on July 22, 2015
ASUS' U32U-ES21 isn't going to be your go-to gaming workhorse, nor is it your ideal machine for color-sensitive graphics work, but for most users, it's a pretty good fit.
I bought this machine in 2012 for school. At the time, I wanted a small, light notebook that would run basic office apps, a few light web development tools, Chrome, Photoshop, and Sims 2 (which I still play -- I like its building tools best of the Sims franchise): the U32U-ES21 managed that while requiring an up-front investment of <$500 USD, and as of this review it's still going strong.
The battery life, as advertised, is stellar. I don't know that the claimed 10 hours is accurate, but in Battery-Saver mode, I've eked out full days at school with no difficulty. Between that, its slim profile and relatively light weight, and its lack of blingy bleeding-edge stealability, theU32U-ES21 is a
frugal traveler's best friend -- assuming, of course, that the traveler in question is a young or young-at-heart backpacker who can't quite get by with a tablet (I also own a Samsung Galaxy Note tablet, and it's not quite a notebook-replacement).
The U32U-ES21 also runs cool and quiet: I am forever being startled by how hot and noisy other notebooks can be. Curiously, however, for all that this machine appears to have been nearly purpose-built for writing in bed without disturbing one's spouse, the mouse buttons are really ridiculously loud. There's nothing like a nice, crisp, "CLONK!" in the midst of a steady stream of quiet typing to settle the nerves, am I right? Fortunately, keycommands abound, and Tap-to-Click (with a decent "palm sensor" function) can be turned on as needed.
The mouse buttons in question also have pretty high action, which I find annoying, though others may not.
The minimal degree of keyboard flex, meanwhile, has never been a problem for me (and the keyboard and everything under it have handily survived a couple of campus coffee-shop incidents). The keyboard layout is quite comfortable for users with smaller hands; I can't speak to its suitability for those with larger hands.
Onboard graphics are just fine for Sims 2 (though, of course, it takes about a thousand years to launch, and once you're in you'll find yourself waiting for options to load in Build and Buy mode) and, surprisingly enough, Sims 3.
More action-oriented games, however, can suffer. Goat Simulator on Origin with two remote gamepads and dual monitors (so we could play on a projector screen) proved a bit much; since Goat Sim is *supposed* to be ridiculous, it was still enjoyable, but I don't think I'd want to play any serious actioner on this thing (fortunately, ballet soaks up too much of my time to leave room for serious action-oriented games).
Viewing angles, as others have noted, are a bit on the narrow side (though not ridiculously so). I'm a tad paranoid about privacy, so I don't actually mind that at all, though it did result in my notebook being demoted from its position as Official Megabus Movie Box when I travel to Chicago with my husband. Flexible display pivots allow sufficient fore-aft adjustment to make the machine usable in bed (where great novels are written and beleaguered undergrads bang out last-minute revisions).
Display color is, as often noted, less than true. It's perfectly acceptable for watching movies and playing games, as far as I'm concerned, but even light graphic-design work should be color-checked on more reliable monitors (unless you're going for a greyscale monochrome theme, I guess).
The screen itself is not blazingly bright. My eyes are pretty photosensitive, so this is great for me -- with f.lux running and system brightness cranked down, I can comfortably use this machine in a dark room. For the same reason, I'm glad that the keyboard isn't backlit; my touch-typing skills are excellent, though, so you hunt-and-peck types might consider that a drawback.
The screen is also glossy. That is a drawback, but a minor one -- a ding, rather than a true dent, in the U32U-ES21's halo. I expected to find it much more annoying than it turned out to be.
Not to say that there aren't any dents: in fact, there's at least one big one. Boot time can be maddeningly long (note to users: eliminate as much of the ASUS bloatware as you can, then turn off the "launch on boot" feature on anything you install or run, especially Chrome), as can the time it takes for this machine to launch more demanding applications (Launching Photoshop? Why don't you go grab a coffee, or maybe go for a jog?) and even some less-demanding ones (Just launching Word or Scrivener? You still have enough time to go grab an iced tea from the fridge...).
Likewise, things can get pretty bogged down when you've got a bunch of concurrent sessions of Chrome going, especially when one of them is remoting into your school's app cloud to run SPSS -- and I say this as someone who is a cheapskate about hardware and used to limiting how many tabs, windows, and applications he runs concurrently.
Dropping a second 4GB RAM chip in could bump performance up enough to offset some of the frustration without costing an arm and a leg or requiring a degree in Electrical Engineering; in fact, I plan to do exactly that (though, sadly, I still haven't gotten around to it: maybe tomorrow! They sell those right here on Amazon!).
Hard disk speed, however, would remain a challenge for this machine. Storage and retrieval can be sluggish. That, too, can potentially be resolved by dropping in a new HDD, though that could be a more expensive proposition (as it might also entail software purchases).
Speaking of dropping, my particular U32U-ES21 has survived about three or four not-insignificant falls: I don't always drop my laptop, but when I do, it's usually off my bed, which is about four feet off a hardwood floor. The aluminum screen cover has gained a couple of war-wounds -- a little dent and a scuff -- but the screen it protects remains functional and intact. One fall (out of a backpack's laptop compartment onto solid concrete) broke a retention clip on the battery; I ordered an even-longer-life replacement through Prime and was soon back in action.
Obviously, as I write this review in 2015, there are newer, shinier, and possibly cheaper notebooks on the market, all of which can do some of what the ASUS U32U-ES21 does better than it does -- but even with those, there tend to be significant trade-offs in terms of price, size, or included features.
The balance between affordable price point, light weight, and comfortably acceptable performance is still the place where the U32U-ES21 really shines.
In short, ASUS' U32U-ES21 may not be a hoss, but it's a solid, dependable little pack-mule that will get you where you need to go -- and if you're looking and find one used at a good price, I would definitely recommend snapping it up.