 kilograms, while the S5200NE’s weight is just 1.28 kilograms. While 70 grams is certainly not a lot, that is a weight of a conventional mobile phone.
There are not a lot of white notebooks on the market, the only brand I can remember instantly is Apple, but they are pretty expensive and some do not like them, even though a number of their models definitely deserve a close look.
Let us go to precise specifications of the ASUS S5200NE notebook we have for the review:
As you see, there is everything needed for successful operation. The most notable drawback is absence of Bluetooth support – you will either have to get a PCMCIA Bluetooth controller, or a USB Bluetooth dongle. The lack of FDD and IR may also probably be considered as disadvantages, however, given that both are replaced with something more reliable, fast and comfortable, you probably should not worry about this.
The ASUS S5200NE notebook came in with Windows XP Home Edition and all appropriate drivers installed. Basically, this allows to start working on this computer right after it is unpacked from the box. There is still need to install additional software, such as Microsoft Office, ICQ messenger, etc, but it is easy enough to do this on a computer that is up and running
Following ASUS’ best traditions, the S5200NE is bundled with some additional software and other stuff you may need.
ASUS includes a small radio frequency mouse with its S5200N and S5200NE notebooks. Those of you who use large mice from companies like Microsoft would probably find this one not very comfortable, but at the end of the day this mouse is still more convenient to use than the touchpad. Therefore, this is probably an advantage of ASUS S5N series.
Thing that is not very comfortable is that the receiver of the mouse is not built-in, but should be plugged-in manually. One may dislike an object that sticks out of his or her notebook. But in this case they may use touchpad. Personally, I liked the mouse and how it works.
The ASUS S5200N and S5200NE notebooks are so small that no optical drives can fit inside them. Historically quite a lot of thin and light notebooks were not equipped with CD or DVD ROMs at all, what was a big problem but ASUS found a pretty logical way to solve this issue – to bundle a slim and light CD-RW/DVD-ROM with its notebooks.
The external combo-drive works absolutely flawlessly, it reads compact disks and DVDs, it can write and rewrite CDs with no problems. ASUS supplies Nero 5 as well as InCD software for writing and re-writing CDs along with ASUS DVD XP software to play DVD movies.
External drive may also be considered as a not very comfortable thing – you have to plug it in to set it work. But on the other hand, the external drive that weighs only 250 grams is so small that you can carry it everywhere in the bag without noticing it. This is probably a very nice thing about ASUS’ external drive designed exclusively for S5 series, as it can be always with you, while your notebook will still be extremely thin and light.
Competing solutions from IBM, such as x40 series also come without optical drives and require docking station with such feature. Docking station costs more and cannot be taken with you, therefore, probably ASUS’ approach is more viable.
Anyway, people, who demand Internet, text writing, WLAN and style do not run CDs always on the run, do they?
I do not know why, but the vast majority of cases for notebooks that are available in Tallinn, Estonia, are made of cloth. Not that I do not like cloth at all, but I would prefer to have a bag made of leather, as it looks better and is more practical when it rains or in winter (believe me, it rains a lot here!). Obviously, to pay extra money for a case that does not necessarily suit your needs if you live in a country where it rains pretty often, is not a good thing. Moreover, you would not like to pay extra money for anything, would you? :)
For all customers who would not like to pay additional $50-$100-$200 for a bag made of cloth ASUS includes a case that is at least on par with others and is also supposed to be more or less waterproof. It is probably a good bag, especially if it does not rain much in your region. If it does, it would be more logical to get a waterproof bag.
The carrying case allows to store the ASUS S5200N or S5200NE laptop itself, its adapter, external CD-RW/DVD-ROM, mouse, some CDs and some other stuff. This is probably a capacious bag.
If you would still like to get another bag for your notebook, ASUS includes another cover made of special material to protect your notebook against scratches, dirt, dust, etc. Probably a very good thing about this notebook – I really liked that additional cover.
ASUS packs quite a lot of extra software with its PC components. After observing the bundle of the notebook we can say that the same applies to its notebooks as well.
In addition to recovery CDs, drivers and Nero 5, ASUS includes Power Direct Pro ME, Media@ Show SE 2.0 from Cyberlink as well as ASUS DVD XP software with its notebooks. It is not very likely that one of you use video editing software on a mobile PC, though, looks like ASUS thinks a bit different.
On the whole ASUS’ product bundle makes, as always, very good impression. You get nearly everything what you may need to start working right out of the box, even bags to carry your notebook.
Design is a big advantage of ASUS S5200NE. As mentioned above, there are very few white notebooks on the market, as a result, once you see the S5200NE in a store, you will surely notice the difference between it and other laptops. Moreover, rounded corners and silver parts make this notebook a fabulous choice for a woman, or a young who demands to have a stylish computer.
Even power button of the notebook is not traditional – it shines with space blue light. One thing you have to note about the button is that it can be pressed too easily. Probably you have to keep it in mind when working so not to turn your PC accidentally.
Unfortunately, black mouse and external optical drive may not necessarily match the white notebook very well, this is something ASUS’ designers need to work on further.
Let’s take a look at the devices and connectors located at the sides of the notebook.
Due to size constraints, you will find nothing on the front of ASUS S5200NE except closing clip and will only discover power-in and Kensington lock on the back panel of the notebook.
All input/output ports are located on the left and right edges of the notebook. On the left you will see PCMCIA, FireWire, USB 2.0 as well as LAN and phone line connectors.
On the right edge of the S5200NE there are 2 USB 2.0 ports, D-sub connector, flash memory card reader, microphone input as well as headphone output. There is also a power connector for the external optical drive.
Once you open the notebook, you notice four LEDs, a speaker and a microphone. LEDs indicate HDD, WLAN activity as well as battery power.
Speaker is good enough to play windows sounds, but if you are interested in music or movies you should use headphones or external speakers. Microphone is certainly not among the best I have ever seen, but is probably something you would expect from a device of this kind. Anyway, to use services like Skype it would be more logical and comfortable to get a Bluetooth dongle and headset, rather than to utilise build-in speaker and mic.
The display of ASUS S5200NE is nice for a display of a thin and light notebook. The backlight lamps are pretty bright, but the viewing angles have some issues because even a small deflection from the center of the screen makes the colours fade away. Though, this does not really affect the process of working, while playing games on such machine is not a common task.
In general, notebooks are not as comfortable as desktops. However, in the recent years other good sides of mobile computers started to force out difficulties with their ergonomics. Notebook manufacturers also began to pay more attention to improving usability of their products.
Unlike other makers of notebooks and some keyboards, the vast majority of keyboards featured on ASUSTeK’s laptops do not have “thin” keys. All keys are big and are very comfortable to use. You will hardly achieve speed of typing on a desktop PC (provided that you have a good keyboard) on your ASUS S5200NE notebook, but you will almost surely be able to type fast.
There are no “quick-launch” buttons on the notebook, however, there is a way to substitute them. There is “Fn” (function) key located in the lower left corner of the notebook. By pressing it along with F1 to F12 keys users can control certain functions:
Using such functionality is pretty easy. Once pressed, a special icon emerges on the screen and allows you to control what you are doing.
There is ASUS’ proprietary Power4Gear button in the upper left corner above the keyboard. By pressing it you regulate performance, power consumption and battery life of your notebook. Generally speaking, this is a nice capability, as it allows to better control your computer without any special utilities.
As we mentioned in one of our previous issues, the ASUS Power4 Gear has 4 profiles:
Max Performance and High Performance modes are available for the user when the notebook works from the wall outlet. When the notebook is powered by the battery, you can enable only three modes, save for Max Performance. The utility also allows creating your own power consumption profiles, so the Power4 Gear technology is quite valuable.
The standard battery of ASUS S5200NE has a capacity of 24WHr. ASUS believes that the notebook works about 2.8 hours in Max Power Saving mode with this battery pack.
Noise factor of the S5200NE notebook is definitely not an issue. The external drive does not generate a lot of noise or vibration, while internal cooler of the ASUS S5200NE turns on only when the computer performs resource-consuming tasks. The cooler generates neither a lot of noise nor substantial vibration, therefore, if you watch MPEG4 films with headphones, there is no point to worry about vibration and noise.
While the number of connectivity options seems to be enough, I wish there were more USB 2.0 ports. In case you use a mouse, a Bluetooth dongle and external optical drive, there would be no USB ports left. While Bluetooth solves the problem of communication with PDAs and advanced mobile phones, you may still want to use an external keyboard or connect a cell phone without Bluetooth to your ASUS S5200NE computer, but that will cause a difficulty if you do not have an USB 2.0 hub.
Nowadays it is pretty clear that personal computer without Internet is not a really useful thing for modern business. Today you have to use the most up to date information and get it as quickly as possible.
ASUS S5200NE incorporates 56K modem, 10/100Mbps Ethernet as well as Wireless LAN controller for 802.11b networks. Is it enough? In case you work only at home or office – certainly it is. But in case you travel a lot or want to have Internet from all possible locations you should pay attention to computers with built-in GSM-GPRS modules or Bluetooth adapter to connect your mobile phone to your PC without any wires.
ASUS S5200NE has neither Bluetooth connectivity nor GSM-GPRS capability. This may be easily solved if you get a PCMCIA or USB Bluetooth dongle or adapter. When acquiring such hardware, make sure it works with your mobile phone, as not all Bluetooth dongles work with modern SonyEricsson and Nokia phones.
Upgrade and performance is probably something not very important about a thin and light notebook. No one would upgrade such machine and I do not think one would use it for 3D games.
After a number of considerations I decided to skip performance tests of the notebook because of absence of practical need for them. Obvious competitor for ASUS S5200NE is IBM X40 series that is absent in our labs. Other ASUS’ notebooks with more powerful processors, more memory and faster HDDs offer indisputable higher speeds in benchmarks, but given that notebooks are intended for not really demanding office applications, advantages in benchmarks may not reflect additional comfort when working.
ASUS S5200NE allows upgrading processor, memory and HDD. All those components can be accessed pretty easily.
ASUS S5200NE notebook is enough fast for office applications and enough light for computing on the run. It features loads of connectivity and communication options, including USB, FireWire, PCMCIA, 802.11b, 10/100Mbps Ethernet, 56K modem and is able to work right out of the box.
Generally speaking, the notebook has everything end-user may demand from it with exception for Bluetooth and GSM-GPRS.
ASUS S5200NE has some upgrade capabilities, including CPU, memory and HDD. More importantly, ASUS sells additional battery packs that allow the 5200NE to work as long as 7 or more hours without recharging, quite serious working time.
Style and white colour is probably a yet another strong side of this notebook, which I personally adore. ASUS S5200NE proved its perfection right on the “battlefield” – during the CeBIT 2004 in Hannover, Germany. With that said I confess that ASUS S5200NE is a choice of an X-bit labs editor and should be treated accordingly: