- Snappy processor performance
- Good battery life
- Thin and light design
- Evolutionary, not revolutionary upgrade
- Weak integrated graphics
- Horrible touchpad buttons
The ASUS UL20FT is a nice 12-inch laptop for those who want to travel light without sacrificing performance.
The ASUS UL20FT is an all-new update to the popular UL20A. Featuring a high-performance Intel Core i3 processor and impressive battery life, this thin and light laptop has a great deal to offer. The team at Notebook Review has an exclusive first look at this new 12-inch notebook, and we’re excited to show you how this lightweight laptop performs. Read on to find out if the UL20FT deserves a place on your notebook shopping list.
Our review unit of the ASUS UL20FT (UL20FT-A1) comes with the following features:
- 12.1-inch 720p (1366×768) display with LED backlighting
- Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
- Intel Core i3-330UM (1.20GHz)
- Intel Graphics Media Accelerator HD integrated graphics
- 2GB DDR3 RAM 1066MHz
- 320GB 5400RPM hard drive
- 802.11b/g/n wireless and Bluetooth
- 6-cell Li-ion battery (4400mAh, 47Whr)
- Weight: 3.3 lbs
- Dimensions: 11.8 x 8.4 x 1 inches
- MSRP: $649.99
Build and Design
The ASUS UL series were some of the first laptops on the market to use Intel Consumer Ultra Low Voltage (CULV) processors. These CPUs consumed only a fraction of the power that other processors required, meaning any laptop running a CULV processor could last longer on a single battery charge and the laptop itself could be made thinner and lighter because these processors didn’t require the massive cooling systems that other laptops needed.
The ASUS UL20A was the first 12-inch laptop in the UL series and quickly became popular with students and working adults who needed a lightweight laptop. The unfortunate down side to the UL20A was that it used a relatively low-performance version of the CULV processors. Now ASUS has revived the UL20 as the UL20FT, featuring a new Core i3 low voltage processor and a larger hard drive. The notebook chassis itself remains unchanged other than a slight modification to accommodate a new 16:9 ratio widescreen display.
The build quality of the UL20FT 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. The metal-covered screen lid feels extremely nice and offers a fair amount of structural rigidity, but the middle of the screen still flexes under heavy pressure. The screen itself also shows obvious signs of distortion when you press on the back of the screen lid, so the attractive metal lid might not offer much protection.
The bottom of the notebook includes a single access plate for the RAM and the hard drive. The two RAM slots are located side-by-side rather than being stacked. This internal layout helps keep the chassis design as thin as possible. The 2GB memory module only takes up a single slot so it’s easy to upgrade to 4GB simply by purchasing an extra 2GB stick of memory. Unfortunately, it’s significantly more difficult to access the wireless card because of the thin design, so don’t expect to swap out the Wi-Fi card for another model without completely disassembling the laptop. That said, the target audience for this notebook probably isn’t likely to make any changes beyond memory upgrades an a possible hard drive swap.
Screen and Speakers
The 12.1-inch diagonal display on the UL20FT-A1 features LED backlighting and a 16:9 aspect ratio with 1366 x 768 resolution. We’d give this screen a “good” rating within the narrow vertical viewing angle sweet spot. The backlight in our review unit is even and bright but the top left corner of the screen suffers from a little backlight bleed. Contrast is sharp and colors are good at default settings. Vertical viewing angles are just as narrow as we typically see with most laptops while the horizontal viewing angles (side view) are nearly flawless. 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 ASUS UL20FT features Altec-Lansing stereo speakers located just below the palm rests on the bottom front edge of the notebook. The speakers sound terrific 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 UL20FT on your lap you can expect the audio to sound muffled and distorted against your legs. On the other hand, the headphone jack provides a great, static-free connection for external speakers or earphones.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Chiclet-style keyboard on the UL20FT is an adequate design with a good support frame underneath. Individual keys are a little mushy, but still provide acceptable feedback when pressed. There are no dedicated multimedia keys, but the arrow keys do serve double duty as media controls when used with the function (fn) key. Each key is flat with a nice matte texture and a little extra spacing to prevent typos. The keyboard frame (the silver surrounding the black keys) on our review sample suffers from a bit of bounce or flex when you press down firmly with your fingers, but this isn’t a problem when typing.
The Synaptics touchpad is a quality touchpad interface with a lightly textured surface and excellent responsiveness. The touchpad itself is a little small, but that is to be expected on a 12-inch laptop. 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. I really hate single touchpad buttons … particularly when there is no clear division between the left and right sides. I frequently pressed down too close to the middle of the single button and either failed to activate the touchpad button or accidentally pressed the wrong side of the touchpad. ASUS designers need to either completely separate the touchpad buttons or at least make a small indented area in the middle so you can fell where the left touchpad button ends and the right button begins.
Ports and Features
The ASUS UL20FT offers a fairly average number of ports for a 12-inch notebook. ASUS gives you three USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet, two video out ports, a media card reader and dual audio jacks. This is pretty much par for the course when it comes to thin and light laptops and netbooks. Still, we would have liked to see at least one high speed data port, suach as USB 3.0, eSATA or even an ExpressCard slot, on this laptop. The UL20FT also lacks an optical drive in order to make the chassis as thin as possible, but this will probably only bother people who like to watch DVDs during a flight.
Here is a quick tour of the ports on this laptop: