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The display and the controls
Now that we're through with comparisons of dubious relevance, let's take a closer look at the U30Jc's cockpit. Like many recent notebooks, the U30Jc display has a 16:9 aspect ratio and a 1366x768 resolution. That resolution seems almost omnipresent these days, having permeated everything from 11.6" ultraportables to big-honkin' 15.6" desktop replacements—plus, let's not forget, a good percentage of smaller HDTVs.

1366x768 looks just right on a 13.3" panel, though. The pixels are a little smaller than on a typical desktop monitor, but that's only normal, since folks tend to sit closer to their laptops than desktops. The most important thing is that text at the default font setting looks neither too large nor too small, so web browsing doesn't get uncomfortable over time. Quite the contrary.

The U30Jc's display looks crisp enough, but its brightness didn't really wow us. That's unfortunate, because a glossy display finish really ought to go hand-in-hand with a very bright backlight. Otherwise, anything other than a solid white background will reflect the laptop's user and anything behind him. That aluminum MacBook we saw on the previous page has a noticeably brighter display, and I still find the reflectiveness a problem when using it in a well-lit environment or with a light source behind me.

Asus defaults to a somewhat high color temperature, so the image has a pretty strong blue tinge out of the box. Conveniently, however, one can switch between several color profiles by holding down the Fn key and hitting C. The "Gamma Correction" profile seems most akin to my own desktop monitor, but your mileage—and personal preference—may vary.

Otherwise, the U30Jc's display has a pretty run-of-the-mill TN panel with the accompanying caveats. Viewing angles are unsurprisingly mediocre, especially vertically, so you may feel an urge to adjust the display angle anytime your sitting position changes. You wouldn't have any luck finding a PVA or IPS panel in the U30Jc's price range, of course. TN panels are pretty much a given for notebooks like these, even if they happen to sport Apple logos.

Looking down brings us to the U30Jc's keyboard, which has one of those newfangled chiclet designs. I might be biased, because I use a similar chiclet keyboard on my desktop, but typing on this laptop feels pleasantly smooth and natural. Keystrokes aren't met with a whole lot of tactile feedback, but the keys bottom out with a faint yet satisfying clicking sound when depressed. The keyboard flexes when pushed down, but not enough to become bothersome during a typing session. Finally, the keys are a little small compared to those of our reference laptop (as the table below illustrates), but they're in the same league as what you'll find on Apple laptops.

  Total keyboard area Alpha keys
  Width Height Area Width Height Rough area
Size 295 mm 104 mm 30,680 mm² 168 mm 52 8,736 mm²
Versus full size 103% 95% 97% 98% 91% 89%

The keyboard design doesn't deserve sole credit for the U30Jc's typing comfort, because it has a great sidekick: the brushed aluminum palm rest. Set your wrists down on this bad boy, and you should feel no flex, no creaking, and no heat emanating from the laptop's internal components. None of that clingy, smudgy awfulness from those all-too-common glossy plastic palm rests, either. Sure, the aluminum feels a little cool to the touch when you first open up the system after some inactivity, but that's a small price to pay for the overall comfort and solidity. (Speaking of cool, the U30Jc's internal cooling system does a nice job of keeping the keyboard itself from heating up, even in games.)

Let your eyes drift farther south, and they'll come across the U30Jc's touchpad. This Elantech specimen has basic multi-touch functionality that lets you scroll with two fingers, right-click by tapping with three fingers, and middle-click by tapping with two.

Asus also provides a thin see-saw-style button for those who don't like tapping to click. Can you see, in the image above, how the button has a glossy, almost chrome-like finish? Yours will never look like that, because it'll be covered with finger smudges all the time. For a company that had the good sense to use a matte palm rest and display lid, applying a glossy finish to the one surface that serves no purpose other than to come in contact with fingers seems... puzzling. Aesthetics aren't the button's only problem: it actually sits recessed from the palm rest surface, so you have to apply pressure with your thumb angled down in an uncomfortable fashion to register a click.

Tap to click works well, thankfully, but several things about the tracking area bug me. Out of the box, the surface feels like a plate that's just come out of the dishwasher. You'll have to spend a few hours using the U30Jc (and presumably greasing it up with your skin's natural oils) before the tracking area is smooth enough to drag a finger across without it skipping. Additionally, two-finger scrolling and drag-and-dropping seem oddly unreliable, like the touchpad sometimes forgets your fingers are on it. After a few mishaps, I had to configure the software to require a second tap to drop a dragged item. That seemed to do the trick, although scrolling still felt a little finicky. Updating the touchpad drivers didn't seem to help.