- Webcam privacy switch
- USB 3.0 and Wireless Display technology
- Good battery life
- Average performance
- Weak (mushy) keyboard
- Lots of bloatware preinstalled
The ASUS U33JC is an attractive notebook with many nice features and a few weak points.
ASUS is no stranger when it comes to innovative laptop design, and the new 13-inch ASUS U33JC-A1 is the latest addition to the company’s attractive “Bamboo series.” Yes, when we say “Bamboo” we mean this notebook is covered in wood protected by a durable finish. If you’re in the market for a classy-looking laptop with an Intel Core i3 processor, Nvidia discrete graphics, and impressive battery life, the ASUS U33JC deserves a much closer look.
Our review unit of the ASUS U33JC (U33JC-A1) comes with the following features:
- 13.3-inch 720p (1366×768) display with LED backlighting
- Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
- Intel Core i3 370M (2.40GHz)
- Nvidia GeForce 310M graphics card w/ 1GB GDDR3 dedicated memory (Optimus switchable graphics)
- 4GB DDR3 RAM 1066MHz
- 500GB 5400RPM hard drive
- 802.11b/g/n wireless and Bluetooth
- 8-cell Li-ion battery (5600mAh)
- Weight: 4.54 lbs
- Dimensions: 12.9 x 9.3 x 1 inches
- Price as configured: $999.00
Build and Design
ASUS has long been known for designing laptops that break the traditional mold of notebooks. Heck, this is the company that developed the world’s first “scented” notebooks a few years ago. The ASUS Bamboo series is another one of those interesting ASUS designs that deserves some attention.
In a world full of boring plastic and metal alloy notebooks, ASUS realized the potential appeal of wood with a high-quality finish. The company’s newest addition to its Bamboo series is the 13-inch U33JC. This luxury-focused laptop pcaks a new Core i3 processor and NVIDIA dedicated graphics with Optimus automatic switching between power-saving integrated graphics and high-performance discrete graphics. As if that weren’t enough, ASUS includes USB 3.0 and Intel’s wireless display technology all for just $1,000.
The build quality of the U33JC is very good with a solid main chassis that doesn’t squeak, creak, or flex even under significant pressure. The screen hinges are nice and tight, making it a little difficult to open the laptop with one hand but also helping to keep the screen where you want it. While we’re on the topic of the screen, the screen lid features bamboo cladding with a dark brown finish that provides plenty of protection. We spilt coffee on the lid and dropped the AC adapter on it but all we had to do was wipe the lid down with a damp cloth and it looked as good as new.
While we’re on the topic of the screen lid, I want to draw your attention to a small design feature that deserves much greater praise: the webcam privacy filter. The two-megapixel webcam included on the U33JC might not seem like anything special at first glance, but if you look closer you’ll notice a simple plastic slider switch with the words “ON” and “OFF” printed on either side. Slide the switch to the “ON” position and the webcam is available for use at any time. Slide the switch to the “OFF” position and a simple plastic tab slides over the camera lens preventing anyone from seeing you.
Yes, you could open up Windows Device Manager and deactivate the webcam completely if you are concerned about privacy, but this simple on/off switch makes it much easier to use the use the webcam for video chats and disable the webcam when you’re not using it. Whether it’s perverted hackers or overzealous school districts, we’ve seen many news reports of people using webcams to spy on people without their knowledge. The privacy filter is a simple way to resolve that security issue and put control back into the hands of the PC user.
The bottom of the notebook includes a single access plate for the RAM, wireless card and the hard drive. Granted, most people who purchase a luxury bamboo-covered notebook probably won’t perform upgrades. Still, if you want to add more RAM (the U33JC can be upgraded to 8GB) or a new hard drive or SSD, all you have to do is remove two screws to make it happen. ASUS was also kind enough to place a plastic protective sticker over the serial number sticker and the Windows 7 key so these important numbers won’t rub off over time.
Screen and Speakers
The 13.3-inch diagonal display on the U33JC-A1 features LED backlighting and a 16:9 aspect ratio. Once again, we give this screen a “very good” rating within the narrow vertical viewing angle sweet spot. The backlight is even and bright, contrast is sharp and colors are good at default settings. The only obvious issue with the screen is the narrow vertical viewing angles. While the horizontal viewing angles (side view) are nearly flawless, the colors become over exposed when viewed from above and significantly inverted and distorted when viewed from below. If you are using this laptop for color-accurate editing you will need to be certain you’re viewing the screen from straight ahead.
The display’s 1366×768 resolution is a standard resolution for mainstream notebooks. The horizontal resolution is adequate, however only 768 pixels of vertical space means a good deal of scrolling while surfing the Internet and only enough space to view about one-half of a page in a Microsoft Word.
The ASUS U33JC features stereo speakers located just below the palm rests on the bottom front edge of the notebook. The speakers sound absolutely fabulous when the laptop is resting on a hard surface like a desk as the sound bounces up off the desk and toward the user. Unfortunately, the sound isn’t as good if you’re using this notebook as a “laptop.” In the NotebookReview.com test lab we usually call downward-facing speaker “crotch speakers” because they direct sound at your lap rather than your ears. If you’re using the U33JC on your lap you can expect the audio to sound muffled and distorted against your legs. On a happier note, the headphone jack provides a great, static-free connection for external speakers or earphones.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Chiclet-style keyboard on the U33JC isn’t one of the better keyboards I’ve seen on an ASUS notebook. Each key suffers from weak (mushy) feedback and the center of the keyboard shows some flex under heavy typing pressure. There are no dedicated multimedia keys, but the arrow keys do serve double duty as media controls when used with the function (fn) key. On the bright side, each key is flat with a nice matte texture and a little extra spacing to prevent typos. Again, since the keys are mushy you don’t have to worry about much “click-clack” noise while typing. Still, the typing noise is there and is pretty loud if you happen to wiggle the keys slightly while typing.
The Synaptics touchpad is a fairly nice with the same bamboo covering as the palm rests. The touchpad drivers provide excellent accuracy and minimal lag with a range of options. The touchpad buttons are hidden under a single “rocker bar” and have a shallow press with audible “click” when pressed. The biggest problem I had with this touchpad was the thin touchpad button bar combined with the extremely sensitive touchpad. The cursor often jumped across the screen while I was using the touchpad because I would click the touchpad button with my thumb and the edge of my thumb touched the touchpad … making the cursor unintentionally move to the lower edge of the screen.
Ports and Features
The ASUS U33JC features a great selection of ports for a 13-inch notebook. ASUS gives you two USB 2.0 ports, a single USB 3.0 port (which is backward compatible with USB 2.0), Ethernet, two video out ports, a media card reader and dual audio jacks. The only thing that is missing is an ExpressCard slot, but I’m willing to forgive that omission since ASUS included USB 3.0 on this laptop. The U33JC also lacks an optical drive, but since the last three laptops I’ve owned haven’t included an optical drive, I’m not concerned. However, this might be an issue for people who like to watch DVDs during a flight.
Another interesting addition to the ports and features on the U33JC is Intel Wireless Display (Wi-Di) technology. Wi-Di allows you to wirelessly transmit video from your laptop to an HDTV or desktop monitor–assuming the HDTV or monitor either has a Wi-Di adapter or has built-in Wi-Di to receive the wireless video signal coming from the laptop.
Here is a quick tour of the ports on this laptop: