Well over a year ago, we found a hidden gem in the Asus UL30A, a very thin 13-inch laptop that had a great combination of performance, battery life, and price. A virtual successor to that UL30A can be found in the Asus U35Jc-A1, a Core i3 laptop with entry-level Nvidia GeForce 310M dedicated graphics and Nvidia Optimus automatically switching graphics.
Unlike Optimus laptops, such as the underwhelming Asus UL80JT, the U35Jc-A1 is a winner both in terms of battery life and performance. A standard-voltage Core i3 processor offers few compromises, and the battery life is very good despite having dedicated graphics. Though it’s not exactly cheap at $849, and it lacks an optical drive, this is a very, very nice little laptop, and a good MacBook alternative.
|Processor||2.4 GHz Intel Core i3 370M|
|Memory||4GB, 1,066 MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GT 310M + Intel GMA HD|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||12.9 inches x 9.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.0 / 4.8 pounds|
Much like the UL30A, the U35Jc-A1 is slim, angular, and decked in lots of brushed metal; in many ways, it comes across as a throwback design, like a DeLorean in laptop form. The very thin upper lid is backed in brushed aluminum, the small centered Asus logo looking more EPCOT-era than ever. Inside, a light gray-silver, patterned, glossy plastic surrounds the keyboard deck, while glossy, black plastic surrounds the inset screen.
Asus’ keyboards are almost universally of the raised Chiclet-style kind, but they’re not all made equally. Some Asus laptops have exhibited serious keyboard flex; but that isn’t the case with the U35Jc-A1. The very solid-feeling keys were great to type on, and aside from our gripe with the awkwardly placed arrow keys and a right-hand side of page up/down buttons that needlessly squish the Enter and Shift keys, it makes for an excellent experience. There’s just enough palm-rest space beneath for good lap typing. Overall, it’s nearly as good a keyboard as the MacBook Pro’s.
A medium-size multitouch touchpad lies flush with the keyboard deck around it–in the same color to boot–but textured with a subtle matte grid that works better than expected. A thin button-bar beneath feels too slight, but the whole package gets the job done well and, most importantly, responsively. However, we’d put an asterisk next to “multitouch”; the Elan software driving the touchpad allows only for a limited set of gestures, such as two-finger scroll and multifinger tap, leaving out obvious ones like pinch-to-zoom.
Two buttons sit atop the keyboard: one to the far left, one to the right. They look identical, but the right one is the power button, whereas the left boots up the laptop in Asus’ Express Gate quick-start OS. We’re not a fan of quick-start environments, simply because their limited applications, quirky setup, and need to boot up Windows 7 for access to the rest of your PC’s features make for an annoying experience. Do yourself a favor and just put your laptop to sleep instead. When Windows 7 is already booted, the left button switches between custom battery-saving modes.
The LED-backlit, glossy 13-inch 16:9 screen has a native resolution of 1,366×768 pixels, standard for this size. Viewing angles were tighter than we’d prefer, with color and contrast drifting into a washed-out look unless the screen was perfectly centered. For videos, Web browsing, and general everyday use, pictures and videos look fine as long as excessive tilting is avoided.
Front-firing Altec Lansing stereo speakers situated under the keyboard on the lower front edge of the U35Jc-A1 are loud enough for movies, Webchat or any other conceivable use, with notable crisp punch during gameplay. They’re better than standard laptop speakers at this range, but lack musical depth and powerful bass.
|Video||VGA, HDMI-out||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||None||DVD burner|
Similar-sized slim laptops such as the Toshiba Portege R705 manage to fit a DVD drive, making us feel a little more slighted here, but that’s still the exception in thin compact notebooks. The included 4GB of DDR3 RAM and 500GB hard drive are standard for the price range, and are ample for nearly any user’s needs.
A full-voltage Core i3-370 offers speedy multitasking and good overall performance.. We’ve found Core i3 processors to be excellent affordable CPUs, and this thin Asus performs as well as any other Core i3 system we’ve seen. Videos stream fluidly at full screen, and we were able to get multiple tasks done with no indications of slowdown.
The Nvidia GeForce 310M GPU in this Asus is an entry-level dedicated graphics chip that we’ve seen in a number of laptops. In the U35Jc-A1, it’s paired with Nvidia Optimus technology, which automatically switches between the Nvidia graphics and integrated Intel graphics to conserve battery life, activating only when higher-end graphics are needed.
For the most part, Nvidia Optimus technology works seamlessly and invisibly. Graphically, however, we found the performance of this Nvidia GPU to be reasonable for playing games, but not stellar. Unreal Tournament III ran at 34.8 frames per second with medium settings at 1,366×768 native pixel resolution. That’s not much different than the bamboo-clad and similarly specced Asus U33Jc-A1, but lags behind the Asus UL80JT. Bottom line: it’s nice to even have the discrete graphics, since the last generation of this Asus laptop had only integrated graphics.