ASUS calls the U38N a business laptop, but it's not meant to compete against your typical ThinkPad. This machine is designed for road warriors looking for a beautiful chassis to stand out in meetings along with and a full HD touch display to run Windows 8 professional. It's all powered by an AMD APU, something you rarely find in a system targeting the business crowd. But with a starting price of around $900, should you add this ultraportable to your portfolio?
Editor's Note: ASUS does not currently offer the U38N in the United States, but our configuration is available in the U.K. for 667 pounds. If the company does decide to bring this notebook to the U.S., it will cost about $900.
The U38N sports a sturdy and attractive design reminiscent of its Ultrabook brethren. You'll find a brushed aluminum lid with a chrome ASUS logo that effectively repelled any attempts to smudge its pristine exterior. The U38N's interior is also swathed in dark silver aluminum. The keyboard sits just below the hinge in a recessed area, with a large touchpad below.
Weighing 3.4 pounds, the 12.8 x 8.7 x 0.24-.74-inch U38N is easy to carry. The machine is on a par with the 3.4-pound, 13.1 x 8.9 x 0.67-inch Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga. The 12.4 x 8.6 x 0.66~0.78 Samsung Series 5 Ultra is slightly heavier at 3.8 pounds.
There are few things more beautiful than a notebook with a bright, 1920 x 1080 display with bold, vivid color. The U38N delivers in spades with its full HD IPS display. A microscopic image of a moldy peach skin was full of deep oranges, vivid golds with delicate tendrils of white. Text was well-defined with no jagged edges.
Not only was the 1080p trailer of "Iron Man 3" was filled with opulent reds and golds, but Tony Stark's electric blue arc reactor popped in every scene, consistently drawing the eye. We enjoyed comfortable viewing angles that could accommodate up to three people.
The U38N's display is plenty bright at 372 lux, surpassing the 224 lux ultraportable average. The Yoga's 1080p display measured 281 lux while the Series 5 Ultra's 1366 x 768 display delivered 223 lux.
A big reason for this touch notebook's premium price is its 10-point touch capability. Swiping along the edges of the display quickly summoned the Charms menu, Recent Apps bar, and menu bar. A quick downward swipe closed apps consistently. The pinch-zoom function was also effortless. The only downside is the subsequent smudging from all that hands-on action
Although the U38N is branded with Bang & Olufsen ICE power, we found audio lacking. The bottom-mounted speakers placed along the sides of the notebook barely filled our small test room with sound. The guitar on Jack White's "Sixteen Saltines" was tinny with minimal percussion. White's vocal sounded flat and distorted. Rise Against's "Help is On the Way" produced a decent amount of volume, but overall, the audio sounded hollow.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The U38N's island-style keyboard has wide spacing and firm springy feedback. The charcoal gray keys were large and comfortable, but we wish the backlighting was brighter. On the Ten Thumbs typing test, we scored 60 words per minute with a 1 percent error rate, slightly higher than our normal 55 wpm/1 percent error.
With the U38N, ASUS provides a massive 4.1 x 3.8-inch clickpad to perform gestures and navigate documents. Gestures such as two-finger scroll, pinch-zoom, three-finger swipe and press were fast and fluid. Two-finger rotate became our favorite gesture thanks to the accompanying animations. Windows 8 gestures were also smooth, but there were occasions when the clickpad misfired, switching between apps or pulling up the Charms menu as we tried to move the mouse from one place to another.
The corners of the clickpad performed right and left click functions as expected. However, we had to press harder than usual.
After watching 15 minutes of "Futurama," the touchpad measured 81 degrees Fahrenheit and the underside was 86 degrees. The space between the G and H keys reached 95 degrees, on the edge of what we consider too warm.
The U38N's 1-megapixel camera can capture stills up to 1280 x 720, but it can only take video at a max resolution of 640 x 480. Images were rather dark and besotted with visual noise in both natural and fluorescent lighting.
The U38N has a robust port offering -- for a notebook its size -- featuring a pair of USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, Mini-VGA, jacks for a headset and the power adapter on the right side. Another USB 3.0 port and a 3-in-1 card reader can be found on the notebook's left.
Powered by a 2.0-GHz quad-core AMD Trinity A10-4655M APU with 4GB of RAM, the ASUS U38N can easily handle everyday jobs such as social networking, watching video and light productivity tasks easily. We were able to watch "House of Cards" on Netflix while running a system scan with six open tabs in Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome.
The U38N didn't do as well on some of our benchmark testing, scoring a measly 1,829 on PCMark 7. That's far below the 3,436 ultraportable average. The Samsung Series 5 Ultra and the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga, both of which have a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U CPU, scored 3,358 and 4,419, respectively.
The U38N's 128GB SSD booted Windows 8 in a brisk 16 seconds. The Series 5 Ultra was a hair behind, at 17 seconds, but the Yoga took just 10 seconds.
During the File Transfer Test, the U38N duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 1 minute and 47 seconds. That translates to a transfer rate of 48 MBps, which is below the 83 MBps average, but enough to top the Series 5 Ultra's (500GB with 24GB SSD) 28.1 MBps. However, the Yoga's 128GB SSD blew the doors off the competition with a rate of 121 MBps.
On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, the U38N matched 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses in 8 minutes and 37 seconds. That's 1 minute and 29 seconds slower than the 7:08 average. The Yoga completed the task in 6:00, and the Series 5 Ultra finished in a speedy 5:38.
The ASUS U38N's AMD graphics can play just about any casual game on the market. However, anything more taxing is pretty much out of the question.
On 3DMark11, the U38N delivered a score of 983, comfortably higher than the 725 category average. Powered by Intel HD 4000 Graphics chips, the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga and the Samsung Series 5 Ultra notched scores of 530 and 545, respectively.
During our "World of Warcraft" test, the U38N delivered a frame rate of 22.4 fps on 1366 x 768 on Good. Switching to 1920 x 1080, the rate dropped to 20.1 fps. Neither are what we consider playable, nor did they come close to the 42 fps average. The Yoga notched 33 fps at 768p and 30 fps at 1600 x 900, both of which are playable frame rates. The Series 5 Ultra scored 23 fps at 1366 x 768.
During the Laptop Battery Test (continuous Web surfing via Wi-Fi), the ASUS U38N lasted 3 hours and 40 minutes. That's 2 hours and 22 minutes less than the 6:02 ultraportable average. The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga lasted 6:18 while the Samsung Series 5 Ultra finished at 6:10.
Preloaded apps on the U38N include ASUS Installation Wizard, which lets you install drivers and applications such as Cyberlink Power2Go from a single location; ASUS Tutor, which provides tutorials for using Windows 8; and Splendid Utility for modifying the display color settings.
ASUS Instant Connect provides USB tethering between your Android phone and the U38N. While this is a very useful feature, ASUS' software only supports ASUS and Samsung brand phones while third-party apps such as PDANet work with any Android phone.
ASUS also includes a few Modern style apps, including its own calculator app and an application called ASUS Converter, which can convert units of measurement to and from the metric system.
Third-party apps include Skype, Adobe Reader X and FreshPaint.
Aside from Windows 8 Professional, there are no business-centric software or security features on the U38N.
Our review unit features a 2.0-GHz quad-core AMD Trinity A10-4655M APU, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and an AMD Radeon HD 7620G GPU. The U38N is also available with 1.6-GHz AMD Trinity A8-4555M APU, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive with an AMD Radeon HD 7620G.
The ASUS U38N comes with a 1-year limited international hardware warranty and a 2-year battery pack warranty.
ASUS knows how to make a stunning notebook, but we don't see the U38N satisfying on-the-go business users. This laptop has a gorgeous 1080p touch display, a comfortable keyboard and decent port spread. However, short battery life and below-average performance compared with similarly priced Intel-powered Ultrabooks make this system a tough sell. For the money, we recommend the $1,149 Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga, which delivers more speed, long battery life and a more flexible design. Or get the ASUS Zenbook Prime with touch for $1,299 or the one without touch for around $1,000.