Now that Intel's next-generation Core i-series processors have finally made it into laptops, we've been seeing a flood of recognizable, revamped products from 2010 emerging with new 2011 components. The Asus U31JG-A1 is not one of them. Equipped with a last-gen Intel Core i3 CPU, this slim 13-inch laptop may not have the latest and greatest processor inside, but that doesn't mean it isn't a good computer.
In fact, it has a lot going for it: an Nvidia GeForce GT 415M GPU, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and very solid CPU performance. While the $829 list price of the U31JG isn't budget range, we've seen online prices as low as $799, and an Amazon.com configuration for $699 with a slightly smaller 320GB hard drive. If you can get the U31JG at the lower end of that range, it's a pretty good deal, considering its size and features.
The UL30A was one of our favorite slim laptops from the past two years. The U31JG is as close to a direct successor that we've seen, a closer design match than the recently reviewed Asus U36JC. This optical-drive-free laptop is slimmer than most 13-inchers, though nowhere near as light and thin as a MacBook Air. We also reviewed the 14-inch version of this laptop, the Asus U41JF-A1, recently, and liked it as well (plus, the U41 has an optical drive).
Our two biggest reservations about the U31JG-A1 are its ho-hum looks and its last-gen processor: this is a laptop series that's bound to see an upgrade sooner rather than later. As we're currently in the middle of reviewing those next-gen laptops, we're hesitant to highly recommend this particular U31JG-A1; but we're a big fan of the product line that this model represents.
|Price as reviewed||$829|
|Processor||2.5GHz Intel Core i3 380M|
|Memory||4GB, 1,066MHz DDR3 RAM|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GT 415M + Intel GMA HD (Optimus)|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.1x9.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.2 pounds / 5.3 pounds|
The Asus U31JG is a compact laptop, but it's not really a looker compared with the competition. Its brushed-aluminum lid and palm rest are reminiscent of those on the Asus UL30A. Glossy black plastic surrounds the raised Chiclet-style keyboard and 13.3-inch screen, giving the laptop a two-tone look that feels out of date and a bit low-rent.
While this may seem like we're being sticklers, design is a big factor in what makes a portable laptop comfortable and easy to use, and the slightly bulky chassis of the U31JG-A1 just isn't eye-catching. Nevertheless, it does present a pleasantly compact frame that's just light enough to feel travel-friendly.
The mostly flex-free keyboard has comfortable spacing but a slightly mushy key feel; the keys' smooth matte surfaces feel more slippery under the fingers than those of other Asus laptops we've reviewed. Also, a row of Page Up/Page Down buttons on the right side squishes and pushes the Enter and Shift keys in a bit, making them hard to find by feel.
The inset multitouch touch pad beneath is smaller than average, making two-finger gestures a bit harder to pull off. A mirror-finish plastic rocker button-bar beneath feels much like other Asus laptops; we'd prefer discrete left and right mouse buttons.
Above the keyboard, it looks like there are two symmetrically laid-out power buttons on the upper left and right sides; the one on the right is the actual power button, while the one on the left is the Quick Start OS button, which launches a pared-down, faster-booting collection of applications, including a Web browser. Quick-start OSes are meant for the impatient, and are a poor attempt to offer up what speedier-booting systems such as the iPad and MacBook Air already do far better. We never find ourselves using quick-start OSes; we'd rather boot Windows 7 and put our laptop to sleep between sessions. Need to quickly check e-mail or a Web link? That's what a smartphone is for.
The U31JG-A1 lacks an optical drive, much like the U36JC we reviewed earlier this year. While this helps keep the laptop lighter and more compact, we've seen laptops this size manage to squeeze one in, most notably the Toshiba Portege R705. That being said, we don't really miss the DVD drive all that much, but some still prefer them for flexibility.
The 13.3-inch 1,366x768-pixel-resolution glossy display is inset from the upper lid, forgoing any edge-to-edge glass. This makes for a bit less glare, but the display's clarity and viewing angles were average at best. Text and images are very readable, but colors weren't ultravibrant.
The same can be said for the U31JG's speakers: the Altec Lansing stereo speakers push their sound through narrow grilles at the front edge of the laptop, under the palm rest. Maximum volume isn't particularly loud, and the sound quality leaned toward the tinny. They'll do in a pinch, but headphones are a better bet.
The included VGA Webcam comes with Asus' LifeFrame camera software, offering a variety of settings for recording video and snapping pics, including gimmicky Photo Booth-like backdrops and effects. Maximum resolution is a measly 640x480 pixels, with light sensitivity and contrast suitable for basic Web chats.
|Asus U31JG-A1||Average for category [13-inch]|
|Video||HDMI, VGA||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone and microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||None||DVD burner|
The Asus U31JG-A1 has Bluetooth and a few USB ports along with HDMI, but that's it. No USB 3.0, no DVD drive, and no other bells and whistles. A large heat vent takes up most of the space on the left side that could have been used for an optical drive. It blasts very warm air after playing games or viewing Flash video for more than a few minutes.
To compare with a recent thin 13-inch Asus laptop, the U36JC-A1, the U31JG-A1 has an Intel Core i3 CPU as opposed to the U36JC-A1's Core i5. The 2.3GHz processor performed suitably well in everyday use, and wasn't too shabby in our performance benchmarks, either. Faster Core i5 processors (and, of course, Intel's new second-gen Sandy Bridge CPUs) would give even more zip, but it's fine for most uses. Full-screen video streaming and multitasking were easy to pull off.