Top ultraportable laptops

Ideal for the users who value portability while demanding more performance than you'd get from a netbook, these notebooks stand out for their low weight and small footprint

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Asus U33Jc
Asus U33Jc Review, by Alex Wawro October 12, 2010



Pros :
Lightweight design with great battery life
nVidia Optimus auto-switching graphics

Terrible Webcam
Dim screen with poor viewing angles

Bottom Line: If you need a lightweight ultraportable laptop that can handle various tasks, the Asus U33Jc is a great choice.

We've long known the inconvenient truth about the negative toll our tech-obsessed society takes on the environment, but Asus makes being green easy with its new U Series Bamboo Collection of laptops featuring hybrid bamboo/aluminum chassis. The wood-paneled U33Jc review unit I looked at is 15 percent bamboo (according to the manufacturer) and arrived in eco-friendly packaging that Asus claims is "made of 100% natural and recyclable bamboo pulp and non-woven packing cloth." It's a nice gesture, but for $999 I need more than a warm fuzzy feeling. Asus delivers with a 13-inch screen, an Intel Core i3 370M clocked at 2.4GHz, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive spinning bytes at 5400 rpm. The U33Jc rolled through our WorldBench 6 benchmark test suite with a score of 103--impressive for an ultraportable. Of the ultraportable laptops we've tested recently, only the Toshiba Portege R700-S1330 earned a higher score.

Connectivity options abound with 802.11n wireless, Bluetooth, and Intel Wi-Di wireless display support. The chrome siding sports an impressive array of ports with HDMI, VGA, and USB 3.0 ports on the left edge complementing two more USB 2.0 ports, microphone and headphone jacks, a gigabit ethernet jack, and a five-in-one card reader on the right. The U33Jc lacks an optical media drive, an odd omission given the large drive-size space devoted to heat exhaust on the left edge. Depending on your mobile needs, this might be a deal breaker or a minor speed bump; with the advent of high-capacity USB storage and DropBox, I didn't miss the DVD drive, and the lighter weight and extra cooling were a godsend during marathon movie viewing sessions.

Asus didn't skimp on GPU tech either, with both an integrated Intel HD graphics card and a beefier 1GB nVidia GeForce 310M; the nVidia Optimus software dynamically swaps one for the other, depending on the application you're running. In my tests the Optimus software handled this task commendably, and finicky users can rest easy knowing that nVidia offers multiple ways to select your preferred GPU manually.

With the 310M firing on all cylinders, the graphics look great--better than some budget desktops we've reviewed. The only caveat: The U33Jc's screen has a narrow range for ideal viewing, roughly 40 degrees to either side of center. The LCD is also extremely glossy, which looks great on a retail shelf but makes working in bright daylight difficult at best. Glare issues aside, the screen is an unremarkable 1366 by 768 display that's easy on the eyes, and viewing HD movies on Hulu or direct from the hard drive is a snap. A dinky 2-megapixel Webcam keeps a watchful eye from the top of the case, and Asus has implemented the ultimate low-tech privacy measure with a tiny sliding screen that physically blocks the camera lens from canny hackers hoping to snoop on you unawares.

The case itself is all eye candy, with dark bamboo paneling atop a brushed aluminum chassis that conceals a recessed Chiclet-style keyboard, yielding a notebook that looks more like an eco-conscious design prototype than a multitalented ultraportable. At 4.5 pounds (5+ with the power brick), the unit was light and comfortable to carry for prolonged periods;one analyst in the PC World Labs, however, opined that the light weight and wooden paneling made the U33Jc feel cheap and flimsy.

Typing on the keyboard felt wooden. During extended typing sessions I prefer a satisfying click to accompany every keystroke, but the Asus keys left my fat fingers cold with shallow travel and mushy feedback. The upshot of this design is a near-silent typing experience, ideal for working in quiet settings or late at night without disturbing others. The keyboard takes full advantage of the 13.3-inch footprint with well-spaced keys and a small touchpad (also bedecked in bamboo trim) that never registered stray thumb swipes as I typed. I wrote and edited multiple documents (including this review) very efficiently on the U33Jc, and the much-ballyhooed Asus Super Hybrid Engine power management software never let me down, keeping the laptop running on battery power for nearly 8 hours of browsing and typing (with occasional breaks to game or goof around on the Web). During our lab tests, the battery ran for exactly 7 hours, which is above average for an ultraportable.

If you're in the market for a lightweight ultraportable laptop that can handle a wide range of tasks, you can't do much better than the Asus U33Jc. It's competitively priced, comfortable to carry and handles spreadsheets and streaming movies with equal aplomb. The bamboo design choice is a love-it-or-hate-it affair, but since Asus's Website doesn't offer much in the way of customization options, I encourage prospective buyers to play around with a U33Jc in a retail environment to get a feel for it. I've been contemplating a laptop upgrade for months now, but the U33Jc is the first ultraportable I've seriously considered purchasing. With such an elegant blend of form and function, the eco-conscious bamboo exterior is just icing on the cake.

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