Asus unveils three new U-series notebooks

The U31, U36 and U41

EARLIER TODAY WE attended the launch of three new U-series notebooks from Asus and with the U-series being Asus’ “super mobility” series of notebooks, our expectations were set fairly high, especially after yesterday’s leak of the U36. To be fair, the U36 didn’t disappoint in the flesh, but the other two models, the U31 and U41 are fairly run-of-the-mill models considering the category Asus has placed them in.

Let’s start with the U36 which we covered in some detail yesterday. However, we did miss out a few important features, of which one of the most important ones is the fact that the back of the screen as well as the top of the notebook, i.e. the wrist rest and keyboard area, are made out of magnesium alloy. The wrist rest is also said to be coated by some kind of “nanometer coating” that is supposed to prevent fingerprints and smudges for the budding covert agent. It’s a shame that they didn’t coat the screen bezel in the same material, as it’s glossy and very prone to collecting finger prints.

Asus also told us that in some regions the U36 will ship with a lower capacity 4-cell battery rather than the 8-cell battery, although the upside of this is that the weight drops to about 1.4kg (3.1lbs), with the obvious downside being half the battery life. The 8-cell battery does add a small bulge at the bottom of the notebook though, which adds about 5-6mm of extra thickness towards the rear. The webcam is actually 0.3Megapixels which is quite disappointing, but their excuse is that the slim screen bezel is unable to accommodate anything better.

The U31 is the U36’s cheaper, chubbier, sibling which is an inch thick or 254mm, albeit it’s 285mm at the rear and it weighs in at a not totally unreasonable 1.78kg (3.92lbs). It’s not nearly as nicely built, as it’s made out of plastic rather than exotic metal alloys. Still, as the cheap sibling it still comes with a decent selection of processors, including a Core i3 370M or 380M as well as a Core i5 460M. It uses Intel’s HM55 chipset and Asus offers two different SKU’s one with and one without discrete graphics. In the latter case, you’ll find a GeForce GT415M with 1GB of dedicated graphics memory.

On the storage side the U31 doesn’t have quite as wide range of options, as it’s available with a selection of 5400rpm drives ranging from 320 to 640GB with 7200rpm 500GB option also available. In terms of ports, the U31 disappoints a little bit, as it only has three USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI port, a D-sub, a pair of audio jacks where the headphone jack doubles as an S/PDIF and a Gigabit Ethernet port. There’s of course also support for 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, a memory card reader and again a 0.3Megapixel webcam. We were really hoping to see some more USB 3.0 support, but alas, it wasn’t to be had on a notebook with an MSRP of $130 less than the high-end model.

As with the U36, the U31 comes with two battery options, a high-density 5600mAh 83Whrs 8-cell unit, or a 4400mAh 47Whrs 6-cell unit. Windows Home Premium 64-bit is the standard OS, although other versions of Windows 7 might be available in some regions. The U31 with a Core i5 460M and 2GB of DDR3 memory carries an MSRP in Taiwan of NT$37900 or about $1245 and we haven’t spotted it on sale for less as yet.

The U41 is the larger sibling to the U31 and while it maintains the same one inch thickness, it’s a fair bit larger and heavier as it packs a 14-inch screen and a built in optical drive. This brings the weight up to 2.15kg (4.74lbs) with an 8-cell battery pack. The choice of processors is the same as for the U31, but the graphics has been given a boost to a GeForce GT 425M with 1GB of DDR3 memory. All of the connectivity options also remain the same, albeit some of the ports have been moved around to accommodate the optical drive.

The battery options also remain the same and in this case the 6-cell battery pack brings the weight down to an even 2kg (4.4lbs). Again, it ships with Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit as standard and a model with a Core i5 460M and 2GB of DDR3 memory has an MSRP of NT$39900 in Taiwan, or about $1310, although it can already be had for about $1150 in retail.

All three models features Nvidia’s Optimus switchable graphics, 1366×768 screen resolution and sadly glossy screens. All three models also have chiclet keyboards, multi-touch touch pads and the U31 and U41 also sports Altec Lansing branded speakers. The U36 is in our opinion one of the best thin and light notebooks to come out of Asus so far, not only because it feels solidly built, but it also has a well-rounded feature set. We were also told by the product manager for the U36 that we can expect at least a non-glossy screen bezel on the next revision of the U36 and maybe even a non-glossy screen, we can but hope that this comes true.S|A

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