While the U32U casing is no match for that of the UX31E, it's still stylish, in an understated kind of way. The aluminium casing resists scratches and fingerprints well, and we didn't spot any problems with the product's general finish.
The U32U has a chiclet keyboard, which means that all the keys are separated by small gaps. Typing feels instinctive, although it's a little on the soft side. Asus has used the available space effectively, only downsizing the right-hand Shift key to keep the arrow keys at full size—a wise compromise.
The touchpad makes good use of the space in front of the keyboard, as it's almost as wide as the entire wrist-rest. The touchpad is pleasant to use, giving smooth, accurate glide. Like most recent touchpads, it supports multitouch gestures such as two-fingered horizontal and vertical scrolling and zoom in/out.
The webcam, however, really isn't great. Detail is all but wiped out in dark zones, while the image is heavily pixellated and movement gets very blurred. If you're looking for a good-quality built-in webcam then you probably shouldn't pick the U32U.
Otherwise, the U32U has a good selection of connections that's sure to cover most day-to-day needs. Connections are spread over the left and right edges of the laptop, with three USB ports (2 x 3.0 and 1 x 2.0), VGA and HDMI video outputs, an Ethernet port, and headphones and mic sockets. Note, however, that there's no DVD drive in this laptop. Then again, optical drives aren't as frequently used as once was the case, so that'll only be a problem for a some users.
This notebook handles heat and noise very well. The U32U doesn't get particularly hot and you can hardly hear any noise from the fan. As excellent as that may be, it's perhaps not too surprising given the components used.
The Asus U32U has an AMD E-450 APU, which isn't the fastest processor on the block. In fact, this 13.3-inch laptop can really only be used for basic computing like web browsing, office tasks, online chat, etc. While it is capable of running more heavyweight programs like 3D modelling apps, they'll be so slow that you'll no doubt end up losing patience. They're not for the faint hearted, in any case.
Boot time isn't amazing either. With the laptop switched off completely, you're looking at a wait of around 47 seconds to reach the Windows desktop. From there it takes about another ten seconds to connect to a Wi-Fi network and launch the various default programs and processes.
Don't expect any miracles from the AMD HD 6320M in games, as it's really only just good enough to cope with decoding HD video. Pretty much no game is playable in the screen's native resolution (1366 x 768 pixels), even with a low level of detail. If you turn the graphics right the way down, some games like Starcaft II, Fifa 12 or Left For Dead can be played.
The audio in/out and the built-in speakers aren't bad in the U32U. The headphones out is reasonably powerful, with no unwanted interference or stereo issues. It can also be converted to an S/P DIF optical output. We've got no complaints about the audio input port either, as it works perfectly well with an external mic.
The built-in speakers are OK, even if there's clearly room for improvement. While they do their job without distorting the overall output, don't expect to hear the slightest hint of bass.
MOBILITY / BATTERY LIFE
Seeing as the Asus U32U isn't the most powerful machine out there, it'll need a very good battery life to confirm its ultraportable credentials and to stand out in the market. While Asus announces almost 10 hours of juice, we found that the U32U held out for nearer 7 hours (6 hrs 53 mins to be precise) in our test (video playback, headphones plugged in, screen at 100 cd/m², Wi-Fi off). But that's still excellent! This laptop will therefore keep you entertained on a long journey or last a full day at school or uni.
Measuring 32.8 x 23.85 x 2.4 cm, the Asus U32U can be easily slipped into a rucksack or bag. However, at 1.8 kg it's not the lightest model out there. Then again, you'll have to look to more expensive products like ultrabooks if you're looking for something significantly lighter.