The Dell Adamo is one manufacturer's attempt to offer a Windows PC alternative to Apple's svelte MacBook Air. The Asus UX30 is another. This £1,000 thin-and-light laptop with an ultra-low-voltage processor apes Apple's machine to a surprising degree.
Take one look at the UX30 and there's no doubt that Asus' designers had the Air firmly in mind when they first sat at their drawing board. The two machines have almost identical footprints, although the UX30 doesn't have quite the same razor-sharp profile. It's still only 20mm thick, but the case lacks the tapered edges that make the Air -- and the MSI X340, for that matter -- so svelte.
Nonetheless, the UX30 still looks very lovely, with clean lines and a sleek shape that compares very favourably with the competition in both the PC and Mac camps. Its smooth appearance continues on the seamless underside, although the lack of easy access to memory slots and the hard drive could be considered a shortcoming. It's a similar story with the battery, but, while a fixed internal cell won't appeal to everyone, we're not sure that it's such a big deal as long as battery life is up to scratch. More on that later.
Brushed aluminium lid aside, the UX30's case is made from sturdy plastic rather than the Air's aluminium, but this doesn't bestow any weight advantage. The UX30 tips the scales at 1.39kg, while the Air weighs 1.36kg.
Asus has clearly put plenty of thought into how the UX30 looks and has resisted the urge to deck it out with superfluous design frills. Lift the lid and you'll see that the inside is as sparse as the outside, with just a couple of matching silver buttons to brighten up the expanse of black plastic -- one for power, and one that activates both the pre-boot Express Gate operating system and the various power modes when Windows Vista is running.
Using the chiclet keyboard is just as pleasant an experience as looking at it, but we were less taken with the large multitouch trackpad. It's simply a shallow part of the glossy plastic wrist rest, and its shiny surface is difficult to use unless your fingertip is bone-dry.
The 13.3-inch screen sits behind a glossy top layer that stretches to each side of the lid, creating much the same 'frameless' appearance as on the unibody MacBooks. It looks pretty chic too, although Asus has spoilt the effect slightly by using thin plastic, rather than glass. The screen's 1,366x768-pixel resolution is the same as that of both the X340 and Air, and we have no quibbles about its quality. It's a 6-bit display though, and we could easily spot the dithering required to simulate areas of subtle shading on some images, a blank Internet Explorer 8 page being a case in point.
One area in which the UX30 scores over the Air is connectivity. Perhaps recognising that a laptop that you can't plug anything into isn't much use to anyone, Asus has crammed in three USB ports and an Ethernet, HDMI and mini DisplayPort jack, all hidden beneath neat flaps on either side of the case.
Laptops with ultra-low-voltage processors promise better performance than those with an Intel Atom chip, but lower power consumption than more mainstream laptop CPUs. The Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 chip inside the UX30 only runs at 1.4GHz, but still draws 10W. That's ten times more than the Atom N270 processor used in many netbooks. Still, this is a dual-core Core 2 Duo chip rather than a single-core Atom, so the trade-off should be worth it.