User Interface, Display and Audio Quality
The rigid surfaces across this laptop result in a rigid keyboard, as well. It’s a nice unit, large enough to handle serious typing sessions. More importantly, it’s well laid out. There’s plenty of palmrest space below the keyboard, and all of the important keys are at least as large as you’d expect them to be. Overall key feel on the review unit seemed a bit stiff. This, however, is a nitpick and likely the price one has to pay for an expensive but rigid chassis of such small size.
The trackpad is of moderate width. It could have been larger, but that would have cut into palmrest space for people with large hands, and I think ASUS made the right choice. There’s not much texture on the surface, and the borders can feel a bit vague after long use, but overall it’s entirely adequate.
The touchpad buttons, however, did not impress. They’re of the rocker style, which means that instead of two individual physical button, there is one placed on a sea-saw mechanism, so that the left and right can be depressed, creating independent clicks.
The problem? Rocker solutions almost always have poor travel and exhibit a dead zone in the middle of the button. ASUS has used this style for some time, and I complain about it in every review. It’s far from a deal breaker, but I cross my fingers that the company will someday abandon this design.
Display and Audio Quality
The glossy display on the U36 is an entirely average panel, though one that appears more out of place than normal due to the aggressively matte finish found on the rest of the laptop. Black level performance, contrast, and brightness are all average, providing a display that’s adequately pleasing to use in most conditions, but not excellent in any.
A lack of backlighting relative to the glossy coat is probably the biggest weakness, because it makes the laptop difficult to use in bright conditions, such as a room lit by direct sunlight. Even at maximum, there isn’t enough light coming from the panel to compensate for reflections.
Audio comes courtesy of stereo speakers that hide in the front, under the palmrest. Music doesn’t show much distortion, but there’s no bass to be heard or felt, which makes most tracks sound flat. Podcasts, with their less complex vocals, are much easier to listen to – but because of a general lack of volume, noisy environments can make headphones your only viable option. This is a laptop that will absolutely need a pair of external speakers to provide acceptable audio.