PC

Portability and good looks come at a price

AsusPro says its B9440 feels like a 13-inch model, despite having a 14-inch screen, because of the ultra-thin bezel.
AsusPro says its B9440 feels like a 13-inch model, despite having a 14-inch screen, because of the ultra-thin bezel.PHOTO: ASUS

AsusPro takes radical step of removing the Web camera from its B9440 business laptop

Can we make it thinner, smaller or cheaper? Driven by these three ever-present market forces, gadget makers often end up making tradeoffs, to the extent of ditching staple features to make way for new ones. A recent example that comes to mind is Apple removing the headphone jack from the iPhone 7.

AsusPro takes a similar approach with its latest B9440 business laptop. It does not have a Web camera, which seems like a strange decision to me, as it means you would need an additional external Web camera for tasks such as video conferencing. However, companies with more stringent security practicesmay welcome this move.

The Web camera was removed to accommodate the ultra-thin bezel on the B9440's 14-inch display. It is a radical move. Other PC makers have sidestepped this by relocating the Web camera instead of removing it. For instance, Dell moved it to the bottom bezel of its XPS 13 ultrabook, which also has a near- bezel-free screen.

AsusPro says the B9440 feels like a 13-inch model, despite having a 14-inch screen, because of the ultra-thin bezel. Its magnesium-alloy chassis is certainly very portable at just over 1kg, though LG's Gram ultrabook has a similar heft even with a 15-inch screen.

Because the lid is longer than the laptop base, the backlit keyboard becomes elevated at an angle when you flip open the lid. The slight tilt makes typing more comfortable, especially with the decent key travel. However, the touchpad feels slippery, which makes it tricky for tasks that require precision, like highlighting a phrase.

A potential thorny issue for business users is that the B9440 has just two USB Type-C ports (no Thunderbolt 3 support) and an audio jack. These Type-C ports can be used to charge the laptop, though only the left port doubles as a DisplayPort.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $2,988

    PROCESSOR: Intel Core i7-7500U (2.7GHz)

    GRAPHICS: Intel HD Graphics 620

    RAM: 16GB

    SCREEN SIZE: 14 inches, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

    CONNECTIVITY: 2 x USB 3.0 Type-C, audio jack

    BATTERY: 48 watt-hour

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 3/5

    DESIGN: 3/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 2/5

    OVERALL: 3/5

Bundled with the laptop is a dongle with HDMI and USB Type-A ports, though those who need more connectors, such as LAN, SD card reader and other display outputs, can try the Asus SimPro dock ($269).

I initially mistook the laptop's fingerprint sensor for the power button, as it was located at the top right-hand corner. The power button is actually found right below the sensor. Unlocking with my finger takes a couple of seconds, which is faster than typing a password.

The B9440 has the latest Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB of RAM. It scored 2,844 in the PCMark 8 Home benchmark that tests common computing tasks such as Web browsing and photo-editing. This result is comparable to that of other similarly configured ultrabooks.

In our video-loop battery life test, the B9440 lasted 5hr 15min, which is decent enough, but falls short of other ultrabooks.

•Verdict: The AsusPro B9440 favours portability and looks over functionality, which may not suit its target audience.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2017, with the headline 'Portability and good looks come at a price'. Print Edition | Subscribe