In the still brand new world of Ultrabooks, it is quite important to make a really good first impression to show the world what really separates the Ultrabooks from traditional notebook laptops. The Asus Zenbook which was launched late last year was one of the Ultrabooks that really made an impression, earning the moniker “œthe PC version of the MacBook Air”.
The Asus Zenbook comes in two flavors just like the MacBook Air, an 11-inch (UX21) and a 13-inch (UX31). What we have here is the UX21 which is really ideal for the mobile workers or travelers out there and we’ll show you how this fares as your do-it-all, bring-anywhere laptop in our review.
The initial impression the Asus Zenbook UX21 gave me was a sturdy, solidly-built laptop. The combination of its ultrathin edges and brushed metal finish makes this laptop really sexy, deadly sexy.
The lid has a sandblasted metal with a concentric design which is very eye-catching even from afar. This finish also makes it smudge proof. The underside is made of a single piece of brushed aluminum to complete the solid build of the Zenbook.
The rear of the Zenbook has a thinness of just 9mm while the front measures just 3mm. Talk about wafer thin.
On the left side you will see the miniVGA port, USB 2.0 port and audio jack. On the right side is the DC jack, USB 3.0 port (take note) and a miniHDMI port. The USB 3.0 port also allows for quick charging so use it to charge your phones instead of the other USB port. What’s missing is an SD card reader and if that’s important to you, you can opt for the UX31 instead.
Opening the lid you would see a well-spaced keyboard surrounded by a comfortable palm rest with the same brushed aluminum finish as that of its underside. There’s also an equally spacious touchpad with the left and right click buttons embedded to it. No special buttons whatsoever can be found anywhere as Asus decided to keep things simple here.
The hinge of the lid is very sturdy and doesn’t flex if you’re transporting it around with the lid open. On the hinge you will also see the exhaust and speaker grills.
Display and Audio
The 11.6-inch screen of the UX21 sports a standard 1366 x 768 resolution (16:9). It you want a class-leading display, the UX31 has a whopping 1600 x 900 resolution. With a brightness power of 450 nits, it’s bright enough for outdoor use and even 10% brightness (my setting) is very usable indoors.
Audio on the Asus Zenbook is powered by Bang & Olufsen ICEpower which is what Asus commonly use on their N-series multimedia laptops. I tried watching a movie on it and the sound is loud enough that I was able to hear conversations clearly. There’s no distortion even at the highest volume. Plug in a decent speaker and you can have a party.
I would like to dedicate a section to the keyboard because I’m quite picky on a laptop’s keyboard.
The keyboard on the Asus Zenbook, like I said, is well-spaced with big keys and no flex at all. There’s no backlit though which I don’t mind really. The keys look like solid metal but they’re just plastic with an aluminum finish.
The thing is, the keys are not raised enough to give a good tactile feedback. I had to adjust how hard I hit the keys and this would result to some keys not being pressed. Users switching from a ThinkPad’s keyboard will know what I mean. I’ve been typing this review on this Zenbook for a few days now and I’m still getting the occasional mistypes.
As for the keyboard layout, my only concern is the Power button on the upper right which is usually where the Del key is situated. I would often accidentally hit the Power button but it’s a good thing that it won’t automatically switch off the laptop but instead, offer you options on how to shut it down.
The trackpad on the Zenbook is huge although I prefer the click buttons to be raised for a more natural click using the side of my thumb. There’s no dedicated scroll area but it accepts multi-touch gestures. Use two fingers to scroll up and down a page, pinch to zoom which has a bit of delay and my favorite, three-finger swipe down to show the desktop. It’s also important to mention that the mouse pointer doesn’t jump around while typing on the keyboard unlike a lot of laptops I’ve used.
Powering the Asus Zenbook UX21 is a 2nd generation Intel Core i5 2467M processor which is a 1.6GHz dual core processor that can go up to 2.3GHz when a single application demands it. It’s virtually a quad-core processor due to Intel’s Hyper-threading technology. Rounding up the specs is a 4GB DDR3 RAM and a 128GB SATAIII solid-state drive for a really speedy performance.
The Zenbook UX21 comes with a 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium to make use of the 4GB RAM so take note when installing applications, use the 64-bit version. Here’s the impressive Windows Experience Index:
It doesn’t have a dedicated GPU so don’t expect blazing fast rendering of videos or high settings on 3D games (like Half Life 2) but they are playable with the integrated Intel graphics. It also performs well when multitasking and opens application (like those heavy Adobe ones) rather quickly.
What’s common with SSD-powered notebooks is their fast start-up and shutdown time. From a full shutdown or hibernate, I timed about 22 seconds before the Chrome browser appeared and ready to be used. From standby mode, it’s a fast 2-second instant on affair like what they advertised.
The Asus Zenbook UX21 has a 35W battery that is listed as being capable of 5+ hours worth of straight computing. But what does that mean in reality? Watching live streaming with WiFi always on and 30% brightness, the UX21 gives me about 3 hours and a half on a single charge. In standby mode, the UX21 lasted for about 2 days which is a far cry from the MacBook Air which can go for days to weeks in standby mode.
What I like here though is the charger which is not your typical brick type that is bulky with a detachable cord. The charger of the Asus Zenbook is similar to the MacBooks which is more compact and easy to store when traveling.
You might be wondering that with a slim design, the unit is bound to get hot. Yes it does but not too hot that to be uncomfortable placing this on your bare lap. It’s not too warm either so insignificant heat issues on this one.
The performance of Ultrabooks is comparable to mainstream laptops using SSD drives. The appeal here is definitely the form factor and the Asus Zenbook is definitely the most gorgeous-looking Ultrabook in the market if you’re gunning for looks and portability. The overall build of the Zenbook UX21 screams premium and can really go head-to-head with the MacBook Air.
There are still room for improvement on the UX21 but the inclusion of SD card is not one of them since there’s simply no more space with this thin design. A backlit keyboard would be nice and also relocating the Power button and raising the keys a bit higher would make it a joy to type on.
For P53,995, the price of the Asus Zenbook UX21 is cheaper than the similarly specced MacBook Air by P6000. I think it’s reasonably priced for having the best-looking, very travel-friendly, full-powered laptop you can own outside the world of Apple.
|Z-height||3mm at the front; 9mm at the rear|
|CPU||Intel Core i5-2467|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 3000|
|Memory||4GB DDR3 RAM|
|Backlight/ Resolution||450 nits HD 1366×768|
|Instant on||Always resume in 2 seconds|
|I/O port||6 (USB2.0 / USB3.0 / audio jack / DC jack / microHDMI / miniVGA)|
|SSD Generation||SATAIII 128GB SSD|
|Battery||35W (5+ hrs)|
|Mic||MEMS MIC (Digital MIC)|
|Keyboard||268 Chiclit KB|
|Audio||Bang & Olufsen ICEpower® SonicMaster|