The Asus Zenbook UX21 is the first 11-inch ultrabook to hit the shelves, joining the likes of the Acer Aspire S3 and its bigger brother, the Asus Zenbook UX31.
It expands the lineup of the new breed of super light and thin laptops, which has been nurtured by Intel. The ultrabook market is quickly expanding, with the Lenovo IdeaPad U300 and Toshiba Portege Z830 expected at the end of November.
The Asus Zenbook UX21 brings the exceptional power of the Intel Ultrabook to the small form laptop market, making it a different proposition to any existing netbook.
There’s Sandy Bridge power for starters, and power to match any full form laptop, but Asus has condensed all this technology into the smallest of chassis.
Of course, comparisons will be immediately drawn with the Apple MacBook Air, which is one of the best ultra-portable laptops money can buy, and these two 11-inch portables are very closely matched.
The Asus Zenbook UX21 matches the Apple MacBook Air in every respect. It’s just as well-built, made out of a single piece of aluminium, just as light and oozes the same head-turning style and class that makes people cast admiring glances while you work in public.
It has the same Intel Core i5 low voltage 1.6GHz processor, and a 128GB solid state hard drive, which keeps the system really responsive and fast.
While they’ve slashed the size of this waif- Ultrabook, and retaining some top class tech, Asus has created the best netbook ever made.
Despite being only 11 inches in size, this netbook-sized ultrabook doesn’t scrimp on power. Under the Asus Zenbook UX21’s hood there’s a low-voltage Sandy Bridge Intel Core i5 2467M processor, clocked at 1.6GHz.
Despite only having a clock speed of 1.6GHz, the low voltage Core i5 still packs plenty of power, and there are four cores to make mincemeat out of most tasks.
The Asus Zenbook UX21 has a few more tricks up its sleeve. It has 4GB of RAM, (the MacBook Air has just 2GB) and a 128GB SSD card that aids performance. And at £849, it’s a whopping £150 cheaper.
The Asus Zenbook UX21 is a Windows machine, so there’s no sleek OS X 10.7 Lion, should you have a preference, and there’s no superfast Thunderbolt port, but one of the two USB ports is the brand new USB 3.0 standard.
This whole package weighs just 1.2kg and measures just 9mm at its thickest point, making it frighteningly portable yet strong.
It’s clear from the outset that the Asus Zenbook UX21 has the right to rival the Apple MacBook Air, and the build quality is superb.
The aluminium body offers no flex, the lid rises smoothly from the body, the keys are tactile, comfortably spaced and easy to type on despite being on a netbook-sized portable laptop, and it’s comfortable to type on, although the reduced size did lead to more mistakes than a standard-sized laptop.
If you spend most of your day bashing out long documents, then you would probably want to opt for the Asus Zenbook UX21’s larger 13-inch cousin, the UX31, or the excellent Acer Aspire S3, which is available for £699 for the Intel Core i5 model.
The screen looks fantastic for such a small laptop, and it’s ideal for watching movies while you’re on the move. Colours were vibrant, the picture sharp, and this makes the Asus Zenbook UX21 a great media machine for regular business travellers who need a functional machine when they reach their destination.
One bugbear we had is with the Asus Zenbook UX21’s trackpad. For an 11.6-inch laptop, it’s well sized and smooth, but it’s extremely sensitive. This led to some chaotic moments, where clicks were registered accidentally, so things were dragged accidentally.
This is one area where the MacBook Air prevails, and its multi-touch track pad is smart enough to work out what you’re trying to do, and is seamlessly integrated with every part of the operating system.
We were impressed to find a handy protective sleeve in the package, because the brushed metal will scratch easily, but it will do little to help protect against crushes or bangs, so it’s worth upgrading to something more durable.
Cinebench 10: 7297
3D Mark ’06: 4096
Battery Eater: 189mins
The Asus Zenbook UX21’s Intel Core i5 2467M processor scored well in our lab tests, notching up 7297 in Cinebench, making it easily as fast as chips found on most mid-range laptops. It’s fully capable of multitasking standard tasks such as web browsing, streaming online video, picture editing and playing HD video.
When you consider the waif-like form of the Asus Zenbook UX21, it’s incredible that it can compete with bulky portable laptops.
In terms of graphics performance, the numbers that denote the quality of games, video rendering and programs such as Photoshop show that the Asus Zenbook UX21 doesn’t stack up so well.
There’s no dedicated graphics card here, so the processor handles the 3D effects instead. There’s enough power to watch video and make simple edits to video, but hardcore graphics programs and even mid-range games would test the system beyond its limits.
Battery life is also good, and we achieved 189 minutes using our lab software, which involves simulating document writing while looping HD video in the background. In real terms, you can watch a full HD movie before reaching for the charger, or expect around five hours of web surfing and writing before your laptop dies.
If you’re away from the mains all day, then you might not consider five hours to be enough, but you’d have to look to the Sony Z Series to get anywhere near the same power and portability as the Asus Zenbook UX21, and that would mean a huge jump in weight and price. The Sony Z Series and its external power pack cost in excess of £2,600.
One of the most noticeable attributes of the Asus Zenbook UX21 is the speed in which it resumes from sleep. Using innovations from Intel, the Zenbook resumes instantly, without the hangs and loading periods that have historically plagued Windows machines. This is the most tangible benefit, and brings the fight to the host of tablets on the market.
The screen itself is excellent, and it’s one of the best panels we’ve seen in a small form notebook. With the resolution equivalent to that of a larger 15-inch laptop, you can enjoy text documents and web pages properly, not like on a netbook, where the lower number of pixels means that web pages look zoomed it, meaning you have to scroll every few lines.
If you’re a regular traveller, and you like watching movies, then the Asus Zenbook UX21 is perfect, and has enough power to play back high-definition video. The extra two inches over a tablet makes all the difference too, and this means it’s a fantastic machine for those who mix work and play while on the move.
At over £100 cheaper than the Apple MacBook Air, with 2GB more RAM and an almost identical chassis, the Asus Zenbook UX21 is a fantastic buy for anyone looking for an ultra-portable laptop.
Some will argue that £850 is too much for a laptop that is too small to be an effective primary machine, and will need to be used in conjunction with something more powerful.
The form and size of this petite portable laptop is mind-blowing, especially when you consider the Sandy Bridge processor that’s inside.
You can play HD video and enjoy most tasks short of gaming and HD editing without coming across any issues, which genuinely offers an alternative to tablets such as the Asus Eee Pad Transformer.
The extras that Asus has packed into the box are also worth a special mention, and getting a thin protective sleeve and carry case for the extremely small charger add an extra bit of detail to this excellent all-round package.
The problem we have with the Asus Zenbook UX21 is that few people would want to use this little laptop as their primary machine, due to the uncomfortable size and lack of connectivity options.
At £850, it seems like a very expensive addition to someone’s portable armoury, and less versatile than its big brother, the Asus Zenbook UX31.
The trackpad also is also crossed off the Christmas card list, and while you do get used to it eventually, it seems designed to infuriate users who are starting out with this wonderful portable PC.
As a piece of modern laptop engineering, the Asus Zenbook UX21 is sublime. Only Apple has previously been able to make something this sleek, light, powerful and desirable, and for those who want to stick with Windows, this moment could not have come soon enough.
Any major faults are not with the Asus Zenbook UX21 itself, but with the merits of an 11.6-inch machine.
If you need something for long trips away, £850 seems steep when excellent 13-inch ultrabooks are available that could arguably be used as a primary machine. The Acer Aspire S3 Intel Core i5 version retails for just £699.
Up against a host of great tablets, including Asus’ own Eee Pad Transformer Prime, it’s hard to justify the outlay.
Despite this, the stunning power and portable body make this a great buy. As netbooks continue their rapid decline, this ultrabook could replace them, and with it show the world that laptops are here to stay.