Hardware, design and build: a minimum of plastic Whether you like its design or not, you have to admit the U33jc stands out from other models with its bamboo finish, which, by the way, is exemplary when it comes to quality. You do need to take care when carrying it around however. The hood on our test model didn't really enjoy the short trip we took it on in our rucksack. It came out slightly marked.
We like the fact that the chassis around the keyboard isn't in plastic but rather in brushed aluminium. The only parts in plastic are the connectivity, the underneath (matte) and the screen surround (glossy). Maybe, one day, manufacturers will stop with their glossy surfaces which pick up finger marks all too easily.
The keyboard with separated keys, takes up a little over 29.5 cm of the total 32.8 cm wide shell. Keying is nice and quiet. The keys are well-proportioned and those who touch type shouldn't have any problems here. Although the wrist rest coating won't transport you to other worlds, it is big enough for decent comfort. Those who do a lot of text work will like it.
The touchpad didn't make such a good impression however. Although the glide is nice and precise, it takes up less than a quarter of the length of the shell. With all the available space, why not have made it slightly bigger? You would then have been able to guide the cursor across the screen without having to start your glide again several times and lose precision. Note that though the touchpad isn't multi-touch - which you certainly miss if you've used it before - it has two scroll bars. They are placed on the right hand side and on the lower edge. Useful for scrolling down Internet or text pages.
The webcam is no model to follow. It lacks fluidity and sharpness. Plenty of laptops do better, even Asus models. So don't hesitate to replace the built-in webcam with an external model - whatever happens, it'll be better.
Connectivity covers all the bases. On the left, you have your VGA and HDMI 1.4 as well as a USB 2.0 port. On the right, is the power supply socket, the ethernet, a USB 2.0, a USB 3.0 and an SD card reader. There's no optical disc drive, which is a shame as other models of this size usually have one. This means you need to add on the cost and size of an external drive should you need one. Wi-fi and Bluetooth 2.0 connectivity are included.
The U33jc isn't the quietest of machines. At idle, it's fine, but as soon as you start to run it a bit harder, the fan makes itself heard. In a quiet room, the levels can be disturbing, but where there's other background noise, it won't stand out.
Underneath, a panel gives access to the RAM and the HDD. They can therefore be replaced without too much difficulty.
VGA, HDMI, USB 2.0 port
Processor power: excellent performance
The Asus U33jc does well both with office and multimedia tasks. Its Intel Core i5-450M scores 110 on our index. This can be compared to 100 for our reference machine, the Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi3650 (equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400). It handles photo retouching and video editing and encoding easily.
The processor can play HD 1080p (Blu-Ray equivalent) on its own though we do recommend you use the excellent video decoding capacities of the dedicated NVIDIA graphics card. This frees up the processor for other more important tasks. To economise even more energy, you can do your video decoding with the integrated Intel graphics solution.
Windows 7 Family Pro 64-bit takes 53 seconds to boot. Once you get to the desktop, you need to wait another 5 seconds before you can really start working. It turns off in under ten seconds. Note that there's a second OS available, Express Gate, which is lighter than Windows. It's based on a Linux kernel, is designed mainly for allowing you to browse the Internet and launches in under ten seconds. Like on the VX6, Asus had the bright idea of allowing you to chose whether or not to launch Express Gate on start-up. It launches from a dedicated button at the top left of the casing.
Big concessions in gaming
In spite of its dedicated graphics card, the U33jc won't satisfy all gamers. Samsung has gone for the NVIDIA GeForce 310M here. This entry-level model can't handle recent titles. If you're happy to do your gaming with titles such as Half Life 2, Team Fortress 2 or Left 4 Dead however, you'll be able to enjoy certain titles at limited graphics settings; go for between low and medium for maximum fluidity.
Audio: headphones out is clean
The Bamboo's designers gave in to the temptation of placing its speakers under the computer. They may be Altec Lansings but the results are far from being transcendent. The headphones out is nevertheless very clean, in spite of the fact that it lacks a bit of power.
Easily transportable, with decent battery life.The U33jc has an 8-cell Li-ion 5600mAh battery. This gives around 4h20 video playback (wi-fi deactivated, headphones plugged in and brightness at 100 cd/m²). This is honourable but not as good as the MacBook Air (5h45). Thankfully, NVIDIA's Optimus technology is used and means you only use the graphics card when you really need to. Without this battery life would have been even lower.
With the battery, the U33jc weighs in at 1.8 Kg. Like the Samsung Q330, this ultra-portable is easy enough to carry around in a rucksack for a few hours, but does start to feel a little heavy after a whole day. The U33jc is not particularly slim - 31 mm - but it'll slide easily into your bag. Note however that you'll need to protect it as the hood coating is quite sensitive.
- Comfortable keyboard
- Excellent CPU performance
- Battery life (4h20)
- USB 3.0
- Glossy low contrast panel
- Small touchpad (not multi-touch)
- Inaccurate colours
- No disc player
If you're looking for good performance levels from a compact machine, the Bamboo U33jc won't disappoint. If battery life and weight are more important, the 13-inch MacBook Air remains a better option.