Single page Print

At the controls
While the brushed aluminum top panel makes the UL80Vt look and feel more expensive than it actually is, opening the lid quickly brings you back to reality. The system's 14" LED-backlit screen is ringed by glossy black plastic that's not only highly reflective, but also a fingerprint magnet.

The screen is a transreflective unit, but not an overly reflective one. At least there's enough brightness to overpower reflections in normal indoor lighting, which can't be said of all glossy displays. Otherwise, the screen's picture quality is largely average, which is becoming a common theme among budget notebooks. The viewing angles aren't particularly good, and the colors are a little muted. Don't worry about the blue tint in the picture above, though; that's my camera not getting along with TR's classic blue color scheme.

A 1366x768 display resolution with a 16:9 aspect ratio has become popular among budget notebooks, and you can add the UL80Vt to the growing list of models that have jumped on the bandwagon. This single-megapixel resolution is relatively low for a 14" display, although the fact that on-screen text is quite large and easy to read should appeal to folks with poor eyesight. The lower resolution also makes life easier for the GeForce graphics chip, since games tend to look their best when played at an LCD's native resolution.

Not content to just have the screen bezel mired with smudges, Asus also rings the keyboard with glossy black plastic. Matte finishes really make more sense for tactile surfaces that see constant handling, but manufacturers are seemingly obsessed with polished plastics, presumably because they look nice when all buffed up for product shots. At least the key surfaces ditch the gloss for a more practical flat black finish.

The keyboard is one of those new-age chiclet designs, and I quite like the layout. There's a decent border around each key, making it easy to keep track of where one's hands are without looking down. This attribute is particularly helpful when typing at speed in the dark, although an LED backlight for the keyboard would be even more useful.

Total keyboard area Alpha keys
Width Height Area Width Height Rough area
Size 298 mm 105 mm 31,290 mm² 169 mm 54 mm 9,126 mm²
Versus full size 104% 95% 99% 98% 95% 93%

Keyboard size generally isn't a problem with 14" systems, and the UL80Vt doesn't disappoint—its array of chiclets has nearly the same dimensions as our full-size reference. Asus could've made the keyboard a little larger, I suppose, but it appears to have used the same keyboard as in the 13.3" UL30A.

While I quite like the UL30A's keyboard, the UL80Vt's implementation isn't quite right. There's plenty of room to type, and key travel is adequate. However, the feel is a little muddled depending on which keys you're hitting. On the right side, the keyboard feels like it's backed with something significant. Keystrokes hit with a faint but satisfyingly dull thud. As you move left of center, that thud turns into more of a high-pitched click. There's much more flex on the left side of the keyboard, too, which makes for frustratingly inconsistent tactile feedback.

Flex also infects the chassis, which makes me think the UL80Vt could use a more substantial subframe. Or maybe it just needs more aluminum. Yeah, definitely more brushed aluminum. The screen feels quite sturdy, though, and the hinge action is smooth and tight.

Like many new notebooks, the UL80Vt's palm rests and touchpad surface are crafted from a single piece of plastic. Shallow dimpling defines the tracking area, making it easy to find without looking down. Although the effort to differentiate the tracking area is appreciated, Asus has done so with an inferior tracking surface. The dimples add some resistance, which isn't always consistent, making tracking somewhat rougher and less precise than it could have been with a smooth surface. Dimpling might be slippery from an aerodynamic perspective, but that doesn't translate to fingertips.

In the multi-touch department, the touchpad supports horizontal and vertical two-finger scrolling. That's it for gestures, though—you can't pinch zoom or two-finger swipe with this particular ELAN unit.