The Asus U36JC ultraportable laptop has lots of tangible benefits: good power from its second-generation Intel Core i5 processor, lots of ports, and features like a quick start mode that lets you browse the web before you boot into Windows.
Where the Asus U36JC falls down is in the intangibles: Utilities with cryptic explanations and a poorly designed touchpad.
Ultraportable laptops are supposed to be thin and light and the Asus U36JC certainly delivers on thin, at just 322x232x19mm. It's a little more challenged on the light part: At 1.6kg, it's fairly heavy for an ultraportable. The U36JC is attractive, though, with a graphite black magnesium-aluminum alloy chassis.
The 2.53GHz Core i5 processor delivered a WorldBench score of 111 in our testing. That's a solid score for an ultraportable in this price range. And the laptop's switchable graphics with a NVIDIA GeForce 310M discrete graphics card produced impressive gaming scores for this category.
The Asus U36JC has lots of connection options, including one USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI connection and VGA port.
Video looked great on the Asus U36JC's 1366-by-768-pixel screen - as long as I didn't have a bright light behind me. The screen is particularly glossy and reflective, meaning that when I got to a dark scene in "Kick-Ass," the experience was a bit like looking in a mirror. But colours popped on the screen, it handled motion well and the image still looked great when I looked at the screen from an extreme angle. Unfortunately, the nicest thing I can say about the laptop's sound is that it's just fine with decent headphones. The built-in speakers sound boxy and thin.
See all: Ultraportable Laptops Reviews
The keyboard on the Asus U36JC feels great. It has chiclet keys with a fairly long travel and good feedback. The touchpad, on the other hand, is a horror show. While it accepts gestures like a two-fingered scroll, I often found I had to make the gesture twice before the notebook would respond. And the button below the trackpad is really difficult to use. Clicking it requires the force of a jackhammer and it's so narrow vertically that it's hard to find by feel.
Asus has loaded the Asus U36JC with lots of utilities. Some are useful, but others are mysterious and undocumented. For instance, when I clicked on Asus VirtualCamera, nothing seemed to happen. I searched the Web and by looking in forums headed by questions like "Asus Virtual Camera: how does it work because when I click on it nothing happens," I found a page on Asus's site that claims that VirtualCamera allows for live videoconferencing with up to four people simultaneously. The page doesn't describe how you'd make that happen with this cryptic utility and the U36JC's electronic manual doesn't mention VirtualCamera at all.
Asus's manual at least mentions Express Gate, a utility that boots into a simple Linux environment so you can quickly check email or go to Facebook without booting up Windows. But that mention is only a reference to the Express Gate User's Manual ... which isn't included on the U36JC. But Express Gate is at least somewhat intuitive. When the laptop is shut down, you can press the Express Gate key above the upper left corner of the keyboard.
In about ten seconds, I was able to open up a browser window and start surfing. The interface is utilitarian at best - the windows, fonts and display anomalies will take you back to your days working on Windows 98. If all you need is a quick inbox check, Express Gate may be useful, though most people now will just use their smartphones.