Asus UL30A & Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13 CULV Notebooks

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Pre-installed Software (Draw)

Both laptops shipped with an equivalent amount of utilities from the manufacturer, mostly of dubious value. The UL30A had more consumer software pre-installed like Adobe Air, Cyberlink LabelPrint and Cyber2Go, Google Toolbar, Norton Internet Security and Skype. The ThinkPad was more business-oriented in this area, with lots of pre-loaded updates for Visual C++, SQL Server, and Office, and extra utilities related to its WiMAX, WWAN and GPS capabilities including activation programs for AT&T and Verizon's respective mobile internet services.

Build Quality (Winner: Lenovo)

The build quality of both machines is better than you would expect for the $700~$900 range. The UL30A has a nice aluminum cover, but overall we would say the ThinkPad is more sturdy. The palm rest on the right side of the keyboard on the Asus is noticeably weak, as is the keyboard in general. In addition,the battery isn't quite secure; we found if you shake the UL30A slightly from back to front, you can hear the battery rattle. The Edge 13 feels more solid all the way around, the best we've seen in a sub-$1000 laptop. The construction is not quite as durable as previous incarnations of the ThinkPad line though. It looks like a few corners were cut to get the price down.

Screen (Winner: Asus)

The Edge 13's screen is slightly less reflective than the UL30A, and its viewing angles are a bit better as well. However, it is fairly dark so the brightness level has to be set quite high even for indoor use. It also has worse contrast, producing gray looking blacks, and colors in general look a bit hazy and washed out. The UL30A screen is the opposite, very bright with rich blacks and colors that pop, perhaps a little over-saturated, but more pleasing to the eye. It's perfect for watching movies, etc.

Webcam (Winner: Lenovo)

Both laptops are equipped with low resolution 0.3 megapixel webcams, but the Lenovo's has a distinct advantages. Compared to most integrated webcams, it picks up light very well and is significantly less grainy and blurry, particularly in low light. The webcam on the UL30A is more typical, that is to say, lousy. It seems like Asus didn't put any thought into this particular feature, just throwing one on there because it's standard.

Speakers (Winner: Asus)

The UL30A's speakers are much bigger and sound substantially better. The sound they produce is a little muffled, but otherwise well-balanced. The ThinkPad sounds terribly tinny, making high notes break up and degrade into loud static. The Edge 13 may have the worst speakers we've ever heard on a laptop.

Trackpad (Winner: Lenovo)

The Edge 13 offers the trackpoint option and its touchpad is smoother and more comfortable. The separated buttons are also easier to press. The UL30A's dimpled touchpad offers a little bit too much resistance, and the single button is a little lower than we'd like, resulting in difficulty when trying to engage if with the side of the thumb.

Keyboard (Winner: Lenovo)

The UL30A keyboard is slightly bigger, but the keys are smaller because they have placed the Delete, Home/End, PgUp/Dn in the last column on the right, and have spaced the keys further apart. On the ThinkPad, the Delete and Home/End keys are on the small top row next to the function keys, and the PgUp/Dn keys are on either side of the Up directional key, all of which are very small. This isn't ideal if you use these keys frequently.

If you ignore the layout, the ThinkPad has the clear edge as it more closely approximates a desktop keyboard. The keys are bigger, less shallow, and spring up with more force, giving far superior tactile feedback. The whole keyboard feels stronger and has almost no flex. Keyboard flex on the UL30A is significant; when you press down on it, particularly on the left side or the bottom row (except the space bar) all the keys in the area sink in.

In addition, the Lenovo allows you to swap the Fn and Ctrl keys on the left side in the BIOS depending on which layout you're more used to. If you rarely use the function keys, you can also make the top row act as direct shortcuts for adjusting brightness, volume, etc. by default without having to use the Fn key. Oh, and did we mention the Lenovo keyboard is spill-proof?

Keyboards compared, scaled to 20 pixels per centimeter:
Asus UL30A.

ThinkPad Edge 13.

Gateway EC1803h (11.6" screen). Red text indicates Canadian keyboard layout differences.

Audio Recordings

Comparable System sound files:

  • Gateway EC1803h running on AC at 0.6m
    — fan off (18 dBA)
    — fan set to low (20 dBA)
    — idle (24 dBA)
    — during Xvid playback (26 dBA)
    — during x264 playback & full load (29 dBA)


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