Laptop Buyer's Guide: 14-inch and Smallerby Vivek Gowri on July 19, 2010 12:01 AM EST
All-rounder: ASUS U30Jc/U33Jc/U35Jc
For all around competence, we start with the recently reviewed and Bronze Editor’s Choice winning ASUS U30Jc. We find that 13” notebooks offer the best compromise between performance and portability, being more powerful and more usable than 11” and 12” ultraportables and not as bulky and heavy as 14” and larger notebooks.
The U30 has a standard voltage Core i3 processor, the NVIDIA GeForce 310M + Optimus combo, and a huge battery. It packs in all the power and features that a larger system would, including a DVD drive, in a thin and light package that offers nearly 10 hours of battery life. Add to that the aluminum casing, solid build quality, $890 street price, and ASUS’ growing reputation for producing reliable performance notebooks, and you have the makeup of a winner. However, at 4.8lbs, the U30 chassis weighs the same as the larger 14” UL80 chassis (which we’ll get to in a second) and is heavier than many other 13” notebooks. Not that 4.8lbs is terribly heavy, especially when the battery life is good enough to forgo carrying the AC adapter, but still, it’s one of the few areas that ASUS could improve on (along with the LCD quality, a constant sticking point with any midpriced notebook.)
And improved they have, with the U33Jc and U35Jc. The U35 has all the aluminum-encased, Core i3 + Optimus + 10 hour battery goodness of the U30, but omits the optical drive for the purpose of a much thinner and lighter chassis. With a thickness of 0.6”-1” and a 3.74lb carrying weight (including the massive 84 Wh battery), the U35 is pretty astoundingly svelte for having a standard voltage processor and a dedicated graphics card. So long as you don’t require a DVD drive, you lose nothing relative to the U30Jc. And it’s $70 cheaper to boot. So, to recap, it’s just as powerful, a quarter of an inch thinner, 22% lighter, and a bit cheaper. That’s relative to what was already one of the best performance/portability/price compromises on the market.
But what of the U33Jc, you ask? The U33 starts with the U35 base and adds Intel’s Wireless Display technology, a USB 3.0 port, and - get this - bamboo paneling over the lid and palmrests. According to ASUS, the bamboo paneling lets you show off your ecologically friendly side in style. I’m not sure I buy the environmentally friendly stuff (the wood they use would have to be chemically treated to resist the thermal expansion and warping caused by a notebook’s power output), but it’s definitely a more luxurious direction for laptop aesthetics. I must say, I like the way it looks, but I care about industrial design more than a lot of people. There is an associated price increase with the U33, to the tune of $80 more than the U30. Now, that extra money does get you the WiDi and USB 3.0, so it’s not like the U33 is a bad buy (it is, after all, still a sub-4lb thin and light with a standard voltage CPU, dedicated graphics card, and 10 hours of battery life), but it isn’t as good a value as the others and you do end up paying a premium for style.
But in the end, all three of these notebooks share the same core values: a lot of performance, a bit of style, oodles of battery life and great value in a thin and light package. Not to say that they’re flawless - the display quality is definitely something that could be improved (as with all mainstream notebooks), and the keyboard is fairly mediocre. However, these are merely nits to pick, and overall, the U30Jc, U35Jc, and U33Jc are some of the most complete portable notebooks on the market.
Alternative: ASUS UL30/50/80Jt
The UL80Jt is the Arrandale refresh of the much loved and Silver Editor’s Choice winning UL80Vt. As such, it comes with a proven platform and suitably high expectations. The UL80Jt is nearly as good an all-rounder as the U30Jc, with the main hardware difference being the use of the Arrandale Ultra Low Voltage processor, but keeping the NVIDIA G 310M, Optimus, and the 84 Wh battery. The Core i3/i5/i7 version of CULV is slightly more power hungry than the Core 2 Duo CULV platform we’ve come to know and love, so the UL80Jt likely won’t be able to match the astounding 13.2 hours of battery life that the UL80Vt put up, but it should be able to exceed the already excellent 10 hour figure put up by the U30. We’d expect a best case scenario of 12 hours, and at least 8 hours in normal usage. The UL80Vt is otherwise similar to the U30, with a slightly larger screen, an integrated optical drive, and the same 4.8lbs carrying weight. While only the 14” UL80Jt is out currently, the 13.3” UL30Jt and 15.6” UL50Jt should also be shipping in the near future. Between the UL series and the U30, the choice ends up between performance and battery life - the U30/33/35 should outperform the UL series handily, with its standard voltage Core i3 processor, but offers around 20% poorer battery life on the same size battery.