At A Glance
SideShow is one of the most intriguing features found in Microsoft Windows Vista because it lets any laptop manufacturer add a secondary display (ideally on the lid) for you to get quick access to your e-mail, photos, calendar information, and music files. And thats just scratching the surface. A year ago, the ASUS W5fe ($2,200 street)—an ultraportable—was deeply ingrained in everyones head when it debuted at a Microsoft event. It was officially announced at . Now its time for some hands-on testing (with the same system Microsoft demonstrated at CES).
The W5fes 3.9-pound frame fits the profile of an ultraportable. When you flip the cover open, youll find a gorgeous 12.1-inch widescreen, but the most compelling feature actually resides on the opposite side. Embedded in the outside of the lid is a 2.8-inch LCD, which is about the size of the Apple iPod (with video) screen, with the same 320-by-240 resolution. The screen is a full-color display, unlike the text-only SideShow display found on the Toshiba Portégé R400-S4931. There are a handful of physical controls next to the SideShow LCD, including a four-way navigation dial, and Enter, Back, and Menu buttons.
The concept of a secondary display on your laptop is simple: Imagine scrolling through your e-mail, calendar information, media files, and stock tickers without flipping the laptop cover open, or better yet, without even turning your system on. Both displays draw power from the same battery, but they can work independent of each other, hence the two separate power switches. The SideShow feature can be accessed from the Control Panel in Windows Vista, where youll find software “gadgets” that sync with the display. Both Windows Media Player and Windows Mail (successor to Outlook Express) are default gadgets that come with Windows Vista. You can get Outlooks Calendar gadget by installing Microsoft Office 2007 (with Outlook). The rest of the gadgets are either downloaded from Microsofts Web site or provided by the laptop manufacturer. Since Vista is still relatively new, there isnt much of a selection online. The three gadgets now available are free for download: a stock ticker, a picture viewer, and a webcam applet that captures stills from the W5fes integrated 1.3-megapixel camera.
Information for SideShow can be stored and accessed in two ways, either from the W5fes hard drive, which typically takes longer and involves caching, or directly from a flash component embedded into the system. The second way is a lot quicker, but you only have 1GB of storage space to work with. The flash component shows up as a separate drive in Windows Vista, and you treat it as you would any other flash drive. You can drag and drop MP3s and photos into the drive. The W5fe is preloaded with proprietary gadgets (created by PortalPlayer) that will play back music and photos and work optimally with the flash component. Gadgets such as Windows Media Player, Windows Mail, Outlook Calendar, and the stock ticker require the use of the hard drive, and you wont be able to access them if the system is shut down. Thats why, ideally, youll want to put the laptop to sleep. This helps you to access the gadgets that need the hard drive (you can set Vista to wake the laptop, say, every 5 minutes, to update the gadgets that rely on an Internet connection, such as e-mail and calendar).