I first spied the Asus UX21E at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month - barely squeaking into the room for Intel's first keynote and it was standing room only. A seat freed up next to me and I politely let another journalist take it.
Near the end of the keynote, the chap giving the presentation made everyone reach under their seats. The guy who got my seat reached under and pulled out an envelop which had been stuck to the underside of the chair. The envelop contained an Asus UX21E. Yep, happy days.
To say I was gutted might have been an understatement, but I was also seriously impressed. That a notebook could be so petite that it'd fit inside an A4-sized envelope was something the marketing boffins at Apple had already used, but Intel were really onto something by demonstrating that it was light enough to be held to underside of a chair by nothing more than double sided sticky-tape.
In short this was astonishing and th UX21E was clearly an ultrabook I had to review.
Look and Feel
Ultrabooks - high-end sub-notebooks working to a rigid specification set by Intel - are designed from the ground up to be highly portable and sufficiently light that they can be carried anywhere.
Extended battery life without compromising performance is also a big part of the appeal of an ultrabook. This is achieved thanks to the use of ultra-low power Intel processors that feature integrated graphics.
Add solid-state drives to the mix and you have an incredibly responsive and quick notebook that's not only portable but can even do double duty as a games machine - within reason.
Having finally got my paws on the UX21E, I can categorically say, hand on heart, that it is an awesome piece of gear. The UX21E's slinky blade-shaped body starts at an improbable 3mm thin at the front and finishes at an equally impressive 9mm deep on its curvaceous rear.
It appears to have been hewn out of a single block of alloy - there's even alloy scrabble tile-style keys on its keyboard. To say that the UX21E is georgeous is akin to calling the roof of the Sistine Chapel an amateur crayon doodle.
From its brushed alloy body through to the concentric ringed pattern on its alloy lid, the UX21E is easy on the eye - without the compromises you'd expect from a design-heavy machine.
Fancypants looks, clever execution and a serious spec are one thing, but thankfully the UX21E also feels well constructed. opening up its display using one corner resulted in minimal flexing, and in use, its entire chassis felt rock solid.
Adding to the UX21E's design cred, Asus has also thoughtfully bundled a slinky nylon sleeve which resembles a small inter-office memo envelope for protecting the UX21E when out and about. Slipping the machine into the nylon sleeve really drove home just how wafer thin and light (1.1kg) the UX21E really is. Shame I didnt have any double-sided sticky.
If the 11.6" screen is on the small side, it makes up for this by being both bright and legible under normal use. A slight minus, however, was its glossy coatng, which made it very reflective both indoors and out.
Considering the UX21E's pint-sized form factor, it's keyboard felt surprisingly roomy and was more than comfy for touch typists.
There are a few qurks though. The cursor keys also do double duty as page up/down, home and end keys. Given this is a normal state of play for most notebook PCs nowadays, it wasn't a show stopper.
What did give me pause for thought was the location of the power button, which Asus bizarrely chose to include as part of the keyboard, next to the Delete key. Having lost count of the amount of times that I'd frustratingly turned off the UX21E instead of hitting the delete key quickly became tiring.
On the connectivity front, about the only thing missing from the UX21E is a kitchen sink, which is pretty impressive considering the UX21E's uber petite ultrabook form factor. On its left-hand side is a mini-VGA and USB 2.0 port as well as a headphone/microphone socket.
On the right is a micro-HDMI port and a USB 3.0 port. Being an ultrabook, VGA and HDMI connectivity is supplied via dongles and Asus bundles a USB to Ethernet adapter for 10/100 wired networking.
Wired connectivity aside, the UX21E also packs plenty of wireless options. On the Wi-Fi front, the UX21E has 802.11a/b/g/n built in. Bluetooth 4.0 is also bundled, which bodes well for synching data from smartphones and hooking up Bluetooth enabled widgets.
Aside from the dubiously-titled "Asus Vibe Fun Center" for e-book and games downloads, the UX21E was almost completely bloatware free - if you dont count the obligatory Microsoft Office Starter 2010 pack and the Trend Micro Titanium Internet Security apps that came pre-installed.
Under the Hood
Powered by a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M dual-core CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a blisteringly fast 128GB SSD, the UX21E boxes well above its weight to really deliver on Intel's ultrabook promise.
Thanks to the integrated SSD, boot times from a cold start were sub-40 seconds whilst resuming from sleep mode was near instantaneous. Considering its tiny battery, the UX21E also managed to run for a respectable 4 hours 47 minutes before finally calling it quits. All things considered, the battery life of the UX21E was pretty tidy indeed.
The UX21E gets a lot of things right. For a start, it is an impossibly sexy looking piece of equipment. Better still, it also feels exceptionlly well-built. On the usability front, it is very light, and offers some really impressive bang-per-buck performance.
Only a few minor gotchas mar what is otherwise ultrabook perfection. The reflection prone glossy screen, the lack of a backlit keyboard and the bizarrely placed on/off button spring to mind.
None of these are likely to be enough to put prospective buyers off the UX21E, because like me, they'll probably take one look at its georgeous blade-shaped alloy body and fall head over heels.
Processor Intel i5 2467M
OS Windows 7 Professional (64bit)
Chipset Intel QS67 Express Chipset
Memory 4GB DDR3 1333 MHz SDRAM
Display 11.6" 16:9 HD (1366x768) LED Backlit
Storage 128Gb SATA3 SSD
Networking Integrated 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth V4.0
Connectivity Headphone-out jack (Audio in/out); USB 3.0 port; USB 2.0 port; micro HDMI; Mini VGA
Battery 35 Whrs Polymer Battery
Dimension 29.9 x 19.6 x 0.3 ~1.7 cm (WxDxH)
Weight 1.1 kg