The ASUS UL20A presents a fairly muted design. Unlike many consumer-targeting laptops, the UL20A isn’t completely glossed over. Yes, the display is still of the glossy variety; however, the brushed aluminum LCD lid and black and silver color scheme would work well in a corporate environment as well. If nothing else, the design gives limited surface area to attract and show fingerprints.
In terms of size, the UL20A hits a sweet spot for portability and usability. The 11.6″/12″ display is about as small as portable should get, while still maintaining a usable WXGA resolution. On the other hand, ASUS is able to pack in a dual core Intel CULV processor, which provides ample power for on-the-go multitasking. A near full-sized keyboard and decent touchpad can be included. Crucially, now that I find myself flying more and more often, the smaller footprint allows me to work more comfortably in the cramped economy class conditions. ASUS probably could have made it marginally smaller, if they shaved down some of the bezel and shored up the area above the keyboard. No big deal though.
With the flush-mounted battery (yay!) at the rear of the laptop and tight display hinges, opening the UL20A is necessarily a two-handed affair. Perhaps after working in the hinges a bit more, they’ll loosen up and I can more easily open it with one hand. There is no lid latch – it stays closed with the pressure from the hinges only. Speaking of hinges, the popular drop-hinge type is employed here, lowering the overall height of the laptop when opened, but also meaning the lid only opens to about 130 degrees.
Aside from the keyboard and touchpad, only two buttons adorn the UL20A, a power button and a button that launches the system into ExpressGate or changes the power profile, depending on whether the laptop is off or on, respectively. There are no dedicated multimedia controls. Function options on the F-keys and direction arrows serve those purposes.
Also note, as with other CULV machines with the 12″ size, the UL20A does not come with a built-in optical drive.
Overall build quality of the ASUS UL20A is good, but not great. The brushed aluminum LCD lid does wonders for the laptop when closed. There is very little flex in the lid as you open the laptop or adjust the screen position. Contrast that with my Dell XPS M1330, which had a thin, but extremely flimsy feeling lid. On the other hand, where the M1330 had fantastic aluminum palm rests and a magnesium alloy base, the plastic palm rests and base of the UL20A probably won’t take as much of a beating before showing wear. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no flex to be found in the plastic – it just doesn’t feel like it would stand up to as much as the chassis of the Dell. Picking up the ASUS by a corner, with the screen open, isn’t an issue, partly due to the relatively light 3.3lb weight.
I’d rate the build quality of the UL20A better than the Acer/Gateway CULV laptops, but for the most part, lower than the Dell XPS M1330 I previously had, after I sorted out the initial build teething issues I had with the M1330. Certainly, compared to the Lenovo Thinkpads I’ve used, it doesn’t come close to the sturdiness found there. On the other hand, it will easily stand up to the conditions I’ll expose it to. I don’t feel uncomfortable with tossing it into my bag day in, day out.
The ASUS UL20A uses a 12.1″ 16:9 format widescreen display. The resolution is 1366×768. The screen follows the pattern of almost all other consumer displays in being glossy. It is barely usable outdoors, and then only because the LED backlight is relatively bright.
Vertical viewing angles are poor, while horizontal viewing angles will most likely be limited by glare before actual display characteristics in most situations. A very generic display overall, not terribly good nor poor.
The display is surrounded by an ultra-glossy bezel. It seems completely out of character with the rest of the laptop, as the lid and palm rests are subdued in design. Furthermore, it picks up dust like nobody’s business. It’s a pain to keep clean, and a generally poor design decision.
The Alec Lansing speakers are located on the bottom of the laptop, and fire downwards and forwards. The speakers are decently loud, and don’t distort much at higher volumes. However, bass is lacking and resting on any sort of surface, a good portion of the sound will get pumped into nothingness. On one’s lap, a lot of sound will get soaked up.