Intel and Asus show off first Ultrabook, 'Zenbook'

Last night we were at Intel and Asus‘ joint Ultrabook launch. Revealed at the fancy W Hotel in Soho was the Asus Zenbook, looking rather a lot like another expensive product that ends in “book”.

Asus tells us the Ultrabook line is “finding our peace among the chaos” and that it “empowers user’s spirits”. It’s also “a perfect fusion between beauty and strength and harmony”.

OK – what it actually is, is an ultra-thin, sleek laptop with an aluminium chassis, as promised. An Asus spokesperson told us all of their models for the foreseeable future will sport the aluminium chassis. The ZenBook also has some pretty decent specs.

The high-end, UX31 model sports an Intel core i7-2677M Sandy Bridge processor, but an Intel spokesperson last night said the Ultrabook will really fly with Ivy Bridge and touch. For now, this model has a 13.3″ high definition, 1600 x 900 display, 4GB of DDR3 memory, SATA 3.0 128GB SSD for storage and a set of decent Bang and Olufsen speakers built in.

The dimensions for the UX31 are 3mm at the front, 11mm at the back, and the whole thing weighs 1.3kg. This machine has a USB 3.0 adaptor but no sign of Thunderbolt.

What Intel calls a revolution seems more like an evolution of a notebook range. It really does look an awful lot like a Macbook Air, as you can see below. 

The sloped design is particularly reminiscent. It could be argued it looks like Intel is going after former chum Apple’s own market, encouraging swathes of manufacturers to jump in with their own sleek, sexy offerings but on Windows. Intel’s Ultrabook war chest is certainly full of cash to spend. We’re promised Ivy Bridge will make a good match with Windows 8 next year.

Most impressive was the instant-on which both Intel and Asus were keen to focus on. The machine does turn on very quickly – about two seconds to get going. Intel also claims the standby time for the UX31 in the 50W battery is two weeks, with seven hours of muscle otherwise. 

It sells for £999, so under the £1000 but not the $1000. An i5 model, the UX21, goes for £849. 

Whether or not the Ultrabook, or more specifically the Zenbook will be the saving grace Intel hopes for is unclear at the moment. Early impressions suggested, at least to us, that releases this year are more of a sign that the Ultrabook has arrived – and it’ll be next year, when Windows 8 comes out, before we see products which truly impress. 

We can’t say for sure as our hands-on was only brief, but the Zenbook seemed like a nice little laptop, albeit a very expensive one.