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Asus UX21 wants to sock MacBook Air in the guts

Asus will soon pit its super-light UX21 against the featherweight MacBook Air and Samsung Series 9. How will this sprightly challenger fare?

The MacBook Air and Samsung Series 9 have proven that you needn't settle for something barely more powerful than a calculator if you want an ultra-portable laptop. Now Asus wants a slice of the pie, with the UX21.

Like the Air, the UX21 will be available in an 11-inch version and have a ridiculously thin chassis. The UX21 narrows down to a minuscule 3mm at its thinnest end, as does the Air. The two laptops are also wrapped in a sturdy aluminium case, although the Asus model is noticeably shinier.

The Samsung Series 9 is also beautifully thin. Made from plastic and a metal called duralumin, it's slightly more susceptible to knocks and bumps than the unibody UX21 and Air.

The UX21's isolated keyboard has aluminium keys that look a dream to type on. Coupled with the large, glass trackpad, this machine looks as sleek and sexy as an otter in a negligée, whether it's open or closed.

Asus has equipped the UX21 with two separate buttons on the trackpad, rather than plump for a clickable pad, as you'll find on the Air and the Series 9. It's not a massive issue, but you can make a trackpad much bigger if you dispense with separate buttons.

While all three laptops may be super-light, they're still more than capable of chewing through most tasks you could throw at them. The upcoming version of the Series 9 will be available with a 1.5GHz Intel Core i7 processor and up to 6GB of RAM. The Air is due a refresh as soon as next week and is expected to pack equally high-performance Intel chips, although the actual specs will remain a mystery until Apple pulls off the covers.

The UX21 will also be available with top-of-the-range Core i7 chips, so its performance is likely to be similar to that of its rivals. All three laptops use solid-state disks for storage. SSDs are lighter, smaller, faster and more power-friendly than their hard drive cousins, so you can expect to get up to 10 hours of battery life out of these slim beasts.

With such beautifully crafted bodies housing powerful components, you'd expect this sort of laptop's prices to be sky-high, and you'd be absolutely right. The cheapest Air is currently available for £867, while the Samsung Series 9 comes in at around £1,300.

The UX21 hasn't been given a price yet, but Intel, which is trying to push the term 'ultrabooks' for super-portable laptops like the UX21, has said that the typical price for such a machine will be under £605. We'd be very surprised if you could pick up the top Core i7 model for much under a grand, though. If you can, Apple will have a problem.

The UX21 is due to be available late this year. Make sure to keep it CNET UK for more info as we have it.