Review: Asus Zenbook UX21

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Anyone who has ever used an ultraportable notebook knows all too well the sacrifices that come with mobility. The rule of thumb was that the lighter and thinner your notebook was, the greater the hit in performance was. Road warriors had always had to make the painful choice between mobility and performance, and the results weren’t pretty. That’s why I was pretty skeptical of Intel’s ultrabook initiative, which basically promised to deliver extremely thin and light notebooks with performance that was close to those of mainstream notebooks. But after my time with the Asus Zenbook UX21, I’m a believer.

I actually saw the UX21 way back in June during COMPUTEX in Taiwan, and my reaction, like most of the media present during the official launch event, was awe and amazement. At first glance, the notebook was so impossibly thin I swore that it was channelling chi from long dead supermodels.

The whole thing is only 9mm thick at the deepest point (3 at the thinnest). The UX21 sports a beautiful 11.6-inch 16:9 HD (1366×768) LED backlit display which surprisingly, was very bright. Externally, the UX21 is beautiful – its chassis is made from aluminium, and the way the notebook just refracts light makes it look like something else other than a notebook. And while it looks like the UX21 would be a hefty notebook, it lightly tips the scales at 1.1 kilos.

Of course, some sacrifices had to be made to make the notebook as thin and as light as possible. The keys are slightly smaller than the regular keyboards on notebooks, and you only get two USB ports though kudos to Asus on making one of the ports 3.0. There’s no optical drive (understandably) and no Ethernet plug either. You’ll also have to buy mini-VGA and HDMI ports if you want the image on the notebook to stream on a TV or projector. You also get an all-glass trackpad that’s clickable (like the one on MacBooks) with a subtle separator for the left and right mouse button.

Internally, the UX21 uses an Intel Core i5 2467M Processor (1.6 GHz) with about 4GB of DDR3 memory. Storage is done by way of a 120GB SSD drive which, in theory, should speed up access and boot times and improve battery life.

Because the UX21 uses an SSD drive, it’s able to post extremely fast boot times, both in cold boot (with the notebook off) and recovering from hibernation. The UX21 turns on quickly, requiring less than 20 seconds (18 seconds in fact) from switching the power on to actually seeing the Windows 7 desktop. Recovering from hibernation takes about 13 seconds.

Overall performance was great. The UX21 was able to handle almost everything I used it with, from watching video to browsing several sites while covering the BlackBerry Developer Conference a while back. Streaming HD video wasn’t a problem with the UX21 and though it’s not the right device for hardcore gaming, it’s still capable of running casual and mainstream games at acceptable resolutions. And while I typically don’t expect much from notebook speakers (ultraportables especially) the UX21 managed to delightfully surprise me. Music and video clips played from the UX21 were loud, crisp and clear, and though it had pathetic bass, it’s still a leg up against other similar notebooks.

Battery life wasn’t that stellar though, and the UX21 managed roughly 4 ½ hours on a single charge with constant use. Then again, there isn’t a whole lot of space in the UX21 to cram a large battery in, and we suppose that’s the price you pay for added mobility.

Of course, being Asus’ first ultrabook, it’s not perfect. The keyboard for example has shallow travel, and as a result, the keys feel really mushy. The trackpad also exhibited some weird behaviour, and doesn’t recognize input right away – it actually felt like the same kind of lag I experience when using a wireless mouse.

Possibly the biggest thing that potential users will balk at is the price – the UX21 retails for about Php 53,995, which pretty much puts it on par price-wise with the MacBook Air. Then again, the UX21 is possibly one of the most beautiful notebooks I’ve ever used so far for the Windows platform, and while I don’t necessarily hate Macs, I really can’t imagine myself using one. If you’re a person that values portability and mobility the most, and can’t imagine yourself using a Macbook Air, then you might want to take a look at Asus’ Zenbook offerings. I guarantee that you won’t regret it.

 

What’s Hot:

  • Solid construction
  • Fantastic styling
  • Extremely thin and light
  • Good performance
  • Excellent sound

 

What’s Not:

  • Keys are mushy and have shallow travel

 

Bottomline:

Looking for an absolutely beautiful, thin and light notebook that runs Windows? Well, you might want to pick up the UX21.

 

Buymeter: 8.9

 

Tech Specs

  • Screen Size: 11.6-inch 16:9 HD (1366×768) LED
  • Memory: 4GB DDR3
  • CPU and chipset:  Intel Core i5 2467M Processor (1.6GHz)
  • Physical Dimensions: 299 x 196 x 9mm
  • Warranty: 1 year on parts and labor