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Friday
Feb242012

Asus Zenbook Ultrabook [Review]

During the past Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, I got the chance to attend Intel’s press conference. The event was all about the effort Intel was putting behind “ultrabooks”.

These types of computers are design to compete in a category made popular by Apple’s MacBook Air. They characterize themselves by being extremely portable, sport a thin design, been lightweight, SSD as hard drive and good performance.

Intel and computer manufacturers look for these models in this category to stand out on performance compared to Apple’s Air, while trying to sell for a similar price.

Since CES I have been testing the Asus Zenbook Intel provided me to review and these are my impressions.

Design

The design of the Asus Zenbook is very similar to that of the MacBook Air, but is easy to see the resemblance it has to its family member the Eepad Transformer Prime tablet. This is due to the aluminum on the back of the display.

The model we got is the UX31, which has a display size of 13.3” and measures 9mm on its thickest point all the way down to 3mm on the thinnest part. It is very light and easy to carry; you don’t even feel it in your backpack. Compared to my current MacBook, the Zenbook is a delight to carry around.

The Zenbook’s design doesn’t compromise the size of the trackpad or keyboard, which means that typing on the Zenbook’s keyboard feels very good.

Does this charger look familiar?

Specs

Aside from its size, the Zenbook has some interesting specifications. These go from an Intel i5 processor, 4GB DDR3 1333MHz of RAM, 128GB SSD (Solid State Drive) Sandisk SATA III and Bluetooth 4.0

These specs I consider essential for these kinds of laptops, at least for me, of those that carry an SSD.

Aside from these specs, they carry around audio speakers Bang & Olufsen ICEpower SonicMaster that I have to confess deliver excellent audio quality and volume.

This “ultrabook” has some outputs and connections like a USB 3.0 port, a USB 2.0 port, microphone input, headphone jack, DC jack, Micro HDMI and an SD card reader.

With the Zenbook comes a LAN to USB converter, VGA adaptor and even a cleaning cloth.

Performance

I’ve already said that I’m please with audio and portability. In the portability side, the battery, under moderate use of Internet, Microsoft Office and medium brightness the battery lasted some 5 and half hours.

The OS is Windows 7 Home Premium and it thankfully didn’t come with all the pre-loaded ad programs and toolbars that usually come with Windows machines.

Sadly I have to say that even though it has an Intel i5 processor and an SSD, the Zenbook didn’t move as fast as I would expect. My current 5 year-old MacBook with an SSD booted faster than the Zenbook.

At times it took more time than expected to open programs, which is safe to say took almost the same time as a computer with a regular HDD.

With this I mean that the SSD is not a differentiator. With a MacBook Air is easy to see that it sports an SSD just by booting it up.

I also found that opening menus took more time than expected, and I confess that after many years on the Mac, seeing the Windows warning whenever I installed a program is not something I’m particularly happy to see or even miss.

Conclusion 

Intel has been pushing the “ultrabook” category as a way to make strong competition against the MacBook Air and leave behind the “netbooks”, which have not been selling at all thanks to the “tablets”, and they have never been good in performance to begin with.

I think that for the price - this particular model is around $1,000 USD - is an alternative to the Air, which for the same price, offers less storage and RAM memory, but it doesn’t offer the same performance.

If Asus and other manufacturers want to steal away some market share from Apple they will need to lower the price even more, something Intel is intensely working to achieve. 

Betting on portability, performance, SSD and a sleek design, Intel, Asus, Lenovo and others look to take the spotlight away from the MacBook Air.

Intel mentioned at CES that companies are looking to add features such as touchscreen and some designs aim to specific people to have a differentiator factor. At the end of the day, performance trumps design.

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