If you're a busy professional on your way to an important meeting, you don't want to be lugging around a massive gaming laptop. Nor do you want to turn up at that meeting with a little netbook with a garish pink shell. The Asus U36JC is an ultraportable 13.3-inch laptop that offers decent performance inside a slim, sturdy and lightweight body. It may not have the the raw power or flamboyant stylings of other laptops, but it's a great choice for a busy life on the go.
It's available now for £699.
Black is the new black
If you're after flashy patterns and colourful shells, the Asus U36JC is certainly not for you. What you'll get instead is a smart, professional looking machine that will sit very nicely in any boardroom. It's not going to catch the eye of that new office temp you like, but maybe your iPhone 4 or Samsung Galaxy S2 can do that for you.
Other than its stark, black styling, one of the first things you'll notice about the U36JC is its slim size -- at only 19mm, it certainly qualifies as portable. With a shell made of magnesium-aluminium, it's light too, weighing only 1.6kg with a battery, making this a great ultraportable for carrying around in a briefcase.
The magnesium alloy shell is also very strong -- We found very little flex when we pressed down on the lid, nor did it bend when we opened it up. It felt reassuringly well built, as though it could easily withstand a good road trip. We love good road trips.
Inside the laptop you'll find -- surprise, surprise -- a keyboard. It uses slightly rounded isolated keys that were easy to press and comfortable to type on, helped by the decent spacing between each key. The trackpad is a little on the small size but is very easy to use thanks to its finger-friendly coating.
The buttons beneath the trackpad are less pleasant though -- we found them sometimes difficult to press unless we made a point of clicking right on the ends, causing a little frustration when using it for a while. It could well be the sort of quirk you just need to get used to though. Between the two buttons is a fingerprint reader for extra security with passwords -- a handy feature if you often take your laptop travelling.
If you look beneath the U36JC you can see the motherboard circuits through the grill, so you'll really want to be careful about what conditions you use this in. Try and avoid using it anywhere too humid, dusty or putting it on surfaces that are too damp. That's good practice with any laptop, but it's worth bearing in mind a little more so with this guy.
The 13.3-inch screen has a resolution of 1366x768 pixels and seems pretty bright. Blacks are displayed well too, giving a decent, even contrast overall. The glossy coating, however, can often make reflections a problem, especially in bright conditions -- if you're settling down to watch a movie, switch the lights off. It's more fun in the dark anyway.
Port options are pretty standard; you get two USB 2.0, one USB 3.0, VGA out, HDMI out, and Ethernet ports as well as headphone and microphone jacks. There's no optical drive on this machine though so don't expect to play DVDs without hooking up an external drive. Not having a disc drive is a good space saver and helps keep the U36JC so slim.
There's a 500GB hard disk drive for all your storage needs. The U36JC could have been made even slimmer if Asus had used a more space-friendly solid state disk drive, but they are considerably more expensive, so an HDD is probably a good compromise.
Performance on the road
Being slim and light isn't everything, so we're also hoping for some good performance from the U36JC. Inside that fancy magnesium alloy shell you'll find an Intel Core i5 460M processor clocked at 2.53GHz, teamed with 4GB RAM.
When we ran the PCMark05 benchmark tests, the U36JC returned a score of 5,973. While not exactly top class, that score is pretty good for an ultra portable and at least means that it will be able to cope with most day-to-day tasks and have a decent stab at photo editing if needs be. It streamed 1080p video fairly well, but became noticeably jumpy when we performed other tasks simultaneously.
When we were performing more demanding tasks, we found the fan became incredibly noisy. It does keep the laptop fairly cool all over, but if you want to perform power-hungry tasks in a quiet meeting room, it may prove annoying.
The U36JC also contains an Nvidia GeForce 310M 1.53GHz GPU to handle graphics functions. When we ran the 3DMark06 benchmark, the laptop returned a score of 3,466. You can expect the U36JC to handle some light gaming, but it's not going to be happy if you try and make it run high-end titles with the settings on high.
Asus has fit the U36JC with its Super Hybrid Engine power manager, so you can get a bit more grunt out of it when you need it. There's a handy button above the keyboard for switching between the power plans but you will need to wait an annoying eight seconds each time it does it.
When we ran the Battery Eater benchmark test, the U36JC lasted 1 hour 47 minutes before conking out. This test runs the CPU at a constant 100 percent, so you'll find you can achieve much better battery life with more cautious usage in power saving mode.
If you're after a smart ultra-portable laptop, the Asus U36JC could be a wise choice. It may not be the most powerful laptop on the market, but its lightweight and sturdy magnesium alloy chassis make it ideal for a busy life on the road.
Edited by Jennifer Whitehead