Zenbook Launches: Does It Beat the MacBook Air? [VIDEO]

Asus Zenbook Metallic Spun Finish
It's got a burnished finish.

Asus Zen Typing Experience
The metal keyboard feels pretty good.

Asus Zenbook is 3mm Thin on One Side
This ultrabook is just about as thin as the MacBook Air

Asus Zenbook Power Adapter
The Zenbook as a tiny power adapter port--smaller even than an audio jack.

Asus Zenbook Standby Goes On and On
Asus promises two weeks of standby time.

Asus Zenbook USB Port and SD Slot
The Zenbook has two thing the MacBook Air does not: USB 3.0 and an SD card slot.

Asus Zenbook Base
One notable feature os the Zenbook base are the screws. I wonder if Asus lets you replace the battery.

Asus Zenbook Is So Thin
The laptop really is, at 2.42 pounds, thin and light.

Asus Zenbook Keyboard
I'm not sure if this is a full-size keyboard, but it certainly feels like it.

Asus Zenbook Lying Open
Look, it's the Zenbook at rest.

Asus Zenbook Ports
The other side of the Zenbook features another USB port (far right--only one is USB 3.0), mini HDMI cable port (left) and a mini VGA port (center).

Asus Zenbook Sitting Up
Another look at the Zenbook in repose.

Asus Zenbook Top View
The Zenbook is shiny and feels smooth to the touch.

Asus Zenbook Touchpad
The Zenbook's touchpad is large and responsive

Asus Zenbook laptopHolding Asus’s new $999, 11.6-inch, 2.42 lb. Zenbook UX21 in one hand is an oddly familiar experience. Perhaps that’s because it feels almost exactly like its chief competitor, the 11.6-inch MacBook Air.
Asus Chairman Jonney Shih unveiled the new ultra-thin Zenbook laptop — it’s 3 mm on its thinnest side and 17 mm on its thickest side — at a private event on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Shih did not mention the MacBook Air directly. He compared the Zenbook in price, performance and ports to what he called a “competitor,” but which could only be Apple’s thinnest and lightest laptop.
Apple’s shadow was inescapable at the event, however. Shih paused at the beginning to remember Apple cofounder and former CEO Steve Jobs who passed away last Wednesday, saying Asus had “great respect for his vision and innovation.”
Encased in brushed steel, the Zenbook feels solid, yet light. As Shih noted, the super-thin laptop’s $999 configuration, which includes 4 GB of 133MHz DDR 3 RAM, a 128 GB SATA Solid State Drive (SSD) and USB 3.0 ports (I counted two), is $200 cheaper than a similarly configured “competitor” (read: MacBook Air). You can by a MacBook Air for $999 with the same Intel Core i5 CPU — but with only half the memory and storage space.
The Zenbook is known more generically as an “Ultrabook”. This is Inte’s label for the latest generation of super thin and light laptops built around its second generation Core mobile CPUs.
Shih promised the Zenbook would get 7 hours of battery life (roughly 3.4 hours of streaming video and 3.25 hours of gameplay) and could remain in standby for up to two weeks. The Zenbook is designed to back up user data if battery power falls to 1%. Shih was also quite proud of the Zenbook’s two-second resume time – a speed I confirmed when I opened the laptop myself. Of course, that’s just four seconds faster than Shih’s oft-mentioned “competitor”.
Near-instant on and the ability to sit in standby for 14 days is part of Asus’s goal to make laptops more like smartphones, explained Shih.
The 11.6-inch Zenbook runs Windows 7, has a responsive keyboard that doesn’t feel particularly cramped, and offers a large touchpad. I like that the touchpad has a defined area for right clicking, rather than requiring you to use two fingers. Virtually all the demo models Asus had on display were running a more powerful Intel Core i7 CPU, so assessing performance on the $999 Core i5 model will have to wait until they send us a review unit.
Like the MacBook Air, the Zenbook offers two USB ports — though Apple doesn’t employ the speedier USB 3.0 like Asus does. The Zenbook also has a mini HDMI port, and adds an SD card slot — something notably missing from the Air. Neither laptop has an Ethernet port (although Apple charges $29 for the Ethernet-to-USB adapter, while Asus is throwing one in for free).
During the product demonstration Shih also showed off a fairly impressive sound system. He said it was co-developed by Asus’s “Golden Ear’ audio group along with Bang Olufsen. You’ll also find the standard wireless connectivity options, including 80211 b/g/n, Wi-Fi and a bluetooth radio.
The Zenbook goes on sale Wednesday Oct. 12. Do you want one? Let us know in the comments.

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