Genuine Bovine Beauty
The ASUS U2E definitely sits apart from other notebooks when it comes to external appearance. Fundamentally, you're still using a laptop, but as companies like Apple have proven repeatedly, appearance can be the difference between an average consumer electronics device and the next great must-have item. So what does ASUS do that people haven't seen a thousand times before? It's quite simple: they surface the top of the laptop and the wrist pads with genuine leather.
Is that enough to grab the attention of potential customers? Perhaps not, but it's not difficult to imagine an executive with a nice leather office taking one look at the U2E and deciding that it's the perfect new laptop. It's also available in brown or black leather, so it should have no problem blending in with most conservative offices (or perhaps car interiors). The leather inlays are not just a quick hack job either. ASUS states that they hand select the leather pieces that will be used on their notebooks.
ASUS continues the executive motif with polished stainless steel accents. They even go so far as to state that the hinge between the LCD and the main laptop is "inspired by a masterpiece cufflink". Mere hyperbole or can they back up these lofty claims? We'll let you be the judge, but we personally think this is a very nice looking laptop.
One of the big problems with small laptops is the keyboard. Some people are able to adapt easier to laptop keyboards than others, but there's definitely a limit to how small you can make a keyboard before you sacrifice maximum typing speed. ASUS definitely passed that boundary with their Eee PC; personally, I found my typing speed cut in half on the Eee PC. It's amazing what a big difference a few extra inches makes. (Ed: Despite claims to the contrary, size does matter!)
The U2E doesn't quite have a full-size keyboard, but the key size and spacing is so close to normal that it's difficult to tell the difference. After a short time spent with the laptop on a regular basis, I was able to type at 80 to 90% of my normal speed. Users who are happy with ergonomic "natural" keyboards (like myself) will still likely experience some discomfort using the keyboard for extended periods of time, but in trying to strike a balance between size and usability, the 11.1" chassis is about as small as you can comfortably go before you encounter serious difficulties with keyboard size.
Besides the size and spacing of the keys, the overall keyboard layout is very good. All of the keys are exactly where I like them to be on a laptop, although opinions differ on where exactly the Fn key belongs relative to the control key. You will need to use an Fn key combination in order to access the Home/End/PgUp/PgDn keys, but short of making all of the keys smaller or increasing the size of the chassis there's no good way around that requirement.