A 13.3in screen on a laptop has always made a good compromise. It's just big enough that it's comfortable to use, but just small enough that you can carry it around in relative comfort. Machines like the Asus UL30A have taken this philosophy to heart, but remove the optical drive and add bigger batteries, and low-voltage processors, to help boost battery life. This machine isn't alone in this strategy, however, with the likes of the Sony VAIO Y Series and HP Pavilion dm3-1020ea providing stiff competition.
If you've read any of our previous reviews of such machines, the basics of the Asus UL30A should be familiar to you. At its heart beats an Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300, whose two cores chug along at a surprisingly lively 1.3GHz and are supported by a 3MB Cache. Asus trumps many rivals in adding a full 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 64-bit install of Windows 7 Home Premium to match, and a decent 320GB hard drive for storage. Predictably graphics are of the Intel GMA variety, which won't do much for games but can accelerate HD video competently. This spec is right on the money for the circa £530 asking price.
It's just as well the UL30A is well-specified for its price, because it's not much to look at. We have no qualms over the black, brushed metal lid - it actually adds a sense of classiness sorely lacking from the likes of the Dell Inspiron 13z. Inside, however, things take a turn for worst. Black and glossy is as much as can be said, which is inoffensive provided you can live with the greasy fingerprints, but loses several points for imagination. Is a little contrast too much to ask?
Still, at least Asus doesn't try to over complicate things, and the UL30A is quite thin and light. At the tapered front edge it measures a miserly 14.8mm and, even with a big battery at the back, at its thickest it's just 24.6mm. It's a damn big battery too, an eight-cell unit with an 84 Watt-hour (5,600mAh) capacity. This should auger well for our battery life testing later on. Consequently the UL30A isn't quite a feather-weight, but at 1.8kg it's still eminently portable.
Connectivity covers the basics well, but doesn't excel in any particular way. As such you get the standard three USB ports, HDMI and VGA for video, two audio jacks (1x headphone, 1x microphone), a memory card reader, and a Gigabit Ethernet port. Asus offers both Wireless-N Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which is encouraging for such a reasonably priced machine.
One thing that does separate the Asus from some competitors is the presence of Asus' ExpressGate instant-on OS, which is based on DeviceVM's Splashtop. It offers up options for a web browser, music player, video player and Skype calling in double-quick time, but we've long since concluded the functionality is too limited to be of any practical use.