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Hands on: Asus unveils its Zenbook Ultrabooks

The 11in Zenbook UX21 and 13in UX31 are Asus' offensive against Apple's MacBook Air

UPDATE: Click here to read our full Asus ZenBook UX31 review.

Asus has just unveiled two Ultrabooks designed to take on the fantastic Apple MacBook Air – the Zenbook UX21 and UX31. The incredibly slim 11in and 13in laptops offer faster processors, better connectivity and a higher screen resolution than the Air. We took a closer look last night during the launch event.

ASUS ZenBook UX21 1

First impressions were positive; there was no bend or flex in the brushed metal chassis of either model. The circular brushed metal pattern etched into the lid looks fantastic and the aluminium alloy used for the rest of the chassis felt incredibly sturdy yet very light. At less than 1.2kg for the 13in, you’ll barely notice it in your laptop bag. Both models are a tiny 3mm thick at their thinnest point, the same as the MacBook Air.

Trying the keyboard, we were impressed with both the depth-of-travel and springiness of the keys. Naturally there’s no numerical keypad, and each key felt slightly smaller than full size, but we had no trouble typing on them. Unfortunately, neither model has a backlit keyboard, which will disappoint anyone looking for a like for like replacement for the MacBook Air. Asus has opted for a traditional touchpad with physical buttons, rather than a Mac-like buttonless one, but we had no trouble using it. The touchpad itself is a great size, the smooth metallic surface creates very little friction and the buttons are very responsive.

ASUS ZenBook UX21 ports

One area in which both Zenbooks shone was image quality. The UX31 in particular stands out from other ultrabooks because of its very high resolution screen. At 1,600×900, you’ll have plenty of room to work on two documents side-by-side. Even the 1,366×768 display on the 11in looks great for a TN panel, with plenty of brightness, impressive viewing angles and sharp images. We couldn’t judge screen quality accurately at the event, but we still came away impressed with what we saw. It’s worth noting that the MacBook Air also uses a TN panel – rather than Apple’s preferred IPS technology.

Unsurprisingly Asus has used Intel’s latest ultra-low voltage Core processors for performance (the ultrabook specification is an Intel creation, after all). The 11in version has a Core i5-2467M running at 1.6GHz, compared to the 1.8GHz Core i7-2677m in the 13in. Both models will come with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SATA III SSD, which helps cut down wake-up times to an incredibly fast two seconds. There’s no room for dedicated graphics, so both models will use Intel’s integrated GPU.

ASUS ZenBook UX21 lid

Asus expects battery life to average around five hours for the UX21, with the UX31 approaching seven. We’ll know for sure when we get our hands on one to run our battery benchmark on it, but for now we’ll have to take the company on its word.

Connectivity is decent enough for an ultrabook, although we were disappointed that only one of the two USB ports supports USB3. The 13in gets a multi-format card reader, but both models have a 3.5mm combi-jack for audio, plus mini HDMI and mini VGA video outputs. An Asus representative told us each Zenbook will include a USB to Ethernet adaptor, as well as a mini VGA adaptor, so you won’t need to buy any extra cables. They also include a smart looking laptop sleeve to keep the metal chassis free from scratches.ASUS ZenBook UX21 case

Based on what we’ve seen, we’re more excited about the Zenbooks than any other Ultrabook to date. It has great styling, sturdy construction and a stunning looking screen. Both ultrabooks will go on sale on the 21st of October in PC world, Currys and Dixons – the 11in model will cost £850, and you’ll have to pay out £950 for the 13in version. We’ll know for sure which is best when we get our hands on review samples later in the month.

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