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168 of 184 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2011
This is a significant product, and a long-awaited one. Previously, if you wanted to have a notebook like MacBook Air, you'd be forced to switch to Mac regardless of how much of a Windows person you were. Nothing else on the Windows side was really even remotely comparable. Now, this is the first real alternative in the Windows camp.

Is it better than the MacBook Air? It depends. If you are a Windows person, it is. Previously, you had to be seriously biased to say any Windows-based laptop in the ultracompact category is better than the MacBook Air. Now, that can be an honest assertion. But if you are a Mac person, you might still say the MacBook air is better, which could be a debatable assertion, but a respectable one.

To me, ZenBook is better than the MacBook air, even if I objectively lay aside the operating system difference, because for my personal preferences I give a higher value to some of the strong points of Zenbook, especially its thermal performance. Your preference may be different.

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- THUMBS UP FOR BOTH MACBOOK AIR AND ZENBOOK

(1) COMPUTING PERFORMANCE - First of all, in terms of the primary computing performance, including the CPU and memory performance, they're very similar, and both are very good. Asus' own tests say that the Zenbook is faster, but I don't feel much of it. This is, however, mainly because both are so fast. Comparing the speed of the CPU and memory of these two computers really has very little practical meaning. Only labs would be interested in doing that. Who is going to choose a computer over another because one opens up Microsoft Word in 1.5 seconds versus the other's 1.7 seconds? You see what I mean.

ZenBook does have much faster data transfer through its USB 3 port. It is easily multiple times faster than MacBook air's USB 2. But unless you routinely transfer very large files, I'm not sure if this is so important. Also, MacBook Air has a thunderbolt port which I've not tested in comparison with the ZenBook.

ZenBook also uses a much faster SSD (nearly twice as fast as that of the MacBook Air), but for some reason, I did not notice a very big difference in actual performance. Again, it's probably because both are already superfast for daily tasks. Gamers may tell a different story, but why do you buy an ultracompact laptop like these if you are a gamer?

(2) DESIGN AND BUILD QUALITY - Both computers are extremely well-designed and well built. To me, the ZenBook is almost a bit too pretty (a bit too showy and trendy to my taste). This is usually a problem I have with Mac products, but now, you've got a Windows product that beats that. I wish they would make a ZenBook in all black, and with a more plain business looking (but keep the feel of the high-quality and compactness). Had Lenovo made a similar machine maintaining the basic black square-edged ThinkPad style with the same compactness and thermal performance (see below), I would nearly certainly buy the ThinkPad instead. But there's nothing even in the radar screen on the ThinkPad side, so I caved in.

(3) BATTERY LIFE - The smaller ZenBook (UX21) uses a 35W battery and has 5+ hrs of battery life, comparable to that of MacBook Air. I did not do a strict test. But both are very good. The key is that both laptops would run through a whole day, even a busy day. That's what matters. Once a laptop reaches an all-day battery life, further extension of the battery life really no longer matters that much, unless of course it then reaches much longer to become days or even a week. You will be doing an overnight charging anyway. It's the mid-day recharging that brings trouble.

You may ask, how can a five-hour battery support whole-day use? Well, this actually has something to do with the instant resume feature of these computers (see below), and you have to experience it in real life to fully appreciate its usefulness.

(4) TWO-SECOND INSTANT RESUME - If you have got used to waiting for your Windows to boot up, you'd be pleasantly shocked by how ZenBook manages to always wake up in 2 seconds, unless you've done a cold shutdown.

Instant resume was a famous feature of MacBook Air, but now ZenBook completely matches (perhaps even surpasses) MacBook air on that. Asus designed a Super Hybrid Engine which enables the ZenBook to have a true 2-seocnd resume in the entire two weeks standby time. Asus claims it is better than MacBook Air because MacBook air's instant resume works only for a day of standby time, and after that would take 6 seconds to resume. I did not test that. But if you use your laptop on a daily basis, both these machines have reliable instant resume, and you will appreciate this feature in your daily use.

Instant resume is not just a cool feature. It is very practical and has a huge impact on user experience. For example, without such instant resume ability, a laptop would have to have a minimum of eight hours of battery life to reliably last through a whole day without causing headaches. With instant resume, a 5+ hour battery life will last a whole day for most people in most situations. You usually don't use the computer constantly every minute, and the reliable instant resume of these computers makes a seamless whole day long user experience with a single charge of a five hour battery. For example, while I'm traveling, I can set this laptop to go to sleep after every 5 min. of inactivity without feeling distracted. Only a laptop that has instant resume can work this way, or it will drive you crazy. In this situation, "instant" is the key word, and even a 5-second resume may feel bad by interrupting your natural workflow and you will most likely end up setting an auto-sleep longer than a minimum of 30 min. Instant resume is therefore a crucial factor in the matter of intelligent power management.

(5) REASONABLE PRICE - for a similar configuration, the prices of ZenBook and MacBook Air are comparable. Many expected Asus to beat the Apple's price, but personally, I'm glad to see that they were even able to match it, particularly with a design that had very few compromises. One should note that a serious scaling factor is at play in the economics of making and selling these. Once occupied that enviable leveraging position facing suppliers and manufacturers on the bargaining table, Apple has an almost crushing advantage over others in the ability to make these new products requiring cutting-edge components at the lowest possible cost and sell them at a good margin. It will take time for commoditization to happen to let others to catch up. Before that, painful sacrifices (so painful that a company like HP has decided to quit) have to be made by the competitors in order to be competitive, even if assuming that they can come up with attractive competing designs at all in the first place. I just hope that ZenBook starts a momentum that leads to better and more affordable ultracompact laptops based on Windows.

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- THUMBS DOWN FOR BOTH MACBOOK AIR AND ZENBOOK

(1) Neither has built-in 3G/4G cellular communication capability to take a SIM card. I'm surprised that these newest laptops still don't have built-in 3G/4G cellular communication. This would be OK three maybe even two years ago. Not now. You need cellular communication for a device that can be called "mobile". I hope they will introduce this soon. Before that, to get cellular connection you will have to either use an external adapter or through your cell phone (either tethered or using a mini hotspot).

(2) Neither uses an IPS screen, and both are (unfortunately to me) glossy screens. An IPS screen would have superior sideview performance. New screen technologies competing with IPS are emerging, but not found on these, MacBook Air or ZenBook. But for daily use, both screens are very good, and probably a good point to bring down the price because an IPS screen would definitely have cost more.

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- THUMBS UP FOR MACBOOK AIR ONLY

MacBook air beats Zenbook on these areas:

(1) It has a backlit keyboard.

(2) Many insist that MacBook Air has an unbeatable Multi-Touch trackpad. That could be very well true. But I'm not a very sophisticated user of Multi-Touch and can't reach a conclusion on this. Both felt pleasantly good and smooth to me. If it were up to me, I still prefer the ThinkPad's TrackPoint.

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- THUMBS UP FOR ZENBOOK ONLY

ZenBook beats MacBook air on these areas:

(1) OUTSTANDING THERMAL PERFORMANCE - Although MacBook air is already a quite cool laptop, ZenBook is much cooler still, quite noticeably. I am especially pleased by the thermal/cooling performance of the ZenBook. If there is one company that can do a thermal system design to beat Apple, it is Asus, and they seem to have done exactly that. They've been designing the world's best thermal and cooling solutions for computer motherboards from the start of the company, and no one else can claim better expertise than them on this.

To me, thermal performance is the number one critical element of a laptop performance. I'd rather have a cool and slower laptop, than a hot and fast one. Asus has made one that is cool and fast.

The thermal issue is not just a preference for comfortableness. It is a serious health concern. I believe the current designs of some laptops are outright crazy and reckless. The thermal radiation is likely to cause various skin diseases in less serious cases, and infertility or even cancer in worst cases. Sooner or later, this will become a focus of attention. The whole thing is currently masked by ignorance of mass consumer.

If you dispute with me, I have my slowly burnt fingers to show you.

(2) OUTSTANDING AUDIO - You will have to listen to the sound of the ZenBook to believe it. I'm not aware of any other laptop that can match this kind of performance. Certainly not the MacBook air, which is pretty good in itself. It looks like there's something going on with Asus' audio group, which seems to be obsessed by the sound quality. When they first produced Xonar, a high-end internal sound card line, they didn't just match the then top consumer soundcard by Creative Labs, they smashed it. You may not be getting true high-end audiophile sound here on the ZenBook, but you seem to be getting at least some spillover of that audiophile obsession.

I have yet to test the sound input quality through a microphone. Personally, the microphone input quality is far more important than the playback quality because I use speech recognition for text input.

(3) OUTSTANDING OUTDOOR DISPLAY - Both screens are very bright, but ZenBook is noticeably brighter under direct sunlight. My experience is that to be just barely usable under direct sunlight, the screen must have a minimum of 300 nits in brightness. Many laptops still have a brightness under 250 nits. ZenBook's screen is 450 nits. I cannot find the numerical specs for brightness of MacBook air, but it definitely feels dimmer under sunlight than ZenBook.

On the other hand, the MacBook air is whole lot better than many other laptops I've seen or used. Also, if you never use the laptop outdoors, this is not important. When used indoors, both screens would have to be set at much lower brightness than its maximum in order to be comfortably viewed.

(4) BETTER CONNECTIVITY - ZenBook has a micro HDMI and a Mini VGA Port and MacBook air doesn't have any of these. HDMI would come handy if you connect the ZenBook to your TV, while the VGA port is important if you frequently connect your laptop to a larger external screen. I think MacBook air has its own way to make these connections to a Mac family product, but the difference is that with the standard HDMI and VGA ports, the connectivity is much more versatile in terms of compatibility.

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OVERALL,

Asus has really made an all-out effort in designing and making these laptops. They're gunning at Apple, quite obviously. I'm even afraid that Apple will go after ZenBook's design by alleging infringement (could Apple have patent the tapered appearance of a laptop?).

It gave me a good chuckle that Asus official website for Zenbooks refers to Apple by calling them "Fruit Brand".

By the way, I should note that if this were an Apple product, you would already be hearing about it in all major headlines as if this were bringing new hope to the world, and you would also be seeing Apple fans standing in long lines praying for a chance to get one of these.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2011
Summary: The Zenbook is exactly what I had in mind when I needed a lightweight, low maintenance portable to carry on business trips with me. Tablets or netbooks were not an option because of their limited capabilities and inadequate performance.

The Zenbook is very pleasant to look at and different, but not difficult to use- in fact, my experience has been enjoyable. I've not experienced any problems described by other reviewers. Perhaps Asus is listening and my machine is a reflection of that.

I was surprised at the negative comments on engineering design, choice of components, etc. The emphasis on the keyboard and touchpad are understandable in that they are different - the manual explains how to use the keypad and what to expect. I've had electrical "pops" on many laptop chargers, and this one did so about 5% of the time. Asus provides a solid warranty on its laptops. And, I have dealt with their support organization before on warranty work and service calls, with positive results, except one, where it took time for them to find a replacement laptop - the outcome was satisfactory.

Pros:

1. The Elan touchpad works very well and has a sensitivity region that shrinks in size when you are typing on the keyboard so that you don't accidentally activate the touchpad while typing.
2. While a source of complaints, the keyboard and keys definitely enhance the look. Keys provide positive feedback with a "tactile click" created by the key giving way when it is pressed down far enough. It's also reliable - key presses that failed were not the computer's fault.
3. When done working, I just close the lid on the machine to suspend my work - (it has "sleep" rather than "shutdown" as the default option to power off your computer).
4. To resume (hours or days later), I simply open the lid and login -much the same as any laptop only the response is much quicker - about 2 seconds. My wireless reconnects fast enough that I can go directly to the Internet and start browsing, or refresh my Outlook to get the latest mail.
5. The extremely small footprint allows me to store the computer anywhere, even inside a leather notebook that normally holds a pad of paper.
6. Bluetooth 4.0 and USB 3.0 for greater speeds and new capabilities
7. Good speakers and audio
8. Tiny camera and good microphone. The mic even works with WSR.....not great
9. My old USB DVD/CD player works fine.
10. Crisp easy to read display

Cons:
1. The keyboard keys are the "chicklet" style found on other Asus, Apple, etc. computers and if you are not used to them they can be difficult to type on simply because they are flat across the top as opposed to the tapered keys found on many keyboards (e.g. ThinkPad) and are low-profile (i.e. short). Personally, all keyboards require some time to adapt to them.
2. I/O ports are limited but adequate.
3. Must carry the port adapters if you need Ethernet or VGA - I personally don't need them.
4. 4 GB RAM limit, hopefully this will change with higher density chips. However, with the SSD being so fast, virtual memory use is not noticeable to me.
5. Wireless limited to 150 Mb/s - fast enough for real-time data over wireless, but 300Mb/s would be desirable. Most routers still only support G (54 Mbps) in public places, hotels, etc. So I couldn't use it anyway.

In short, the Zenbook represents a significant step forward in mobile technology. I will benefit from Asus's innovatation and the reward/cost ratio is clearly on my side.

Update 12/18/2011:
I've used the computer daily for the last month traveling around the country without any issues. I carry it in my backback or luggage along with my Lenovo work computer. I'm actually starting to depend on the handy mouse pad gestures - quite nice. The graphics chip can drive a full HD TV (1920 x 1080) and its own monitor concurrently - e.g., watch/listen to amazon movies while I use run programs, handle email, and/or browse the internet on the lower resolution builtin display.

Very portable, convenient and reliable. Still very pleased with the purchase.

Update 2/10/2012:
Just had my first interaction with Asus support - the laptop was accidentally damaged; I sent it in under the ADW warranty and it was back in my hands 2 days later - Fixed! 1 day to transport in each direction and 1 day for the repairs. As expected, Asus covered the transportation in both directions.

Update 11/21/2012:

Just completed a 1 year anniversary with my Zenbook. I like it even more than before as ASUS continues to refine the drivers and I've found tidbits of info in the user comments here that are helpful - like how to configure the touchpad. I plan to migrate to windows 8 - the drivers are available, or, switch to one of the new touch enabled Zenbooks instead.
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58 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on November 5, 2011
I bought this beautiful ultrabook at Frys last week and kept it for 5 days. I actually bought it right off the back of the truck that had just arrived. I was truly excited to get this machine(BUT): The keyboard is truly bad. The trackpad started off bad until I realized I needed to run an update from Asus to get all the drivers updated. The trackpad improved greatly with the updated driver, yet is still FAR lacking compared to a MacBook trackpad I do not know why).

Back to the keyboard. No driver can fix this keyboard. The keys are flat on top. The keys sit very close to the surrounding material underneath. You can push a key at the corner and touch the underlying material and not register a key push. I cannot replicate this on any other keyboard I have in the house. This means you bottom out the key before it registers the key push. Bottom line: you miss every fifth letter unless you hit the key right in the middle. I like to keep my job and I need to spell correctly. Therefore:

I took this machine right on back to Frys. The machine is truly beautiful (prettier than the MacBook Air). The sound from the speakers is very nice and it is much quieter than the MacBook Air (which we also own) because the implementation of the internal fan is much better on this Asus machine. The screen is nice too.

The keyboard sucks though and the trackpad is merely passable. I hated to take it back, but how Asus turned this into the Anus with a keyboard that doesn't work is beyond me. What screwed up committee let this happen?
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on November 5, 2011
I have been using the macbook air for the longest time but asus is my favorite brand after apple, when i saw this i couldn't believe the design and hardware thats included in such a small ultrabook, well after couple days of use i love it.

It is the fastest ultra book out there without a question and this comes from a guy thats a computer technician and has been using macs more than anything.

I have owned all types of pc's and laptops but for a ultrabook to be as fast as any device out there is a stunning job by asus to build such a beutfifull designed ultrabook and have all the best hardware inside.

This had a issue with the mouse and scrolling but guess what? Asus released a driver which already has fixed that issue.

Overall this is the best piece of product your money can buy. This machine is a beast.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2011
I just received this laptop and absolutely LOVE all of the features and style. It performs excellently in all aspects EXCEPT for the keyboard. Just in writing this short review it has skipped 11 keys so far, mostly in the w,e,r,s,d,f region. It is so bad it renders the machine utterly useless for me and my typing style. However that being said it may work for anothers typing style. Luckily Amazon is taking it back and issuing a refund. Thanks Amazon.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2011
After using this Zenbook for over two weeks, I really wanted to keep it. Though I was disappointed with the quality of the LCD, the rest of the machine made up for it. The SSD is blazing fast, and the i7 CPU provides plenty of horsepower. Combine the power with the light weight and looks and you have a very desirable ultrabook.

Had it not been for the issue that caused me to return it, I would have rated the UX21E 4 stars. The screen has terrible viewing angles and poor blacks. No doubt about it. Minus 1 star.

All of the sudden the Zenbook started to power off whenever I unplugged the AC adapter. Try as I might, I was unable to correct this issue. The battery also stopped charging while in Windows.

Returned for refund.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2011
After two days of ownership, I can give it four stars without hesitation: Nice keyboard, feels solid to the touch; sensitive pad, easy to use; has all the connectivity I need: two USB ports (one a 3.0), a micro HDMI port that gives you 1080p (1920X1080) resolution and worked just fine with my Optoma projector; and perhaps most important of all, Windows 7 ran great (faster perhaps than my I7 desktop with 12g of memory) because of its solid state memory. Light and sleek, I can take it anywhere and it looks beautiful. Why not 5 stars? I'm a photographer and an IPS screen would have been icing on the cake. As it is, the screen is fine for most uses but it doesn't come up to the level of an Ipad. But I much rather have a full blown computer like this one than a tablet any day since it's just as portable. Five stars if you are happy with a good, high resolution, good contrast screen.
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28 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2011
I'm extremely disappointed with Asus for shipping this product. As the owner of numerous Asus computing products including monitors, netbooks, motherboards, and network hardware, I am stunned to see the poor quality of design in the UX21 notebook. Intel have cultivated the "ultrabook" designation to compete with the renowned performance and reliability of Apple's Macbook Air; what we got with the UX21 seems more like it was slapped together as a trade show demo and then never revised.

The executive summary: there is a *deafening* 60 Hz buzz from the 1/8-inch audio jack, on AC or battery. I have tested with half a dozen other computers, smartphones, music players, and a tablet on the same speakers and headphones, and ONLY the UX21 produces the buzz. Both the original and the replacement units produce the buzz. In 2011 this is an inconceivably embarrassing defect.

If you want to listen to music on this computer, you can safely rule out purchasing it right now. On to the details.

I'm reviewing a second, replacement unit, having confirmed the same problems in the replacement as I experienced with the first one, which is already on its way back to Amazon.

Battery runtime for me has been about 60% of the nominal rating. I understand that battery ratings tend to be inflated, but I have not seen this level of exaggeration in any Asus marketing or even in other manufacturers' marketing. I've set the backlight to the minimum brightness value, turned on every power-saving feature in the operating system, disabled wireless and bluetooth and removed everything from every USB port... there's no 5-hour runtime in this battery. I last clocked it at 2 hours, 51 minutes. I don't know how much work you expect to do with less than three hours of battery, but I'd consider that more of a toy.

Inserting and removing the power plug is a terrifying and risky experience. The first time I unplugged it while the machine was running (and a second time, later, the next day) the machine powered down instantly. This is obviously not what you want when you are getting up from your desk to go give a presentation. Numerous times I've pulled or inserted the power, only to see any USB device plugged into the adjacent USB port suddenly power off. The only condition I found to revive that USB port was a full shutdown and subsequent cold boot of the system.

The VGA port sounded lovely on paper. And it kind of works... except that the output is as blurry and as noisy as running a real VGA port with 10-foot cable. And that suspending the machine with an external monitor plugged in occasionally produces a hard lockup of the OS (again, requiring a full shutdown and cold boot).

The touchpad is a cheap Sentelic knockoff; as others have noted you'll need to install the bleeding-edge alpha drivers immediately upon receiving the system. If you're used to Synaptics touchpads, you're in for a rude awakening. Sentelic have several years of work to do before they can catch up to the market leaders. I really wish Asus had shipped this with a Synaptics pad, instead of this irritating B-list piece of crap.

There are a few positive things about this system. The keyboard is nice to type on, and continues in the same vein as Asus's previous keyboards on small laptops. The display, while not quite up to the standard of competitors' IPS panels, is of acceptable quality. The size and weight of the system are perfect, and are even close enough to those of the 11-inch Macbook Air that it can fit in most cases designed for that system.

The SSD is extremely fast. Boot times with this system are stunning. And that's a good thing, because given how poor the rest of the hardware is, you're going to be rebooting it all the damn time.
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37 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2011
First, let me say that I waited a long time for this laptop. I watched previews and drooled for months. This was a HUGE disappointment. The performance and form factor were both excellent. But ASUS sold out hard... for cheap parts to meet a price point. I would have paid even $200 more for a machine with better parts.

As it stands, this machine has 3 fatal flaws.

1. The Touchpad. This is the absolute worst. It's a huge touchpad, nicely placed, and could have been perfect if they had used an Elan pad or even a Synaptics pad. But they used a Sentilic pad... one I haven't heard of before. This trackpad is UNUSABLE for anything other than basic operation (move the cursor, and click with the two buttons). Forget two finger scrolling, two finger tapping, or any of the other "supported" gestures. The trackpad is not sensitive or responsive enough to pick up the gestures accurately. The Elan touchpad in my Asus UL30VT-X1 worked as well as any mac. I had hoped this trackpad would be as good or better. It is not, and in fact is broken by design. A driver won't fix it ... they're on version 9.1.77... if they can't get it right in nearly ten versions, there's no hope.

2. The power port. Wow! ASUS does not learn from their mistakes. This laptop has even worse issues than the Asus 1215N Netbook, whereby I don't believe that the pin inside the machine will last a week. Even if it does, the adapter itself jitters and sputters (between AC and DC) when it moves even the slightest (and yes it was in all the way). In addition, for such a delicate piece of junk, they used an L-shaped power connector, which is even worse than a straight one, as the 90 degree angle will create massive torque if yanked accidentally -- increasing the likelihood of damaging this poorly designed interface.

3. The Keyboard. If this was the only problem, I might have kept the laptop and lived with it. The keyboard is "okay" to type on, but not great. Not the worst I've seen though. HOWEVER... again the quality is the problem. I could see the mechanical parts underneath the keys, which was disheartening. In addition, the buttons were "wiggly" and unevenly set. So rather than looking like a nice chiclet style keyboard, it looked like an uneven mess of random key placement. In addition, the placement of the power button is ridiculous... It's in place of where most machines put the delete key, and thus is easily hit accidentally. A power button off the keyboard in a dedicated location would have been better.

So I ended up returning mine. Asus was my favourite laptop manufacturer. I had a G series gaming laptop years ago, as well as my 13" ultra portable. Both were great. But since then, the G74, the 1215N and now this UX21 have convinced me that Asus is not the same company that it used to be.

They've turned into a budget shop, churning out low-priced garbage.

Is Samsung the last hope for PC manufacturers? Or is anyone else even trying anymore?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2012
Cons:

Ports are very close and minimalistic, so you may not be able to use the micro HDMI and the USB next together...depends on the width of what your plugging in. For your micro HDMI adapter (to Type A HMDI for example) in a 'dongle' style, like the VGA adapter which ships with the machine.

Battery life is just ok.

Pros:

Light, light, compact, sleak.
In this configuration (i7, 4GB of RAM, 64 bit Win7) is is powerful enough to handle multiple tabbs in the browser, a few office files, Outlook, streaming music, and not flinch.

Feedback:

Track pad is great! You have to learn how to use it... two finger swipes and taps etc. It is the best I've had in my history of Asus, Dell, Toshiba, and Acer (never buy again) laptops.

I think people may be over thinking opening the 'lid'. Place finger underneath lip...lift. That simple. The notion that it is difficult to open is absurd.
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