We've seen a lot of very portable laptops recently, many of them inspired by Apple's MacBook Air, which is one of the most stylish ultra-portable PCs on the market. However, when it comes to performance, the Air is a huge disappointment with limited power and very few ports and outputs.
The Asus U36 aims to address any potential complaints about very compact PCs by offering great performance, small dimensions and a very sensible price. So does it offer the business user enough to make it worth a purchase?
Design and layout
The first thing you notice about the Asus is its size. It's dinky. But there's a lot going on here, and a lot lurking under the hood that makes it an excellent choice for even demanding users. Although it is small, it's not as light as some compact machines at 1.6kg. It's heavier than we would like, but not back-breaking.
The machine has what Asus describes as a Nanometer coating. This is designed to resist damage and ugly fingerprints and it works really well. It doesn't give the Asus the same gloss as a Samsung Series 9, but we think it will look a lot nicer, for a lot longer, and longevity is important when you're buying a laptop.
Unlike some ultra-portable laptops, the U36 isn't really lacking in ports, though. On the right hand side, there are Ethernet, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports. There's also a full-size SD card slot, handy for extra storage and managing your digital photos.
There are also headphone and microphone sockets here, very useful for VoIP applications, or the many video chat services that are springing up on social networks.
On the left side you'll find a power socket, VGA output, another USB 2.0 connection and finally HDMI for connecting to a monitor or TV. We like the flexability of both VGA and HDMI in particular, and as more hardware accepts HDMI the more we can see people using this superior alternative to VGA.
The Asus U36 is a fantastic performer. The i5 processor is clocked at 2.67GHz in our sample, and it's equipped with 4GB of RAM and Windows 7 64-bit. A 500GB hard drive holds your data and the machine overall manages a pretty decent score of 4.2 in the Windows Performance Index.
The overall score would have been higher, were it not for the lackustre Intel HD graphics used to drive the display. We didn't have any real problems with the graphics, but it's still a shame to see a laptop dragged down like that when the processor, hard drive and memory all get scores around 5.8 (the processor gets 6.9 in fact).
We've been using the Asus as our main PC since it arrived, and we have to say it's been perfect in all our tests. Encoding video is no problem, day-to-day desktop computer duties are handled easily and quickly, and we loved using it. If you're hoping for a powerful mobile computer that also behaves well in the office, this won't let you down.
Trackpad and keyboard
The keyboard and trackpad on the U36 are usable enough. The keyboard is a good size, and the keys are easy to press. However, they have enough travel for our taste, and we did find some keys a little less sensitive than we would like. If you do a lot of typing, you might like to consider this and certainly audition the laptop before you buy.
The trackpad is good, one of our favourites actually. It has a low surface resistance, which means your finger slides easily over it. There are separate buttons for the mouse clicking functions which we liked far more than the Samsung system of having to click the whole trackpad. Apple has perfected this system; PC manufacturers have not.