ASUS U36SD-A1 Notebook Review; Ultra Portable & Affordable

Author: Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig
Date: September 27, 2011
Product Name: U36SD-A1
Part Number: U36SD-A1
Warranty: 2 Years
Purchase at NCIX:
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Screen Quality

Before we get too far into this section, let’s start off by saying the U36’s outdoors viewing experience is downright painful. The screen and its accompanying bezel boast mirror-like reflections which make using this notebook almost impossible in well lit areas like airports and classrooms. Unfortunately, these overly reflective qualities pretty much narrows down the areas where ASUS’ ultra portable can actually be used.

The fun doesn’t stop there since the U36SD is equipped with a webcam straight out of 1999. Sporting a mere 0.3 megapixel 640x480 resolution, it will make a mockery out of your face and is put to shame by everything but bargain bin standalone units. On the positive side, it does have decent low light performance but in our opinion this thing has no place on a modern notebook.

Sony Vaio Z left, U36SD right

Once our unit was moved to darker environments and we could actually see its 1366x768 back lit LED screen, things don’t get all that much better. Sure, viewing angles are bordering on decent (seriously though, why would someone sit off center from a notebook screen?) and brightness can be cranked up to retina burning levels but there really isn’t much to compliment about this panel’s quality.

Even after extensive modification using the included software tools, the U36SD’s colour pallet tended to be very cool and almost fluorescent in nature while the contrast remained quite poor. Overall colour accuracy was also lacking but this was partially overcome through extensive trial and error with the Intel and NVIDIA graphics options.

Not everything is doom and gloom though. We found the screen well suited for a notebook in the sub-$1000 category and its text rendering was crisp and clear. White balance was also surprisingly decent considering the tendency of TN panels to over compensate on lighter colours. Would we use this notebook for photo editing? Absolutely not. But it functions perfectly well for text input, web browsing and watching the occasional movie on a long haul flight.

Audio Quality

This is a thin and light laptop so we’d never expect an immersive audio experience since most people will likely just use it with a pair of headphones. However, after hearing what the paper thin –and admittedly expensive- Samsung Series 9 could accomplish, we were a bit disappointed by the U36SD’s Altec Lansing speakers. At lower levels they are decent but sound far too hollow and increasing the volume doesn’t really accomplish much due to a lack of output.

We were left with some mixed feelings in this area but ASUS still ended up pulling off a small audio victory. Regardless of how far the speakers were pushed, they never displayed any distortion and their housings remained rattle-free.

Included Software

Like most other manufacturers, ASUS deems it necessary to include a long list of pre-installed programs alongside their notebooks. Many of these can be considered bloatware since their uses are minimal at best while others like a trial of the incredibly poor Trend Micro Internet Security seem to be included for no reason whatsoever. The end result is 82 processes running on startup which gobble up 1.11GB of system memory but this shouldn’t be taken to mean that every piece of included software is fit for the Recycle Bin…

ASUS uses their own power management system called Power4Gear that cohabitates with Windows’default presets. These can be changed by pressing the upper left button above the notebook’s keyboard while fine tuning for each setting (Entertainment, Quiet Office, Battery Saving and High Performance) can be done in the Power4Gear software. Unlike some clunky applications that manufacturers tend to bundle with their laptops, this one is straightforward and actually works very well. So well in fact that we completely ignored the pre-loaded Windows settings.

ASUS@vibe is ASUS’ mostly weak attempt to create an app store which is well designed but isn’t entirely successful due to a limited selection. It provides a snappy interface with access to some very basic downloadable games and online music channels but that’s about it for the time being.

The Sonic Focus program is a handy lightweight application that takes control over the audio output of this notebook. Using it with the internal speakers didn’t accomplish all that much (speech recognition was improved) but the included settings can make a world of difference for headphone users. We were actually impressed by how a few modifications in Sonic Focus could drastically improve the listening experience with our new Westone 2 earphones.

While we’d love to get into all of the other programs ASUS has included, as you can see above, the list goes on and on and…on. Live Update with its automatic driver downloads can come in handy when it works and FastBoot is basically a cut down version of GameFast which ships on higher end ROG models.

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