Ultrabooks have been around for just over a year now, and when you are looking at Windows based thin and light notebooks today, invariably it will be some kind of Ultrabook. What are Ultrabooks? Well, an Ultrabook is simply an ultraportable notebook that uses an Intel CPU, runs Windows, and conforms to certain standards set by Intel. These standards ensure that all Ultrabooks are no more than a certain thickness and weight, have a minimum of 5 hours of battery life, and boot up in a matter of seconds.
When I wrote about the first generation of Ultrabooks that Future Shop carried, all the way back in September of last year, one of the models that I wrote about was the ASUS Zenbook. At that time they weren’t in stock, so I didn’t get a chance to spend some time with one personally. Since then I have managed to get some hands on time with one. Even though the UX21E model I looked at is now an older model, since it uses a 2nd Generation Intel i7 CPU, rather than the latest 3rd Gen ‘Ivy Bridge’ chip, it is still an excellent choice for a new notebook for back to school. Also, there is the bonus of it being on clearance now, so you can get one for a good deal from Future Shop.
The exact model (UX21E-DH71) I looked at is the i7 version. It comes with a dual-core Core-i7-2677M processor, which is nice and powerful for an ultra-light notebook. This CPU is combined with the now standard 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD drive. The screen resolution is 1366x768, again standard for many Ultrabooks, though unfortunately it is not a higher quality IPS panel (that has better image quality), but a standard TN display. All-in-all, the basic hardware specifications of the UX21E Zenbook aren’t that different than many other Windows Ultrabooks. However, it is the overall look and design of ASUS’s entry into the Ultrabook category that really sets it apart. As the pictures in this article show, the Zenbook really is a very handsome piece of technology, with a crisp industrial design created in brushed aluminum.
In order to simplify my review I’ll break down the Zenbook’s good and bad into two sections:
As mentioned, the all metal construction and sharp design makes for a very slick looking piece of hardware. The gunmetal lid, with the circular swirling finish is very unique, and there are lots of nice innovative touches in the design, such as the location of the cooling vents near the top of the keyboard. It is also very compact, extremely thin (3mm at the thinnest point), and very light (only 2.4 lbs).
Along with looking good, the i7 version of the Zenbook I tested also runs very well. It boots up in a matter of seconds, thanks to its fast CPU and SSD drive (20 seconds from cold boot, 2 seconds from sleep, to Windows). While the 2nd Gen Intel i7 doesn’t have the more powerful graphics chip of the newest ‘Ivy Bridge’ processors, the Intel 3000 graphics chip integrated into the CPU is still more than capable of playing older and less demanding games at reasonable settings. I also found the UX21E Zenbook to be very quiet, even when under load, and the battery life was good for an 11” notebook (around 4.5 hrs of continuous use doing regular web surfing etc.).
While I did like the UX21E Zenbook a lot, nothing is perfect, and there were a few things that I didn’t like. While I understand that ASUS had to keep the costs down, and it’s not like other Windows Ultrabooks are any different, I do wish that the UX21E had a better quality screen (an IPS panel for better colour reproduction, greater viewing angles, with an anti-glare matte finish). The chicklet style keyboard isn’t bad, but I did find the keys a little too small and close together for my tastes. However, I do have big hands, so this might not be as much of an issue for you. I also wish ASUS had made the keyboard backlit, a feature that comes in very handy when using a notebook in low light conditions. Another issue for me, that may have been fixed by a driver update from ASUS since I tested it out, was that the trackpad was a little fussy, not registering my touch properly at all times, and not picking up the multi-touch gestures it is supposed to support. Lastly I did find that the position of the USB ports was poorly thought out, in that if you plug in a USB stick, or USB card reader that is a little too wide, you can block the use of the other ports on the sides of the notebook.
Overall if you are looking for an Ultrabook for back-to-school the ASUS Zenbook UX21E is an excellent choice. While it might not be running the latest Intel CPU, it is still a very capable piece of hardware, and it doesn’t hurt that it is one of the best looking notebooks on the shelf.
Since Future Shop has both i7 CPU and i5 CPU versions on the Zenbook on clearance, my comments above can be applied to the i5 model too, which has exactly the same specs, other than the slightly slower CPU.
Lastly, if you want to read a more in-depth (8 pages!) review of the ASUS Zenbook, check out the review on Anandtech.
Stylish and impossibly slim, the Asus UX21E-DH71 Ultrabook offers incredibly nimble performance in a design that's built to go anywhere. It's equipped with the latest technology including a top-tier Intel Core i7 processor, a 128GB solid state drive, USB 3.0 connectivity, and so much more. At 11.6-inches, it's a truly portable performer.
Stylish and impossibly slim, the Asus UX21E-DH52 Ultrabook offers incredibly nimble performance in a design that's built to go anywhere. It's equipped with the latest technology including an Intel Core i5 processor, a 128GB solid state drive, USB 3.0 connectivity, and so much more. At 11.6-inches, it's a truly portable performer.
ASUS 11.6" Zenbook specs:
- Processor: Intel Core i7 2677M 1.8 GHz Processor / Intel Core i5 2477M 1.6 GHz Processor
- Operating System: Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
- Chipset: Intel QS67 Express Chipset
- Memory: 4GB DDR3 1333 MHz SDRAM, On-Board Memory
- Display: 11.6" 16:9 HD (1366x768) LED Backlight
- Storage: SATA3 128GB SSD
- Graphics Chipset: Intel HD Graphics 3000, integrated
- Networking: Integrated 802.11 b/g/n, built-in Bluetooth V4.0
- Interfaces: 1 x Headphone-out jack (Audio-in Combo), 1 x USB 3.0 port(s) , 1 x USB 2.0 port(s), 1 x micro HDMI, 1 x Mini VGA
- Battery: 4800 mAhPolymer Battery, up to 5hrs of battery life.
- Dimensions: Only 3 mm at the front and 9 mm at the rear, 29.9 x 19.6 x 0.3 ~1.7 cm (WxDxH)
- Weight: 1.1 kg
- ASUS exclusive Super Hybrid Engine II with Instant On 2-second resume
Slideshow of other images of the Zenbook, click to go to Picassa to see larger versions:
All pictures © 2012 Alex Davies
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