ASUS U35Jc: Jogging in Placeby Dustin Sklavos on September 30, 2010 3:00 AM EST
The Daintier U35Jc
Maybe the headline isn't fair: the ASUS U35Jc is certainly smaller than the U30Jc, but "dainty" isn't necessarily the right word: maybe "sleek" is more appropriate. "Dainty" suggests flimsy build quality, but the brushed aluminum lid of the U35Jc is firm, attractive, and cool to the touch. The screen is LED backlit, keeping with the modern trend of ultraportables, and results in a fairly thin profile.
When you open the U35Jc, you're unfortunately greeted with the only major instance of glossy plastic, and naturally in the worst possible place: the screen bezel. It's enough of a mystery why manufacturers continue to use glossy plastics (though thankfully they're starting to become a little more scarce), but why would you use it on the one part of the notebook (outside of the keyboard and touchpad) most likely to see fingertips? It's a minor complaint but a relevant one: a glossy screen bezel is a smudge factory. The other instance of glossy plastic is at least someplace you're less likely to care, which is above the keyboard. There's a black accent on the top of the battery, between the screen hinges, and at least it matches pretty well and doesn't call attention to itself.
The inside surface of the U35Jc is, I'm sorry to say, not aluminum, but at least is an attractive silver that matches the lid well enough. Credit where credit is due, the pattern in the plastic is nice and subdued, giving it a textured look, and overall the inside of the U35Jc is nicely minimalistic. There are only two shortcut buttons outside of the keyboard: one on the upper left for switching power plans in ASUS' Power4Gear software, and a power button with a blue LED backlight on the upper right.
Chiclet keyboards are in fashion right now, so if you don't like them, the one in the U35Jc probably isn't going to change your mind. That said, it's a good one, with very minimal flex (a welcome change from some other ASUS units we've tested), and an intelligent layout. The keyboard's a comfortable one, and the keys are thankfully a textured matte plastic. That may seem bog standard, but after dealing with the bizarre aluminum island-style keys on the Gateway ID49C and pretty much any Toshiba consumer notebook, a sensible keyboard design is welcome. ASUS doesn't reinvent the wheel anywhere on this keyboard, either: the layout is what you would expect, and that's perfectly fine.
It's a shame the touchpad isn't very good, though. ASUS along with many other manufacturers has made it a habit of integrating the touchpad with the rest of the shell lately, presumably because it reduces costs, but it also reduces quality and makes the notebook look cheap. While I appreciate a textured touchpad (something I know is a matter of taste), an entirely different surface would have been better. The rocker-style touchpad button needs to go the way of the dinosaur, too. At least it's not a unified touchpad as has become fashionable for HP and others these days, though: shoddy knock-offs of the MacBook Pro touchpad can make mousing a nightmare.
Circling the U35Jc, we find that the port selection isn't a big winner either. I seem to remember ASUS making a concerted push for USB 3.0 on many of their laptops, so its stunning absence here is felt, especially when there isn't at least an eSATA/USB combo port to make up the difference. No ExpressCard, no eSATA, no USB 3.0, no FireWire. Hope you like transferring data over USB 2.0.
Access to the internals is extremely basic and actually somewhat unusual for an ASUS machine. There are two separate hatches on the bottom, one for accesing the hard disk and hard disk only, and one for accessing the two RAM slots and the two RAM slots only. Under part of the hard disk bay you can actually see the antenna connections for the wireless card. It's disappointing that upgradeability is so minimal; larger ASUS machines tend to be very forthcoming. One thing that does concern me is the lack of any ventilation to the hard disk, though. It's true that notebook drives don't generate that much heat, and SSDs even less, but at least a little bit of ventilation would've been welcome.