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Wednesday, 30 November 2011 16:10

Asus UX21E Ultrabook tested - Input Devices, Ergonomics, Everyday Use

Written by Fuad Abazovic

UX21E-thumb

Review: A step in the right direction


Keyboard


As we said earlier, the keyboard is excellent. There is no flex and it does not feel cramped at all. This is where the somewhat larger footprint comes into play. The UX21E has a bit more room to spare than regular 11.6-inchers, so the palm rests are relatively large and comfortable.

However, the palm rests tends to sting your hands, and the edge of the chassis should be a bit rounder. We believe that this is an easy fix for Asus. After a while, you learn how to keep your arms on the palmrest to avoid the unpleasant feeling. The all-aluminium chassis feels very cold to the touch when you first start it up on a cold day. However, the low voltage hardware does not heat up too much even when you push it, which would make the UX21E a lot more uncomfortable.

UX21E-keyboard 

The power key is placed in the upper right corner, the place where you usually find the delete key, so we can imagine that at least in a first few days you might accidentally turn the machine off or send it into standby, instead of deleting something.

The layout is standard, not much to say here, other than to point out that this is a German keyboard, so the layout is somewhat different on US/UK models. Most users prefer full size Enter and Backspace keys, like the ones on our sample, but the English keyboard version sports a single column enter key. Just a small detail, but it’s worth mentioning.

Also, users who prefer soft, matte keys might object to the metallic finish. There is no LED backlighting, but it is a gimmick for show-offs anyway, so few users will miss it. You will need some time to get use to the keyboard, but this is true of every notebook. Once you get used to it, you will be able to type really fast, assuming that you can type fast to begin with.


Touchpad


The touchpad is pretty large for an 11.6-incher and it is roughly the size of the one used on Apple’s MacBook Air. There’s not much to complain about really, the touchpad works well and it offers plenty of space for multitouch. However, novice users will find themselves swiping it by accident while typing. It just feels very, very sensitive. Of course, sensitivity can be adjusted in software, but it won’t resolve the issue entirely. This takes some getting used to, as it is rather impractical to switch it off every single time some serious typing is involved.


The integrated buttons are pretty responsive and they feel sturdy, but they could be a bit more quiet.

UX21E-touchpad


Ergonomics, Everyday Use


Here is where all the weight saving and over-engineering starts to make sense. The UX21 is a gorgeous piece of kit, but Asus did not skimp on practicality, either.


Understandably, the front and back feature no connectors. They are only supposed to look cool and they do.

The right side features a single USB 3.0 port, micro HDMI and AC in.

UX21E-right-side 


On the left you will find, USB 2.0, audio out and mini VGA.

UX21E-left-side 

Aside from the lack of many connectors usually found on notebooks, necessitated by the ultrathin design, there is not much to complain about. However, we would have preferred to see the USB 3.0 connector on the left, as it is more likely to be used for storage, i.e. have cables sticking out of it at some point.

The 1,366x768 screen is truly a sight to behold. We don’t we ever come across a better notebook panel. Blacks look great, yet there is plenty of brightness to go around. The result is excellent contrast. Colour definition is equally impressive, but viewing angles are just average. This is really a minor issue on such a compact device. The only real downside is Asus’ decision to use a glare panel, which is not a good choice for any ultraportable device.

It would be a pity to let such a screen go to waste with a pair of underpowered, tinny speakers. Asus sure seems to think so, that is why it developed an audio system with Bang & Olufsen. This is not just another marketing ploy, it really works and we were awe struck to hear it in action. Both in terms of sound quality and volume, this is easily the best ultraportable we have ever come across and it will even put much larger notebooks to shame.

 UX21E-power-button

Like all ultrabooks, the UX21 does not feature a user-replaceable battery. Fortunately, the built-in 35Wh battery should suffice for most scenarios. Asus also provides a battery management application that displays relatively accurate battery life and standby time estimates.

We averaged almost 5 hours with an everyday workload, consisting of multi-tab browsing on WiFi, some Office applications and your standard messaging services, and the occasional YouTube video. It is a pretty good result, but battery life can easily drop below 4 hours if you push it. However, we reckon most users won’t buy an 11.6-inch ultraportable to run overly demanding applications anyway.


power-2 

Asus provides its own battery tool that can give you an idea how much more battery you have left. The 5-hour average, easily drop to 2 and a half hours or less if you try playing games, but with video content it will average on 4.5, which is pretty good. The five hour mark should be possible to achieve with web browsing and office productivity mode will drop slightly below it.

Playing games on a 17W TDP chip with Intel integrated graphics might not be the best idea, but at least some older games and basic, casual games should run fine on this notebook. Gamers will be much better off getting something more serious, as €999 can get you quite decent GPU in much bigger and heavier notebook.

First thing you notice once you turn your PC on, is that it boots really fast. From the moment you push the power key, until Windows loads all programs, takes 15 or less seconds. We didn’t install too many things on Windows 7 Home Premium, but we can imagine that over time it gets slower.

One of the best things about ultrabooks is the instant on feature. The five hour battery also means that this notebook should idle in stand by for roughly a week. It takes a few seconds to get to idle mode and it takes less than two seconds to turn the machine on from stand by.

This is an extraordinary score and your machine will boot really fast. This cannot be said for the integrated camera that takes a bit more than 5 seconds to turn on, but this is something that you will have to learn to accept. Once it turns on, it works just fine, but the quality is average, not great.

Asus UX21 comes with a lot of Asus software and one of them is the updater that takes care of necessary and recommended driver and software updates. We updated our bios to the latest version but the bios software update tool is created in traditional Winbond, who don’t know how to make eye pleasing user interface. At least in one other case Asus bloatware will show its real, ugly user interface art, but this is a common issue for most PC manufacturers.

Asus also has Web space tool, and provides free 3GB space for UX21 users. We didn’t played with it much, but most people on Asus forums write that it’s quite slow and that Dropbox is a better alternative.

asus web_storage 

Let’s be realistic, most people who get this machine will either spend time on web, check emails or do some type of writing. Being equipped with Core i5 2467M processor clocked at 1.6GHz and Turbo support of 2.0GHz, your web pages will open really fast. This of course will be true if you have fast internet connection.

This CPU is fast, especially in combination with fast SSD, but we could not see the difference between i5 2467M and Alienware MX11 R3 powered by a Core i7 2517 that maxes out at 2.6GHz. No real noticeable difference in web browsing so getting a Core i7 based UX21 is probably a waste of money.

We were surprised that Wlan comes from Atheros and not from Intel, so you can kiss Intel Wireless display goodbye. This would be a nice to have, but we are sure that only a few people have it. Wlan worked just fine, was fast enough connecting at 130Mbits/sec on a test router.

Micro HDMI works just fine, and uses the same port as some phones but the 1366x768 resolution might not be optimal on some 1080p TVs.

dvd 

The box includes a power adapter, USB Ethernet adapter, mini-VGA to VGA adapter and a nicely designed pouch.
box-open

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Last modified on Thursday, 01 December 2011 06:24
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