Asus U36J review – sleek and powerful, but is it what we need?

Andrei Girbea May 19, 2012 Reviews 1 Comment

Back in December 2010 i first got my hands on the Asus U36JC, the new and ultra-sleek looking 13.3 inch portable laptop from Asus which packs together a slim magnesium body and good hardware. We promised a review soon after, but that actually never happened till now. Better late than never though, as it’s finally here: our review for the Asus U36JC laptop, in the best equipped version available at the moment.

We’re going to take a look at pretty much all the aspects of this notebook, including design, exterior, features, performances and all the other important things. Just see the rows below for the details.

I do have to mention first that this is a sample unit, but the guys at Asus assured us it’s pretty much similar to what we’re going to see in stores.

The specs

Let’s take a quick look at specs before jumping into in depth details:

  • 13.3 inch LED backlit display, glossy, 1366 x 768 px resolution
  • Intel Core i5-460M CPU clocked at 2.53 GHz
  • 3 GB of memory
  • Intel HM 55 Chipset
  • hybrid graphics with integrated Intel HD Graphics and dedicated Nvidia GeForce 310M chip, controlled by Nvidia’s Optimus technology
  • 500 GB 7200rpm hard drive
  • Wireless N, Bluetooth 3.0, LAN
  • 2 x USB 2.0 and 1 x USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, VGA, LAN, Audio, Webcam, Card reader
  • 8 Cell 5600 mAh 84 Wh battery
  • Windows 7 Home Premium OS
  • measures 322 x 232 x 19 mm (12.9 x 9.3 x 0.8 inch)
  • weighs 1.65 kg (3.6 pounds) with battery included

So pretty much all you’ll need on a laptop these days, although it’s odd Asus chose to get only 3 GB of memory on this one. Standard version available in stores will actually come with 4 Gigs and faster core i5-480M CPU as an option, so expect performances to be a tad better than what we got for this version.

Asus U36JC in our test

Asus U36JC in our test

Design and construction

Like you can see in the pics, what we have here is the black Asus U36JC. The entire body is covered in magnesium alloy which feels and looks very solid. It doesn’t scratch, it doesn’t bend (not even the lid cover) and it is a fairly light material. Still, unlike the silver finish, this black one does catch smudges. They are less bothering than on a glossy plastic or a black aluminum finish, but they’re still there to ruin the looks, especially for those of you with sweaty palms (so go for the silver model if that bothers you).

Magnesium alloy cover

Magnesium alloy cover

The clip below should tell you more about the exterior:

You’ll notice that the laptop is very thin, just 0.7-0.8 inches thick. That seems to be a trend many producers are following lately, as I’ve seen a similar approach on Acer’s Aspire 3820TG 13.3 incher. Width and height are pretty much the same as on previous generation Asus 13 inch laptops, like the UL30A or the popular UL30VT, which is in fact the device this one is planed to replace.

Thiner than a regular netbook

Thiner than a regular netbook

In terms of weight, this black UL36J ain’t that light as you might have expected, and that’s because of the big 8 cell battery on the back. Goes for 3.6 pounds, while the silver 4 Cell battery equipped model weighs 0.4 pounds less. So it’s not MacBook Air light, but still lighter than most other devices in this class.

In terms of ports, there’s all you would need on this Asus. See the picks bellow for details on port layout and notice all those cooling vents on the front and bottom side. With the shrunken body, Asus had to design a smarter cooling system and they did, cause this baby doesn’t get warmer than it should.

Front: Cooling vents and status LEDs just under the trackpad

Front: Cooling vents and status LEDs just under the trackpad

Left:

Left: Kensington Lock, PSU, VGA, HDMI, USB and cooling vent

Back: just the battery

Back: just the battery

Right

Right: Headphone, mic, card reader, USB 3.0 and 2.0 slot, LAN

Bottom: Easy access to memory, but not to HDD

Bottom: Easy access to memory, but not to HDD as well

Opening the lid, you’ll notice the same magnesium alloy body used for the lower part of the device, including the trackpad and the area around the keyboard, but a glossy plastic finish for the bezel around the display which will catch fingerprints like crazy. They just couldn’t make the damn thing completely matte, they had to do something wrong…

Keyboard and trackpad

You’ll also notice the Full-Size Chiclet keyboard, the standard one we saw on previous Asus 13.3 inchers. Keys are decently sized and proper spaced. And while not really a fan of Asus keyboards in general, I find this one better, as it’s pretty silent and doesn’t flex at all, mainly thanks to that sturdy casing.

As for trackpad, it’s decently sized and differentiated from palm rest. Comes with the same magnesium alloy finish which makes if very smooth and comfortable to use and you get two individual click buttons, fairly easy to press. And there’s a fingerprint reader just between them for this top equipped version.

Good keyboard + trackpad combo

Good keyboard + trackpad combo

So overall a solid keyboard + trackpad combo. Asus learned from the mistakes of the UL30A and UL30FT and improved their trackpad, but there’s always room for more of course.

Display

There’s the same 13.3 inch LED backlit 1366 x 768 px display we saw on previous Asus 13 inchers on this one. And it’s still glossy, so a pain outside or in strong light conditions. Brightness and colors are good, however viewing angles (especially vertical ones) are narrow and the screen can’t tilt back as much as I would like, just to around 130 degrees.

Hardware and performances

You probably noticed there’s a full power CPU inside this laptop, and not an ULV one, the Core i5-460M clocked at 2.53 GHz. Combined with that 310M graphic chip, that should lead to some proper performances. And indeed the Asus U36J is snappy in pretty much all you can throw at it, although games are not really his thing, as that Nvidia card ain’t one of the best in town.

You can see more details about performances in the clip below, where I’ve tried running 1080p HD content and even a game (Modern Warfare 2). THere’s also Optimus in action showcased as well.

Plus, here are the results for some synthetic results, they speak for themselves on the power of this laptop.

CineBench 11.5

CineBench 11.5

PCMark Vantage Suite

PCMark Vantage Suite

PC Mark Vantage Productivity Suite

PC Mark Vantage Productivity Suite

3D Mark Vantage Performance

3D Mark Vantage Performance

3D Mark Vantage Entry

3D Mark Vantage Entry

So, are we satisfied? Not really, especially by those graphic performances. Not after seeing what SandyBridge combos are capable of and even older Intel + ATI ones, like on the Asus 3820TG. Still, I do have to mention I ran the tests directly on the default Windows install, without getting rid of the unwanted apps running in the background first, so you should see perhaps improvements after some fine tweaking.

So Asus, where’s that SandyBridge update already? Having overall the same hardware on a device launched in March 2011 as on one we saw back in May 2010 (the U30FT) ain’t just right, don’t you think?

Connectivity and ports

Not much had changed here from the previous generations, except to the addition of a much needed USB 3.0 port. As I’ve showed you before in this USB 2.0 vs USB 3.0 post, it really pays out having the faster option and should be a feature you should definitely consider when going for a new laptop these days.

Besides that, there’s Wireless N (which proved fast and reliable in our tests), Bluetooh 3.0, Gigabit LAN , HDMI and a card reader.

Heat, noise, speakers and others

Not much to say about the speakers on this one. I would consider them average, with enough punch but kind of vapid quality (sound is hollow most of the time). Just something to do the job, not to impress.

The webcam on top of the display follows the same line as well: good enough for chatting and skyping, although not that much in poor light conditions and not impressive.

Sleek

Sleek

As for heat and noise, with the thinner body of the Asus U36J and the powerful hardware, I would have expected them to be a problem. But they actually aren’t that much. Yes, the bottom gets warm when playing 1080P content or games, but it’s not that bad and you can still hold it on your lap no problem. The upper part of the lid remains cool as a breeze though, as Asus engineered use some kind of new technology to prevent heat transfer between components and the case, which actually seems to work.

Noise wise, that fan kicks on from time to time and you will hear it when using the laptop alone in your room during the night, but that’s the same with all laptops, so overall the Asus U36J manages to rest pretty quiet, considering its sleek design.

Software

You do get Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit with this one, which is standard, but like on most Asus machines, it does come with a bunch of bloatware and Trial software. I do advice getting rid of most of all but you’ll have to do this manually, as restoring the system will get you back to the same default installation, with all the unwanted software. Shouldn’t take you more than an hour though.

I suggest getting rid of most Asus utilities (except for Power4Gear, that one can stay), Trend Micro Trial, Microsoft Office Trial, eBay app and similar stuff.  Then get an antivirus on it (Windows Defender or Avast do a good job for me and they are Free) and all your other programs on it and you’re good to go.

Battery life

Like I said, there’s a big 8 Cell 5600 mAh 84 Wh battery on this one, so although the hardware inside is powerful, you probably expect solid battery life out of this Asus U36JC. I know I did, but the laptop didn’t quite meet my expectations. Here’s what to expect:

  • light Office use using Power4Gear Quiet Office profile while editing texts, browsing with Wireless ON and listening to music (with headphones), with screen dimmed to 40% will only lead to around 6 hours of life
  • looping a HD 720p clip using Power4Gear Entertainment profile with screen at 80% and Wireless OFF kept the laptop going for a little above 4 hours

So you should expect 4 to 6 hours on a regular day use (not 7 to 8 as I said in the video review), which ain’t that much from an 8 Cell battery. But at least we got a full-power CPU inside, not an ULV one, to blame for. And we can wait for future SandyBridge updates to do better, but till then, that’s what to expect from the Asus U36J.

4 or 8 Cell battery, autonomy still ain't that good on the Asus U36JC

4 or 8 Cell battery, autonomy still ain’t that good on the Asus U36JC

As for the 4 Cell battery equipped version of this laptop, look for 55% of the numbers mentioned above, so around 2-3 hours of battery life in everyday use.

Pricing and availability

It’s weird that in most countries, the Asus U36J ain’t yet available.

In the US for instance, I managed to find two versions. One goes as Asus U36JC-A1 and comes with pretty much the same specs as the version we tested here, with Core i5-U460M processor , but 4 GB of memory and it sells for $949 with a small discount these days.

And the other, the Asus U36JC-B1, with a slightly faster Core i5-480M processor, going for $969 . See the link for more details, pictures and reviews from those who already own one of these

As for the silver version or the one with the smaller battery, couldn’t find it available anywhere just yet. But stay tuned, this section will be updated once we find details about other existing versions.

Asus U36JC: solid device, but needs hardware update to become a best pick

Asus U36JC: solid device, but needs hardware update to become a best pick

Final thoughts

As you could see in the review above, there are many aspects to like about the Asus U36J portable laptop. However, I do feel that buying one right now would be hasty. And here’s why: with Intel’s new SandyBridge platforms popping out, the hardware inside this one is outdated. Asus will for sure launch an updated version of this laptop soon, with that new hardware. It might be more expensive, but not by much, and it will manage to fix both performance and battery life issues, which are right now the aspects dragging down the Asus U36J.

But don’t get me wrong, the U36J has the potential to be an amazing portable laptop. Just wait a bit for Asus to put some new hardware inside, what’s got right now feels so like 2010.

PS: We will update this post once Asus gets the SandyBridge Asus U36J available, and hopefully we’ll also manage to get our hands on that as well. So stay tuned.

The Pros

  • solid body covered in magnesium alloy
  • nice design
  • sleek ultra-thin body
  • good trackpad and keyboard
  • decent performances, but not great
  • good connectivity options
  • USB 3.0 slot
  • fast hard-drive

The Cons

  • battery life worse than expected
  • a tad pricey perhaps
  • glossy screen and bezel around it
  • hollow speakers
  • hardware is outdated for a device launched in 2011 (looking for SandyBridge update)
That’s it with the Asus U36JC review, as always your feedback is much appreciated so don’t hesitate to post your replies below.

Like this Article? Share it!

About The Author

Andrei Girbea, aka "Mike", Editor-in-Chief at TLBHD.com. I absolutely hate carrying around heavy stuff, that's why I'm fond of mini-laptops and portable computers. I'm primarily using such devices and have been testing them for many years now. Get in touch in the comments section below.

1 Comment

  1. asegal June 25, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    Thank you, I am looking for a powerful but small, light laptop.

Leave A Response