23/01/2012 17:47 | By Cliff Joseph, contributor, MSN Tech & Gadgets

Asus Zenbook UX31E review

Though it's expensive, if you need a really slim, light laptop then the Asus Zenbook is worth the cost.

Asus Zenbook (© Asus)

What is it?
One of the new wave of 'Ultrabooks' - super slim, light and with great battery life.

What's great?
Less than an inch thick, yet it packs in a state-of-the-art i7 processor and five to six hours of battery life.

What's not?
The viewing angle of the screen could be improved, and it's not up to playing the latest 3D games.

Bottom line:
Expensive, but worth it if you need a really slim, light laptop.

If the ZenBook is anything to go by then 2012 could well be the year of the 'Ultrabook', as this new generation of super-slim laptops really starts to reshape the laptop market.

The brushed metal design prompts inevitable comparisons with Apple's MacBook Air, but the ZenBook is certainly one of the most striking and elegant PC laptops we've ever seen.

The machine measures a mere 18mm thick (0.7 inches) when folded shut, and weighs just 1.3kg. It's hard not to pick it up and turn it around in your hands as you admire its slimline style.

It's cheaper than the MacBook Air, starting at £999 for a model with a 13.3-inch screen. There's also an 11.6-inch model called the UX21E, which costs about £850. Just remember that there's no room for a DVD drive inside that slimline unit, so you might need to budget a little extra cash for a separate DVD drive.

That's the only thing missing, though, as the ZenBook provides a good range of additional features. There's a built-in webcam, memory card slot, high-speed USB 3 and a standard USB 2 port as well.

There's also a micro-HDMI interface for connecting the ZenBook to an HD TV - although you'll need to buy a separate adapter for this.

The ZenBook uses wi-fi for networking and doesn't have a separate Ethernet network interface, but Asus does include a USB-to-Ethernet adaptor in case you need to connect it to a wired office network.

The keyboard is solidly built and comfortable to use, and there's a nice big trackpad that supports multi-touch gestures, such as pinch-and-zoom, and a three-finger swipe to navigate forwards and backwards through web pages. The ZenBook also includes Intel's 'Instant On' feature, which restarts the machine from sleep in just two seconds.

There's plenty of power inside that slimline chassis too, as the ZenBook sports a top-of-the-range Intel i7 dual-core processor running at 1.8GHz, along with 4GB of memory and a 128GB solid-state drive. That's more than powerful enough for routine tasks such as word processing and browsing the web, and can even handle more demanding tasks such as photo or video editing. It's also faster than the i5 processor in the more expensive MacBook Air.

Battery life is good - we got a full five hours out of the ZenBook when using wi-fi to stream HD video off the BBC iPlayer, and you could probably get six hours or more for less-demanding tasks.

There are a couple of weak spots, though. The Intel HD 3000 graphics chip is fine for playing video but not much cop for the latest 3D games. And while the 1600 x 900 resolution of the screen produces a bright and clear image it could still use slightly sharper contrast in order to produce crisper blacks when playing video. The viewing angle is also quite limited, so it won't be ideal for giving a business presentation to a group of people sitting around a table.

So it's not perfect, but the sheer elegance of the ZenBook and its powerful i7 processor justify its hefty price tag - and really throws down the gauntlet for the MacBook Air at last.

The Asus Zenbook is rated four stars out of five by MSN Tech & Gadgets

Essential info
Typical online price: £999
URL: zenbook.asus.com
Screen: 13.3-inch, 1600 x 900 resolution
Processor: Intel i7 at 1.8GHz
Memory: 4GB
Hard disk: 128GB solid-state drive
Weight: 1.3kg

Also consider
Samsung Series 9 - another super-slim laptop, but with a classy black chassis and matte-finish screen.
Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch - bigger and heavier, but with an even more powerful i7 processor and better 3D graphics.

What you said
"It would score five out of five, but the touchpad doesn't work properly. The multifinger scolling is useless, it moves pages at a time with the slightest finger movement." ciao1911
(review based on the UX21E model)