Netbooks may offer serious mobility at a low price but, as many users have found out, their performance leaves a lot to be desired, especially if you frequently run multiple applications at the same time -- and who doesn't these days? A better option may be a more powerful ultra-portable such as the Asus U35Jc, which has a beefier Core i3 processor yet is still less than an inch thick. Our model was supplied by Laptops Direct, where you can buy it for £650.
The combination of the brushed-aluminium effect used on the lid and the carbon-fibre-style crosshatch pattern of the keyboard surround means the U35Jc is definitely one of the better-looking laptops around. It's very slim, measuring a mere 25mm thick, and supremely light at just 1.9kg, so it's ideal for frequent travellers who need a compact machine for use on the go. The slimness of the design, however, means there's no room for an optical drive. If you use DVDs often, something like the Samsung Q330 might be a better option.
The U35Jc isn't exactly laden down with ports, either, although most of the basics are covered. There are three USB ports, an HDMI output and a VGA socket. Along with these, you also get an Ethernet port and SD card reader, which often comes in handy for transferring photos from a digital camera. The laptop lacks an ExpressCard slot, so there's not much room for expansion. In saying that, this isn't a huge issue for many, as most peripherals for laptops, such as mobile broadband dongles, are designed to connect to a USB port anyway. On the wireless front, the laptop manages to pack in Bluetooth support as well as 801.11n Wi-Fi. The largish 320GB hard drive goes some way towards making up for the lack of an optical drive, especially as it provides plenty of room for storing movies in Xvid or DivX format.
Open the lid and you'll find that Asus has followed the trend set by previous consumer-focused laptops -- it uses a keyboard with Scrabble-style keys. Each individual key seems to be stamped out of the chassis. The keys are also quite wide and flat, so despite the laptop's smaller size, the keyboard doesn't feel cramped, and the lack of flex makes it feel solid to type on. There's very little compromise in the layout as well, with only the function keys across the top slightly reduced in size. We also like the large, wide trackpad -- the slightly dimpled surface feels good to the touch. Although the single, long trackpad rocker button doesn't have much travel, it is quite responsive.
We've got no complaints about the screen, either. Its resolution of 1,366x768 pixels may not break any new ground, but the display still manages to make text and images look quite sharp. It's bright, too, and colours look very rich and natural. That's partly thanks to its glossy finish, which manages to avoid being exceptionally reflective, although it does suffer more from glare than the matte displays you'll find on some business laptops.
Decent all-round performer
For an ultra-portable, the U35Jc has a pretty beefy specification. It's powered by a dual-core Intel Core i3-370M processor that's clocked at 2.40GHz. This is backed up by a healthy 4GB of RAM, which gives the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium plenty of room to strut its stuff. It's no surprise, then, to find it performed extremely well in the PCMark05 benchmark test, clocking up a score of 5,776. This means it's one of the best-performing ultra-portables we've seen in quite some time. As a result, it'll have no problems handling even the most complex of multitasking duties.
The laptop uses Nvidia's Optimus technology, which means it has both on-board Intel graphics as well as a more powerful Nvidia GeForce 310M chip. It uses the integrated graphics when it needs to save on power, and switches to the Nvidia chip for extra 3D oomph when needed. The Nvidia chip is reasonably powerful and managed a respectable score of 3,796 in the 3DMark06 benchmark. It's not quite beefy enough to run the latest games at full tilt, but you will get decent frame rates from some older titles.
As an ultra-portable model, the U35Jc is likely to be used on the move often, so battery life is crucially important. Thankfully, it turns out to be a pretty impressive performer in this regard. In our intensive Battery Eater test, it managed to keep running for a hugely impressive two hours and 21 minutes.
With its powerful processor, great battery life and impressive keyboard, the Asus U35Jc is an easy laptop to like. If you can live without an optical drive, it comes highly recommended.
Edited by Emma Bayly