Asus UL30A review – best 13-incher under 1000 bucks

Review Summary – Asus UL30A

The 13.3 inch Asus UL30A is the best affordable portable notebook i got my hands on ever, period. Comes with very good looks and overall almost impeccable construction quality, decent autonomy and a good price for what it has to offer. It uses a low power CULV processor, but one of the best in its class and packs some great specs: 4GB of RAM, 500 GB hard-drive, Intel GMA 4500 graphics. In terms of connectivity there’s nothing missing: Bluetooth, Wi-fi and 3G, all of them are here.

It is actually quite hard to find a fault for the Asus UL30A . There are some minors ones i found though, but I’m quite picky and most won’t even notice them.

All in all, i have to say again I’m really impressed by this device. From the chiclet style keyboard to the quality of the screen and the performance levels, everything is just as it should be. That’s why this UL30A is now on top of my ultra-portable notebooks list.

Pros:

  • good looking and overall great build quality, with brushed aluminum lid cover
  • good chiclet style full size keyboard
  • 13.3″ HD Ready (1366 x 768 px resolution) LED lit display
  • great specs: Core 2 Duo SU9600 CPU, 4 GB of RAM, 500 GB hard drive, Intel GMA 4500 graphics
  • dimensions: 12.9 x 9.28 x 0.98 inches and 3.74 pounds weight with the battery on
  • Wi-Fi Draft N, Bluetooth and integrated 3G module
  • HDMI video output
  • decent battery that provides up to 6 hours real autonomy (9 on paper)
  • very easy to access RAM and HDD thanks to the detachable dedicated back covers
  • good and loud sound speakers, made by Altec Lansing

Cons:

  • screen is glossy, so difficult to use outside, during the day
  • keyboard flexes just a little bit too much
  • touch-pad is not physically separated from the rest of the body, and some might find this annoying especially when scrolling
  • poor webcam; only a 0.3 MPx one

Where to buy:

The Asus UL30A is available in a couple of different versions. None of them has the exact hardware as the version i tested in here, as Asus only decided to offer the SU7300 dual core processor for this notebook. Anyway, check out the most popular versions of this netbook below.

Asus UL30A-X5 – $599 + Free Shipping

Currently one of the best sold and most appreciated laptop in the US, this 13 incher offers the SU7300 processor, 4 GB of memory, a 500 GB storage and the Nvidia 4500HD integrated graphic option. Alongside comes the Windows 7 Home premium OS and a 8 cell battery capable of up to 12 hours of life. This version is only available in black and comes with a $130 discount, having a retails price of only $599. No wonder this laptop is so popular, as reviews and marks from previous buyers prove it also (click the link above to see them).

Asus UL30A-A2 – $694 + Free Shipping

This is in fact the silver version of the above model. Has the same specs and features, but the increased price is explained by the fact that this one comes with 2 years global warranty and 1 year accidental drop warranty, while the X5 version only offers 1 year global warranty.

Asus UL30Vt-A1 – $748 + Free Shipping

Unlike the two versions above that only offered integrated Nvidia GMA 4500HD graphics, the UL30Vt-A1 is way better, as it comes with a hybrid switchable solution with the same 4500HD and an Nvidia G210M dedicated GPU. You can easily switch between the two with the click of a single button, as this laptop does not yet use Nvidia’s Optimus technology able to switch automatically between them. Still, this version offers way better graphic performance than the above UL30As, being capable of running modern 3D games and 1080p content (can output it via HDMI). Thus, the extra money you’ll have to pay for this model are worth it for sure.

These are the best options for the Asu Ul30A right now, but more could be available in the future. So stay tuned on this site for more details.

Luckily for me, my contact with Asus rewarded me once more with a goodie, the ultra-powerful version of the UL30A netbook, announced just yesterday by Asus . I was very excited to get it and spent the entire last night playing with it so i can post my review right now. And I’ll probably update it in the next days with new info as i spend more and more time with it.

Anyway, i have to say the UL30A is impressive from almost any point of view. And I’m not at all an easy to impress person and always pick on the tiniest of details. In the next lines you’ll find a little bit of every aspect of this ultra-portable netbook and understand why i like it so much.

Quite a looker, ain't it?

Quite a looker, ain't it?

The exterior

It’s actually very hard not to like the Asus UL30A once you get it out of the box. The ultra thin 1 inch body with the low profile and the brushed aluminum lid cover are especially made to make you drool. I have the black version, and I’m sure i like it a lot more than the silver one (similar to the one of the silver UX30 i tested last month). Battery connects on the back just to make the overall shape almost perfect. The gadget weighs around 3.7 pounds with the battery connected and some might say that this is just a little bit too much for an ultra-portable device.

left side

left side

right side

right side

On the sides you have:

  • left: cooler grid, VGA output, HDMI, USB slot
  • right: CD In, Ethernet port, 2 x USB, Mic, Audio jack, card reader and SIM slot

There’s nothing on the back, except the battery. And on the front you get some tiny and very discrete blue system activity LEDs, just bellow touch-pad.

Once you open the lid, you notice the glossy (yachs) interior, the chiclet style keyboard, touch-pad and the Power button on the right corner.

On the back you’ll find the battery, heating admission grills and two detachable covers for easy access to RAM memory and hard-drive.

Keyboard and touch-pad

Keyboard is actually very nice, with keys just the right size and perfectly spaced, so typing proves to be a pleasant activity. It even comes with full size Enter and right shift keys, and that’s something you rarely see on portable notebooks. But, there’s a little bit too much flex in there and the entire keyboard seems to wobble a bit when typing and pressing the keys harder. It’s not disturbing after you get used to the effect though.

Touch-pad changed a little bit from the other Asus notebooks i tested lately. It used to have tiny bumps, not it has tiny holes (inverted bumps), and i for one find the new approach a lot better in terms of tactile feeling. Precision is OK and so is the click button (there’s only one big button and not two different ones for left/right click). Still, touch-pad is not delimited by the rest of the surface in anyway and some might find this inconvenient, especially when you have to find the exact area for scrolling up/down on the right part of it.

Display

The glossy screen

The glossy screen

The UL30A notebook from Asus packs a 13.3 inch screen with a HD ready 1366 x 768 resolution. This combination offers just the right rapport to make the working space big enough, without becoming tiring for the eyes when browsing and reading texts. Screen is LED back lit and also glossy, so colors and brightness are towards the upper limits. Still, because of the glossiness, it will be nearly impossible to use the device outside in broad day light, and that really sucks and i can’t understand why aren’t the guys from Asus offering some versions with matte displays also (they’re not from what i know and i don’t think I’m wrong).

I might add that horizontal viewing angles are very good, but the vertical ones are not. They’re in fact similar to the ones on the other notebooks in this class (except the more expensive Vaios or Macs): only perfect in an exact position. But hey, that’s not really a problem, you can easily adjust the screen to provide just the best image quality for you.

Hardware and performances

Hardware specs are in fact one of the strongest points of the UL30A. Asus equipped it with a CULV porcessor, but one of the most powerful at the moment, the latest generation 1.6 GHz SU9600 (3MB cache, 800 Mhz FSB) with Virtualization Technology. Along with an Intel GMA4500 graphics, 4 GB of RAM and a 500 GB hard-drive , this portable notebook really kicks some ass in terms of performance.

3.7 mark on Vista

3.7 mark on Vista

It comes equipped with Windows Vista Home right now and runs it without any problem, with Aero and all the effects turned on. And I for one can’t wait to get Windows 7 installed, as this config simply craves for that OS. This is of course the most powerful configuration Asus offers for the UL30A at the moment, and you can get others with poorer CPUs or smaller hard-drives, if you want to cut some bucks out of the final price.

In terms of performances, this laptop scored a 3.7 mark in Vista, that’s because of the low consuming graphic solution. Cause else the score would have been a lot better. Thus, this device is not meant for gaming or other applications hungry for graphic resources, but it can run every-day standard software and easily play 1080p movies (with CPU load around 60% – see the picture for details) .

Can easily play 1080p movies

Can easily play 1080p movies

In one word, this is the most powerful portable notebook i tested lately. Even though it has a CULV processor, it can manage almost any type of application with fair ease. And since it uses a low power platform, it does that without sacrificing battery life.

Connectivity

In terms of connectivity there’s just nothing missing to the UL30A. Wireless 802.11 draft N is here, along with the standard Ethernet port. Bluetooth with AD2P is in there also. But these are features other portable notebooks have too.

What most of them lack is however the integrated 3G module this one has. The SIM slot is easily accessible on the right side of the device, just above the card reader.

So, with Wireless and 3G, this device can easily become a best friend for an Internet addict like me, that also learns its living on Internet. And that’s simply another reason to love it.

Autonomy

Asus equipped the UL30A version i received with a 4400 mAh 64 WHr battery. It perfectly fits the overall design of the device and slides easily in its place on the back. In terms of autonomy, this battery should offer a life of up to 9 hours, on paper. In reality, things are a little bit different:

  • you can squeeze up to 6 hours when working on balanced mode, with Wi-fi on and screen brightness below half, while doing only basic stuff like writing texts.
  • Once you get to web surfing, battery life drops a bit, according to your actions (watching movies online for instance will damage the autonomy faster)
  • In the end, when visualizing a 1080p in High performance mode and with screen brightness at maximum, you battery won’t last for more than 2.5 hours

Still, a pretty solid performance in terms of autonomy. You can squeeze around 4 to 6 hours easily when using the device every day, and that’s satisfactory for me, considering this is not a powerless Atom equipped netbook, but a way more powerful toy.

Also, the versions on the market come with bigger 8 cell 5600 mAh batteries, so expect even better autonomy from the.

Chiclet style keyboard

Chiclet style keyboard

Sound

The first time i started playing a movie i actually went through a hell of a scare, as the speakers of the UL30A are freaking loud when at maximum volume. Once you set them right though, you’ll find out sound quality is actually quite good, definitely above what many other portable notebooks can offer. So it seems putting Altec Lansing speakers in this ultra-portable really worked for Asus, as the UL30A scores good points on this aspect.

Noise and heat levels

I can say this notebook heats more than some of the other CULVs i tested and definitely more than a regular netbook. The back part especially gets pretty hot when playing 1080p movies , but it’s still OK to hold it on your lap. I wouldn’t recommend putting the laptop on your bed though when running such resources hungry apps, as it’s better to allow the CPU enough air to cool (admissions fans are bellow and they should be kept clear if possible).

The UL30A is also pretty silent, you can barely even hear the fans. In fact, the noisiest part on the device I got was the hard drive that kind of clanked when accessed, but I’m sure that’s more a particular case. As for the fans, I for one didn’t even hear them when I watched some movies for like 3 hours in a row, but hey, my friends consider me pretty deaf and i might not be the best standard here. Kidding of course 😛

Other details

There’s actually not much else i could say about this laptop. I do have to mention the camera, which is pretty shitty with its 0.3 MPx, but still good enough for messaging or skypeing with your friends. Mic’s OK too, but nothing extraordinary. After all, these features are just there because they have to and i doubt most buyers would even use them at all.

Slim and stylish brushed aluminum body

Slim and stylish brushed aluminum body

Price

You would expect to pay quite a lot for a device like this Asus UL30A, that offers looks, portability, top performances/features and good autonomy in a single gadget. However, price tags aren’t that high.

The Asus UL30A is available in a couple of different versions. None of them has the exact hardware as the version i tested in here, as Asus only decided to offer the SU7300 dual core processor for this notebook. Anyway, check out the most popular versions of this netbook below.

Asus UL30A-X5 – $599 + Free Shipping

Currently one of the best sold and most appreciated laptop in the US, this 13 incher offers the SU7300 processor, 4 GB of memory, a 500 GB storage and the Nvidia 4500HD integrated graphic option. Alongside comes the Windows 7 Home premium OS and a 8 cell battery capable of up to 12 hours of life. This version is only available in black and comes with a $130 discount, having a retails price of only $599. No wonder this laptop is so popular, as reviews and marks from previous buyers prove it also (click the link above to see them).

Asus UL30A-A2 – $694 + Free Shipping

This is in fact the silver version of the above model. has the same specs and features, but the increased price is explained by the fact that this one comes with 2 years global warranty and 1 year accidental drop warranty, while the X5 version only offers 1 year global warranty.

Asus UL30Vt-A1 – $748 + Free Shipping

Unlike the two versions above that only offered integrated Nvidia GMA 4500HD graphics, the UL30Vt-A1 is way better, as it comes with a hybrid switchable solution with the same 4500HD and an Nvidia G210M dedicated GPU. You can easily switch between the two with the click of a single button, as this laptop does not yet use Nvidia’s Optimus technology able to switch automatically between them. Still, this version offers way better graphic performance than the above UL30As, being capable of running modern 3D games and 1080p content (can output it via HDMI). Thus, the extra money you’ll have to pay for this model are worth it for sure.

These are the best options for the Asu Ul30A right now, but more could be available in the future. So stay tuned on this site for more details.

Photos (made by us)

A couple of photos with the important aspects of the UL30A, all 100% original and made by me and my friend George (here’s his photo blog, by the way).

Final verdict

The UL30A i tested here is not just a standard portable sub-netbook. No, it’s actually THE BEST 13.3″ mini laptop you may get at the moment in the under $1000 price range. And yes, there are better alternatives; for example, I would instantly give this UL30A for a Vaio Z, but heck, that one costs at least twice as much so it’s not really an option.

This toy has its flows, but nothing important: style, speed, battery life, construction quality, these are all towards the upper limit. And yes, i do have to recognize I haven’t been impressed by a laptop as much as i am by this one for a long time. That’s why I just placed the UL30A on top of my potential netbook replacements lists, as I’m looking for something better on all the angles than the standard everyday netbook.

What do you guys think about it? Is this UL30A as good as I’m telling you or did it just manage to full me somehow? Really looking for your comments on that.

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.

54 Comments

  1. kisolo.kiganda.robinson October 30, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    hey pliz help me i would like to buy asus ul30a with the su9600 core 2 duo processor,internal bluetooth,and 3g module,i mean the one you have reviewed,but where can i find it,pliz notify me soon,asus is good guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuudu.

  2. Sedlo November 26, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Hey Mike, do you think it is possible to play full HD 1080p movies with Su7300 and GMA4500HD ?
    Thanks

    • Mike November 27, 2009 at 9:46 am

      Yea, you can surely play 1080p movies with that. I previously tested it on another laptop and it worked perfectly as long as you have all the needed codecs installed.

  3. think_hard October 13, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Hi Mike,

    I realize this review is pretty old compared to your latest one on the asus 1215n.

    Can you do a comparison of between the 1215n and this ul30a, as they seem pretty similar and for some reason equally priced?

    Which would you recommend? They don’t seem to different from each other…

    • Mike October 13, 2010 at 4:54 pm

      well, it’s complicated. the pros for ul30a: more solid, better built, more powerful in every tasks (better cpu). Pros for 1215n: better graphics (mainly on games), more compact. However, there’s also the Ul30VT and the UL30JC you could consider, with better graphics also, but more expensive.

  4. Asitha Medawewa December 6, 2010 at 10:59 am

    I have used many laptops, but ASUS UL30A, is the best I have ever met.
    Most of all, it light in weight and long batterlife makes is a good travelling companion. Great !

  5. studboyd January 3, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Mike,

    Awesome review. Thanks a lot.

    I am deciding between the ASUS UL-3X and the Acer Timeline. After reading your review and other users’ comments, I think I will opt for the ASUS over the Acer. I was in the store to look at both and the build and feel of the ASUS is indeed superior.

    Have you had a chance to review the ASUS UL-35JC? That is actually the one I am considering right now and I am very close to plunking down cash to seal the deal.

    Thanks again!

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