- Review Date: 04/06/11
- Bottom line:
The Asus U31JG-A1 is a slim little laptop that lasts all day on one charge. Features like Bluetooth and a backlit keyboard are great, but a flawed trackpad mars the overall package.
Aluminum construction is light and sturdy. Slim portable design. Backlit keyboard. 8 hour battery life. Bluetooth connectivity. Discrete graphics.
Trackpad is almost unusable. No optical drive.
The Asus U31JG-A1 ($814.99 street) ultraportable laptop has a lightweight aluminum construction, long-lasting 8 hour battery, and plenty of features, like a backlit keyboard and Bluetooth, that adds icing to the cake. But the U31JG-A1 suffers from a glitchy trackpad—a problem that's hard to ignore—which keeps it from a higher recommendation.
The brushed aluminum isn't just for looks—metal casing makes for a lighter and stronger chassis, a stylish look, and a lavish feel. The U31JG-A1 takes the feel of luxury a step further than most, putting the brushed metal not only on the lid and palm rest, but on the trackpad as well. The aluminum also prevents the chassis from flexing or giving in the keyboard—an issue found in many plastic-bodied laptops. The full-sized keyboard is chiclet-style, with black matte-finish keys. The square, raised keys offer a comfortable typing experience, but the best part is the backlighting, which lets you see every key clearly, even in dark and low-light circumstances.
The metal surface of the touchpad brings a rich texture to the most hands-on aspect of the laptop; unfortunately, the trackpad functionality was its Achilles' Heel. It had several problems, from poor finger response to jumpy tracking. When it worked, it also did three-finger multitouch, but that functionality was crippled by the flawed touchpad. It was enough that anytime I needed a lot of cursor control during testing, I was tempted to switch to an external mouse.
The U31JG-A1 comes with a 13.3-inch screen, which is smaller than the 15- and 17-inch screens found on mainstream laptops, but because it's a widescreen, you will still have room to multitask with side-by-side windows. The 1,366-by-768 resolution lets you watch video in 720p, and offers plenty of resolution for watching Netflix or Hulu streaming video.
The hard drive offers 500GB of storage space and spins at 5,400 rpm. It would have been nice to have seen a larger drive, like the 750GB drive of the HP Envy 14-1210NR ($999.99 list at Staples), but some sacrifices are made in the name of battery life and weight. Speaking of sacrifices, you won't find an optical drive on the Asus U31JG-A1 either.
There's a healthy collection of ports, with 3 USB 2.0 ports, and a built-in memory card reader that handles MMC, SD, MS and Pro. On top of the screen, you'll also find a 0.3-megapixel Webcam. Getting online is fairly straightforward, with both 10/100/1000 Ethernet and 802.11n Wi-Fi. You can also wirelessly connect headsets, phones, printers, and more, thanks to integrated Bluetooth connectivity. A VGA output lets you connect to an external monitor, but the real treat is the HDMI output, which not only lets you run video to an HDTV, but puts out 1080p high-definition and supports 8 channel digital surround sound.
The Asus U31JG-A1 also has its share of bloatware, with a selection of software trials, like 60-day trials of Microsoft Word or Trend Micro Security, and sample games preinstalled on the hard drive. Some are useful, however, like the Chrome Web browser, Skype video chat, and LoJack tracking. Buyers can also take comfort in the fact that Asus includes a 2-year warranty with each laptop.
The U31JG-A1 is equipped with 4GB of RAM and a 2.53GHz Intel Core i3-380M dual-core processor; the highest clocked processor in last year's Core i3 line-up. It's the same processor found in the Editors' Choice Asus U41JF-A1 ($857 street, 4.5 stars), and in some tests it even outperforms more expensive Core i5-equipped systems. It scored 6,094 points in PCMark Vantage, our full-system test, and 2.36 in our processor-intensive Cinebench R11.5 rendering test. These scores even edged past the Gateway ID49C13u ($849.99 street, 4 stars), which scored 6,012 in PCMark and 2.29 in Cinebench R11.5. While not a huge difference in scores, the Gateway ID49C13u is equipped with a more expensive Core i5 processor. For those keeping score at home, this means that, unless you run several programs at once, or have software that requires a Core i5 processor or higher, the U31JG-A1 should meet your day-to-day computing needs.
The U31JG-A1 also benefits from a discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 415M graphics card, which offers high performance graphics processing when needed, but conserves battery life thanks to Nvidia's Optimus technology, which automatically switches to the integrated solution when graphics performance is less important. In 3DMark06, the U31JG-A1 managed scores of 4,729 on medium resolution, and 3,653 at native resolution. These scores easily outpace those of the Dell Inspiron 15R-1847MRB ($729.99 list, 3.5 stars), which uses only Intel's integrated graphics solution, and scored 1,896 at medium and 1,689 at native. The HP 14-1110NR, which has both a Core i5 processor and dedicated ATI graphics card, blew past it with 7,438 at medium and 6,166 at native resolution.
The benefits of the discrete graphics card are most clearly seen in our Lost Planet 2 gaming test, where it produced a respectable 20.9 frames per second (fps) at medium settings and 11.2 fps at higher resolution. It couldn't run our Crysis test, because the system lacked an optical drive to run the CD-ROM-reliant game. This performance doesn't rank it with any gaming or media center laptops, but it does mean that you'll be able to play a healthy selection of games.
Multimedia authoring isn't out of the question either, with the U31JG-A1 completing our Photoshop CS5 test in 5 minutes 9 seconds, and finishing our video transcoding test in 2:39. These times are a within striking distance of our better-equipped laptops, like the Gateway ID49C13u (CS5 4:55, HandBrake 2:44) and Asus U41JF (CS5 4:52, HandBrake 2:38).
The U31JG-A1 floats to the top in battery life as well, scoring 8 hours 20 minutes on MobileMark 2007, thanks to a giant 8-cell (83Wh) battery. Comparable laptops with smaller batteries, like the HP Envy 14-1110NR (59Wh, 4:20) or the Gateway ID49C13u (49Wh, 5:52) can't compete. Only the Asus U41JF-A1 (8:19) matched it, and it packed a similarly large battery (83Wh).
With its slim profile, aluminum construction and an above-average collection of features, like a backlit keyboard, and all day battery life, there's plenty to love about the Asus U31JG-A1. Unfortunately, it's a great package with a single glaring flaw, a trackpad that is nearly unusable. If Asus can fix this problem, it'll be a great laptop, but for the time being, you'll want to pick the Editors' Choice Asus U41JF.
BENCHMARK TEST RESULTS:
Check out the test scores for the Asus U31JG-A1
Compare the Asus U31JG-A1 with several other laptops side by side.