Most helpful positive review
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.