Tablets have been the hottest trend in consumer electronics lately, but while they are convenient in certain use cases, there’s no denying that laptops are far more versatile and powerful. My days in the classroom are behind me so I have not needed a daily laptop for the past couple years. But in the next several months, I will be doing a lot of business travelling with the need to do some computing on the road. Luckily for me, this need coincides with the grand launch of Intel’s Ultrabook initiative in October 2011.
Ultrabooks are ultrathin, light-weight laptops running mobile versions of the newest generation Intel CPUs with targeted prices of sub-$1000. Apple’s MacBook Air would technically fit into this product category, although it is not officially designated as an ultrabook. Acer and ASUS released their first ultrabooks just a couple weeks ago, and Lenovo and Toshiba are next in line. I have been admiring the ASUS Zenbook ever since its announcement, and now that I finally have it in my hands, I am delighted that it does not disappoint.
First, a run-down of its specs. The ASUS Zenbook comes in 11″ and 13″ flavors with a few options for storage capacity and CPU. I decided to go with the 13″ base model as I have played with the 11″ MacBook Air before and felt more comfortable with a larger screen.
— Intel Core i5 2557-M “Sandy Bridge” CPU
— 1600 x 900 resolution 13.3″ screen (very unique to have such a high resolution on a 13″)
— 4 GB RAM
— 128 GB SATA III solid state drive
— USB 3.0
— 0.71″ (1.8 cm) at thickest point
— 2.86 pounds
— Up to 7 hours battery life with 2 second instant-on resume
You can probably guess that this laptop is a direct competitor to the MacBook Air (some might call it a copy). Not only is it $200 cheaper compared to the equivalent MBA, this Zenbook also has a higher resolution screen and USB 3.0. The Macbook Air is a well-engineered product and clearly influential on the Zenbook’s design. In a classy gesture, ASUS Chairman Jonney Shih fittingly gave Steve Jobs a moment of silence during his recent Zenbook press event.
Photos don’t do the Zenbook justice. It is a marvelous product to gawk at and hold in person. Constructed with an aluminum unibody frame with aluminum keyboard and an ultrathin profile, the Zenbook makes a striking first impression. The brushed metal texture is not as gaudy as may appear in photos and feels more elegant than ostentatious.
The performance matches up to the gorgeous looks. This is a fast machine. I recently upgraded to a new desktop computer, which the Zenbook is not quite as powerful as, but this laptop definitely smokes my old desktop and likely would impress you if you have not bought a new computer in the past year. For benchmarks and lots of graphs, head over to AnAndTech.
I cannot underestimate how impressive the 2 second instant-on feature is and how it changes the way I use a laptop. Thanks to its speedy solid state drive, I do not hesitate to put the laptop to sleep whenever I have to step away, even for a minute. Then when I need to use it again, I just flip open the lid and I’m back in business, nearly instantaneously. This can stretch out the 7 hour battery life quite a while and make the battery last at least a full work-day without charging. Obviously you can put any laptop to sleep, but I frequently loathe to do so when I have to wait for the laptop to wake up. With instant-on and no moving parts thanks to the SSD, I treat the Zenbook almost like it’s a tablet.
In fact, it practically is as thin as a tablet. Here is the Zenbook compared to the iPad 1.
Compared to my Lenovo Thinkpad T60
Compared to my ASUS EEE PC Netbook. I still remember the days when I was so impressed by how light and portable the EEE netbooks were. The 13″ Zenbook is not in the same class thanks to its 3″ larger screen, but boy the 11″ Zenbook would humiliate the netbook.
The package comes with a surprisingly nice case made out of ballistic nylon with a leather flap and soft interior. It is sufficiently professional looking that I will proudly be using it on a series of business trips over the next few months.
I am supremely happy with the Zenbook and can’t recommend it highly enough. Gamers looking for a gaming laptop should look elsewhere, but for general users who want a powerful, speedy, ultraportable laptop with beautiful design at a reasonable price, the Zenbook is a magnificent machine.
Of note, there have been some well-publicized glitches with erratic trackpads and wireless strength (which tech blogs have slammed the Zenbook for in reviews), but ASUS has quickly addressed those issues with updates to download from their website. The biggest problem now for interested customers is getting their hands on one. As is the case with many ASUS product launches, supply streams out in a trickle and nobody can buy one anywhere. Head to the ASUS website to find stores that carry it and to find more information about the Zenbook.