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KELLNER: Zenbook and the art of notebook computer shopping

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

For just $999, you can get a thinner-than-thin, lighter-than-most (only 2.42 pounds), notebook computer from ASUS that runs Microsoft Windows 7, connects to Wi-Fi and features almost all the comforts of your home or office desktop. Should you buy it?

On the one hand, mounting evidence suggests an ultrathin portable computer is so 2008, the year Apple Inc. launched the MacBook Air. As I began writing this review, tech security firm Avira reported "just under 60 percent of consumers polled in a November survey ... are hoping to receive a tablet PC or a smartphone for the holidays." The tablet's the thing, Shakespeare might say, with which we'll Facebook the king.

Yes, but. The ASUS Zenbook, whose lowest-priced model lists for the aforementioned $999 (Herman Cain not included) and can be had on Amazon.com for about $35 less, is somewhat impressive for the price, and might be worth considering by any number of potential buyers.

A sometimes-repeated caveat here: Not every tech product is right for every person. There are some people who shouldn't have a tablet device, and there are others for whom even the lightest notebook isn't a good fit. The Zenbook isn't right for you if you need a ton of storage, or must have an optical drive "on board." But if you're a more senior manager, perhaps a "C-level" executive, this could be a very capable tool for many tasks. Ditto if you're a college student, so long as you're not an engineering major needing computer-aided design software.

That's because the Zenbook I tested had all of 128 GB of storage. If my math is right, that's 13 times the storage of my first hard drive, a 10 MB model some 20 years ago. But it's one-fourth of the 500 GB on my MacBook Pro's hard drive, and one-eighth the capacity of many desktop computers these days, a full terabyte. So, storage needs should be considered.

The Zenbook is not posited by ASUS as a "MacBook Air killer," and the firm discourages comparisons to the Apple product. That may be a bit premature. The Zenbook feels about as light as a MacBook Air, offers a similar appearance, and even comes with a leatherlike case that resembles an interoffice envelope, the latter used by Apple in the first MacBook Air ads. Subtle, but you get the idea.

You don't get an Ethernet port, however; if wired network connectivity is a need, prepare to sacrifice one of your two USB ports to an adapter. Prepare for a similar sacrifice if you must have an optical drive at the ready. That would suggest to me that this is not well-suited for many multimedia creation/editing tasks, though photographers might get by here. The onboard 4 GB of RAM is certainly adequate, but not necessarily awesome.

One of the nice features in this computer is its setting to sleep, instead of shut down completely. (You can manually select the latter option, of course.) "Waking" from sleep gives you virtually instant-on access to the system; an internal program shows a sleep mode battery life of about 12 hours, good enough for a business day's work. Actual in-use battery time, from the system gauges I checked, is about four hours - certainly acceptable, but less so versus a 10-hour tablet battery life.

There is a miniature video-out connection, which means you can get an adapter and connect the Zenbook's video to a projector. The 11.6-inch display is good for solo or very-small-group use, as would be expected.

This base-model Zenbook is $300 more than the top-level iPad with Wi-Fi. Should you buy it? You might want to after you examine your needs and work style. If the Zenbook fits, you'll probably enjoy the experience.

E-mail mkellner@washington times.com.

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