ASUS ZenBook offers consumers a valid alternative to MacBook Air

The ASUS ZenBook looks just like a MacBook Air and has similar features, but you get Windows 7 instead of OS X Lion

ASUS' ZenBook UX31 is a direct competitor to the MacBook Air.

ASUS' ZenBook UX31 is a direct competitor to the MacBook Air.

ASUS has released two different Ultrabook models and has dubbed them 'ZenBook'. The two ZenBook models are the UX21 and the UX31. The UX21 is an 11.6in model that can be configured with an Intel Core i3-2367, Core i5-2467 or Core i7-2677 CPU; meanwhile, the UX31 is a 13.3in model that has a bit more of a high-end focus and is only available with a Core i5-2557 or a Core i7-2677 CPU.

The ZenBooks are designed to compete with Apple's MacBook Air in the thin-and-light-and-very-good-looking category and they are also meant to be competitively priced against the Air. Although Australian pricing has not been announced, in the US the UX21 will start at $999 and the UX31 at $1099.

• Update: Australian pricing and specs for the ASUS Zenbooks

Both models are made of aluminium alloy, have a spun aluminium design on their lid they and are no more than 9mm thick at the rear and 3mm thick at the front. The UX21 weighs just over 1kg, while the UX31 weighs 1.3kg thanks to its slightly bigger dimensions. If these reported weights are accurate, then these are even lighter than the equivalent MacBook Air models.

The screen on the UX21 has a native resolution of 1366x768, while the screen on the UX31 is 1600x900. The UX31's screen resolution is slightly higher than that of the 13.3in MacBook Air's 1440x900. If the specs are anything to go by, viewing the UX21 and the UX31 in bright sunlight won't be a chore — they both have a high brightness rating of 450 nits.

A key aspect of the ZenBooks is their ability to resume quickly once their lid is opened; ASUS claims a system resume time of only two seconds. Quoted battery life is over five hours for the UX21 and over seven hours for the UX31, which is the same as what Apple quotes for its MacBook Air units, but this will vary depending on how you use the product. Standby time is rated as being two weeks.

Both models have SATA III solid state drives for storage and can be configured with either 128GB or 256GB models. The UX21 will also be available with a smaller 64GB model for those who don't want to spend too much money. RAM is standard at 4GB, graphics are handled by the Intel CPUs.

Other features of the two models include: 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4, micro HDMI, mini VGA, an audio jack and USB 3.0 ports (these support charging even when the laptop is off). According to the specs released by ASUS, the UX21 lacks an SD card reader, which is inconvenient, but an SD card is included on the bigger UX31. This is just like the MacBook Air, which only has an SD card slot on the bigger model. We think the ZenBook models could use a better webcam, as the specs list a resolution of only 0.3 megapixels.

All up, the specs have whetted our appetite and we can't wait to have a look at these new MacBook Air alternatives as soon as they are released in Australia, hopefully with the same pricing as the US.

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