Editor's note: The Asus U33JC ultraportable laptop we tested came with a 2.4GHz Intel Core i3-370M processor. The RX068V model on sale in the UK comes with a Core i5-430M processor running at 2.27GHz. As such, WorldBench 6 scores will differ.
If you're in the market for a lightweight, eco-friendly ultraportable laptop that can handle various tasks, you can’t do much better than the Asus U33JC.
We've long known the inconvenient truth about the negative toll our tech-obsessed society takes on the environment, but Asus makes being green easy with its new U-series 'Bamboo' collection of laptops featuring a hybrid bamboo/aluminum chassis. The wood-panelled U33JC ultraportable we looked at is 15 percent bamboo (according to the manufacturer) and arrived in eco-friendly packaging that Asus claims is "made of 100 percent natural and recyclable bamboo pulp and non-woven packing cloth".
It's a nice gesture, but for £789 I need more than a warm fuzzy feeling. Asus delivers with a 13.3in screen, an Intel Core i5-430M clocked at 2.27GHz, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive spinning at 5,400 rpm. The U33Jc rolled through our WorldBench 6 benchmark test suite with a score of 103, impressive for an ultraportable laptop.
Connectivity options abound with 802.11n wireless and Bluetooth. The Asus U33JC's chrome siding sports an impressive array of ports with HDMI, VGA and USB 3.0 ports on the ultraportable laptop's left edge, complementing two more USB 2.0 ports, microphone and headphone jacks, a gigabit ethernet jack and a five-in-one card reader on the right. The U33JC lacks an optical media drive, which is an odd omission given the large drive-size space devoted to heat exhaust on the left edge. Depending on your mobile needs, this might be a dealbreaker or a minor speed bump, with the advent of high-capacity USB storage and DropBox, I didn't miss the DVD drive and the lighter weight and extra cooling were a godsend during marathon movie-viewing sessions.
Asus didn't skimp on the U33JC ultraportable laptop's GPU tech either, with both an integrated Intel HD graphics card and a beefier 1GB nVidia GeForce 310M. The nVidia Optimus software dynamically swaps one for the other, depending on the application you're running. In our tests the Optimus software handled this task commendably and finicky users can rest easy knowing that nVidia offers multiple ways to select your preferred GPU manually.
With the 310M firing on all cylinders, the graphics look great - better than some budget desktops we've reviewed. The only caveat: the Asus U33JC's screen has a narrow range for ideal viewing, roughly 40 degrees to either side of centre. The LCD screen is also extremely glossy, which looks great on a retail shelf but makes working in bright daylight difficult at best. Glare issues aside, the screen is an unremarkable 1366x768 display that's easy on the eyes. A dinky 2MP webcam keeps a watchful eye from the top of the ultraportable laptop's case and Asus has implemented the ultimate low tech privacy measure with a tiny sliding screen that physically blocks the camera lens from canny hackers hoping to snoop on you unawares.
The case itself is all eye candy, with dark bamboo panelling atop a brushed aluminum chassis that conceals a recessed Chiclet-style keyboard, yielding a laptop that looks more like an eco-conscious design prototype than a multitalented ultraportable. At 1.8kg, the Asus U33JC was light and comfortable to carry for prolonged periods.
Typing on the keyboard felt wooden. During extended typing sessions we prefer a satisfying click to accompany every keystroke, but the Asus U33JC's keys left the reviewer's fat fingers cold with shallow travel and mushy feedback. The upshot of this design is a near-silent typing experience, which is ideal for working in quiet settings or late at night without disturbing others. The keyboard takes full advantage of this ultraportable laptop's 13.3in footprint with well-spaced keys and a small trackpad (also bedecked in bamboo trim) that never registered stray thumb swipes as we typed. We wrote and edited multiple documents (including this review) very efficiently on the U33JC.
The much-ballyhooed Asus Super Hybrid Engine power management software never let us down, keeping the U33JC ultraportable laptop running on battery power for nearly 8 hours of browsing and typing. During our lab tests, the battery ran for exactly 7 hours, which is above average for an ultraportable.
If you're in the market for a lightweight ultra-portable laptop that can handle a wide range of tasks, you can't do much better than the Asus U33JC. It's competitively priced, comfortable to carry and handles spreadsheets and streaming movies with equal aplomb. The bamboo design choice is a love-it-or-hate-it affair. With such an elegant blend of form and function, the eco-conscious bamboo exterior is just icing on the cake.