Review: Asus Zenbook UX21E

Our score: 3/5
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Published: December 23, 2011 4:39 PM
By Alexandre Botella
Following the test of the UX31E, a 13.3-inch version, here’s the UX21E, another ultrabook review for you. Will this 11.6-inch model do as well as its predecessor and even put the 2011 MacBook Air in the shade?    

Hardware: lightweight connectivity, a forest of adapters

The UX21E's chassis is in aluminium and this coating has the merit of both looking good and not being easily scratched or marked by fingers - a good way to make this laptop last a bit.

UX21E housse


Like the UX31E, the UX21E comes with a wallet that is perfectly adjusted to the dimensions of the machine (29.9 x 19.6 x 0.3~1.7 cm).  
 
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The keyboard doesn’t really handle all that well. When you’re slightly off centre on a key, it doesn't always recognise that you have selected it. What’s more, some keys have more give than others. We were even more disappointed with this keyboard than that on the UX31E.
    
The multitouch touchpad is much nicer to use, has a large surface area and the glide is fluid, making it a real pleasure to use!

Asus has gone for a poor quality webcam (0.3 Mpixel). The pixelised image, the fact that the blacks lack any nuance and that movements are so badly rendered all go to make it rather unpleasant to use: a fallback solution at best.

The connectivity comprises two USB ports (1 x 2.0 et 1 x 3.0) and a headphone/microphone combo jack. There’s a micro-HDMI out for linking up with an external display, as well as another port for a VGA adapter. It also has wi-fi N and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity.

UX21E adaptateur

If you want to link up to an Ethernet network, unfortunately you have to sacrifice one of the two USB ports to a USB/RJ45 adapter (supplied with the ultrabook). The only notable difference with the UX31E is the fact that there’s no SD card reader here, which is a shame.
 
The successful temperature management on the larger version is also out the window. Not only is the UX21E louder, it also heats up by about 10 °C more than the 13.3-inch. The fact that hot air is expelled between the screen and the chassis however means that the user doesn’t suffer too much.
 

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The UX21’s temperature readings with the components under stress.
Readings taken using a Fluke Ti25 thermal imaging camera.

 
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Bang & Olufsen audio
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Lid

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  Mini-VGA out, USB 2.0 port and headphone jack
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  Micro-HDMI out, USB 3.0 port and power supply


Processor power: a low-consumption processer

The processor is the same as the one used on the Macbook Air 11.6 inch (the Core i5-2467M). It can carry out all types of task but it's far from being the best processor in its generation and takes a bit longer than a model such as the i5-2410M (+58% on average across our test procedure).

Windows 7 Professional 64-bit takes 15 seconds to boot. You then have to wait another 5 to 10 seconds for the various pieces of software and connection to a wi-fi network to launch. It takes about 5 seconds to come out of standby and this is where the presence of its SSD really makes itself felt. Its 64 GB capacity is however soon likely to be exceeded. You will perhaps have to invest in an external hard drive or opt for the version with a 128 GB SSD, though this will set you back something approaching another £170.

Gaming: undemanding titles advised

As there are no discrete graphics here, this ultrabook has to make do with the capacities of its integrated chipset and while it’s perfect for decoding HD videos, it’s a lot less impressive with games. Old, undemanding titles (Left for Dead), or major concessions in terms of graphics options and screen resolution are the only way forward with the UX21E.

Audio: disappointing

The UX21 is no great guns in terms of its audio. To start with, all you get is a mini-jack combo which is incompatible with most standard mic/headphones. What’s more the sound isn’t great.

To top things off, although the speakers are Bang & Olufsen, they don’t do all that well (lacking power) and aren’t as good as the ones that equip the MacBook Air 11.6-inch, for example.

Battery life a little short (3h25)

It’s no surprise to see that the UX21E is very slim (17 mm at the thickest part) and relatively light (1.1 kg). Unfortunately battery life is low. You’ll get 3 hours 25 video playback time (headphones plugged in, screen at 100 cd/m², wi-fi and Bluetooth off) which is disappointing for a laptop whose major selling point is that it can be transported around with you everywhere. At 4h30, the MacBook Air still has a significant advantage.
3/5 Asus Zenbook UX21E DigitalVersus 2011-12-23 17:39:00

Pros

  • Very slim and light (1.1 kg)
  • Hot air expelled so it doesn’t burn the knees
  • Large multitouch touchpad
  • SSD included (rapid boot times)

Cons

  • Glossy panel lacking in contrast with false colours
  • Speakers lack power
  • Limited connectivity and lots of adapters
  • Low gaming capacity
  • Battery life a bit low (3h45 video playback)

Conclusion

The UX21E is slightly disappointing. While the MacBook Air 11.6-inch is a bit more expensive, it also has a longer battery life, is more powerful and has a better quality screen, webcam, keyboard and audio section. While the UX31E – 13-3-inch version – is almost on a par with the same-size Air, the same can't be said for the UX21E.

OUR SCORE 3/5
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