Friday, April 15, 2011

ASUS U36Jc Ultrathin Systems Laptops Review

ASUS U36Jc Ultrathin Systems Laptops Review
At this point, it feels like almost every laptop under the sun is being described as “thin and light,” but the thinnest and lightest with a standard voltage processor? Well, that’s a new distinction, and ASUS claims its 13.3-inch U36Jc is just that. The U36Jc thick chassis tips the scales to just 3.7-pounds, but doesn’t skimp on the horsepower or battery life to attain those trim dimensions like some other ultrathin systems out there. Sure, the U36Jc may ditch the optical drive, but it packs a Core i5-460M processor (the “older” Nehalem generation), NVIDIA GeForce 310M graphics, 4GB of RAM, a USB 3.0 port, and a 500GB, 7200rpm hard drive for just $969. Okay, so it doesn’t have Intel’s latest Sandy Bridge processors, but there are plenty of other reasons we think those who are looking for an ultraportable for under a grand may want to consider the U36Jc.

Look and feel :

There’s nothing crazy about the U36Jc’s all-black design, but that’s exactly what we like about it. The aesthetic couldn’t be any different than ASUS’s bamboo clad U33Jc, and in fact, it reminds us more of one of the most minimalistic laptops out there at the moment — Google’s Cr-48. The entire exterior is covered in a matte black, and the lid and palmrest have been treated with a new “silky nanometer coating,” which is intended to repel fingerprints. However, while the underside of the system is made of plastic, the lid itself is made of tougher stuff, and according to ASUS it has been “strengthened with aluminum magnesium alloy finish.” It doesn’t actually feel like metal, but the overall build of the system is much better than most ASUS laptops we’ve tested in the last couple of years.

Obviously, the most striking thing about the design of the U36Jc is its extremely svelte chassis. The entire system measures just .76-inches thick and the battery only slightly protrudes from the back. Indeed, it’s one really thin laptop, and it’s pretty perfect for traveling. The 3.7-pound system was easy to pull out of our bag at airport security and it even fit really nicely on the tray table once we were airborne. It isn’t as thin or light as the 13-inch MacBook Air (that one’s .68 inches thick and 2.9 pounds), but it does have a leg up on Apple’s ultraportable when it comes to port selection. The system makes room for two USB 2.0 ports, a USB 3.0 socket, as well as Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, mic, and headphone jacks. There’s also a three-in-one card reader on the left edge.

Keyboard, touchpad, and screen :
ASUS has been using the same keyboard and touchpad combo on its U series laptops for the past couple of years, and frankly, it’s probably time for a change. The chiclet keyboard is decent, but not as solid feeling as the ones on the HP Envy, Pavilion dm1z, or ThinkPad X120e. The rounded matte keys are overly clickly and have a bit too much travel for our liking, but we’re sure users who like more feedback will enjoy it. Those complaints aside, we were able to write this entire review and a number of posts at a very brisk pace, though we should mention it was hard to see the black keys on that dimly lit flight. What does it take to get a backlight option on all of these new PCs?

It’s with the touchpad that we take the most issue, however. While ASUS switched to using a softer material with the U33JC-A1′s mouse bar, this system has a stiff button that makes loud clicking noises when pressed, and overall it’s just frustrating to use. We took to just double tapping on the 3.5 x 2.0-inch pad to make selections, but there’s the fact that the pad itself is smaller than most.
The U36Jc’s two hinges prop the 1366 x768-resolution screen up a good inch above the keyboard, and while it may look a bit awkward, it actually put the display at a pretty nice angle in our cramped coach seat. Despite its glossiness and the equally glossy bezel, the quality of the display itself seems to outdo other ASUS displays – horizontal viewing angles were quite good, and while colors faded when we pushed the screen back to a 45 degree angle, it wasn’t a bother in our usage. We also don’t have too many complaints about the speakers – they’re not the fullest we’ve heard, but we had no issues hearing Ray William Johnson’s latest YouTube video from across a large studio apartment. Music was a bit more muffled, but we really just expect that on this sort of laptop. If you’re looking for awesome sounding laptop speakers, Dell’s XPS line is the way to go. Oddly, ASUS ditched the webcam cover on this model — that’s right, there’s no telling who may be watching you out of the 1.3 megapixel shooter.
Unlike lots of thin laptops roaming the universe (i.e. the Lenovo U260, Dell Vostro V130, etc.), the U36Jc packs a standard voltage 2.53GHz Core i5 M460 processor and 4GB of RAM. Of course, that’s now considered to be last-gen with Intel’s dual-core Sandy Bridge CPUs just hitting the market this month, but it still provides a really decent amount of power, and our guess is that those in the market for this sort of super portable machine won’t complain about how this thing runs. As you can see from the benchmarks below, the rig beat out those other ultra-low voltage machines and even a number of ASUS’s previous U series laptops. As you would guess, those numbers translated to speedy everyday performance — the system handled multiple browsers (Chrome and IE8) with multiple tabs open, TweetDeck, Microsoft Word 2010, Trillian, and Skype without gasping for air. The 7,200rpm hard drive also seemed snappy enough, launching programs without making us twiddle our fingers.