Introduction and Design
Can Great Battery Life Justify A High Price?
Ultrabooks are now on store shelves, but that doesn’t mean the more traditional ultraportables are dead – not by a long shot. Thin may be cool, but the high price premium attached to ultrabooks means that they will, at least for now, be a niche product. Meanwhile, the workhorse 13.3” ultraportable will remain popular.
One of the most accomplished manufacturers of this type of laptop is ASUS, which has been building U-Series ultraportables for several years now. We’ve generally given them high marks here, but now there is a new model to check out, the updated U36. Unlike the stylish U33 Bamboo, this model is a tough, simple laptop that seems to take ques from Lenovo’s ThinkPads. Has this compromised the series? Let’s find out.
As you can see above, there are a few things about this U36 that stand out. It offers a 120GB SSD, has Nvidia GeForce GT520M graphics with Optimus instead of relying on just Intel’s HD 3000 IGP, and provides a large 83Wh battery. What this tells you right away is that ASUS considers this to be a premium product, and that’s also reflected by the current U-series lineup. Budget users can be directed towards the U31 instead, which has fewer features but is also considerably less expensive.
And just how expensive is our review model? It typical goes for $949 over at Newegg, which makes it the most expensive model currently listed. You can save a little money by dropping the solid state hard drive in favor of a mechanical model, but you’re still paying $849. Even in base guise, this laptop is not meant to be a budget model.
The U36 is matte black. That’s an unusual choice for a consumer device, but it’s sure to go over well with enthusiasts, who often prefer a functional (i.e. easy to clean) coating as opposed to something that looks like a McDonald’s PlayLand after a few days of regular use. ASUS calls this the “Nanometer coating” and doesn’t deviate from it much. But don’t set your hopes too high, because the display bezel and panel remains glossy.
From appearance, it would seem that ASUS wants a shot at Lenovo’s reputation for build quality, and they’re part of the way there. Picking up the laptop reveals a tight chassis, and the lid itself is thin yet strong, displaying minimal flex when forced. The palmrest feels particularly robust, as if the material there isn’t hollow (it is) – a good choice, since that’s where a user’s hands spend a lot of time. However, the material feel – particularly on the lid – is not up to the par with laptops designed from the ground up for enterprise use.
Ports are not neglected, either. There’s VGA and HDMI as well as two USB 2.0 ports, a USB 3.0 port, a SDcard slot and individual headphone and microphone jacks. My only complaint here is the lack of a second USB 3.0 port, but otherwise, this compliment of connectivity is in line with what I’d expect from an ultraportable.
Not everything is excellent, however. In a laptop going for this look and market, plastic hinges like those found here don’t cut it. The underside of the laptop also gives away that the tough looks are mostly for show, as there’s plenty of vents and portals that are just waiting to suck up a spilled drink. You’ll find no spill-resistant keyboard or shock-mounted hard drive (though one wouldn’t be needed in an SSD powered model, such as ours). You do, however, receive the ASUS 1 year accidental protection warranty as well as the 2 year limited warranty, so you’re well protected from catastrophe for awhile.