This 14.1-inch wide-screen has 10 hot (shortcut) buttons built directly into the edges of the case. The five left-side buttons include a power button and CD playback controls. The notebook's speakers aren't very loud, but their front-mounted outlets let you close the lid while playing CDs.

The right-side buttons include separate Wi-Fi and Bluetooth controls, a Web site hot-key and a touchpad lock to help you avoid accidentally knocking the cursor/mouse while typing. To make the most of your time unplugged, you can use a fifth button to toggle easily between seven preset battery-saving modes based on activity, such as watching a DVD movie or performing word processing.

The W3V has a good keyboard with a touchpad and a dedicated scroll zone. The touchpad's buttons are large and easy to press.

Our unit came with an integrated DVD burner, which you can swap out in favor of other devices, including a hollow weight-saving module that comes in the box. With the weight saver inserted into its modular bay, the W3V weighs 5.1 pounds (versus 5.2 pounds with the drive inserted). Neither weight includes the power adapter.

Other modular bay options include a second hard disk or second battery (which would be useful for stretching your unplugged time beyond the below-average 2.6 hours the W3V lasted in our tests). Since the battery occupies the back of the notebook, most of the connections - including three USB 2.0 ports, a three-in-one card reader, and a FireWire port - sit on the sides.

I have a few minor complaints about the design. You have to tilt the notebook just right and squint to identify its status lights by their pale symbols. The eject button on the DVD burner, which is located on the drive's sloped left side is hard to find at first. And the out-of-the-way power button was somewhat annoying, though I got used to it once I tracked it down on the end of the screen hinge.

We haven't tested any other 1.86-GHz Pentium M 750 processor-based notebooks, but the W3V earned a very good Worldbench score of 89. A Lenovo ThinkPad T43 equipped with a 1.86-GHz Pentium M 745 processor scored 84.

The W3V is user-upgradable. One memory socket and the hard drive are located in easy-to-access bottom compartments. A second RAM socket, which came filled with 512Mbyte of memory in my test machine, lies under the keyboard but is still fairly easy to reach. You just remove a couple of bottom screws, flip three keyboard latches, and you're there. The Acrobat manual walks you through this and other upgrades, including the processor.

On the downside, Asus sells no docking stations for the W3V, so you're on your own with third-party USB port replicators.

The W3V's £946+VAT price doesn't include any productivity software (such as Microsoft Office), but a basic carrying case and a wireless mouse come in the box.

OUR VERDICT

This lightweight wide-screen model's solid performance and its easy-to-use keyboard and touchpad are highlights, but subpar battery life cramps its style.