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Review: Asus ZenBook UX31

By Leigh D. Stark | 5:27 pm 01/12/2011

The ultrabook market is burgeoning, and Asus’s first uber thin and light laptop brings with it features not common to 13 inch portable computers, including an aluminium chassis and high-resolution screen.

Features

Encased in an aluminium body, the UX31 is easily one of the most attractive Windows notebooks we’ve ever seen. Manufactured from a single block of aluminium, the brushed-metal finish on all surfaces has real luxe appeal.

The 13.3 inch screen features a ridiculously high 1600 x 900 pixel resolution. That’s much higher than the 1366 x 768 we normally see on 13 and 15 inch notebooks. Above the screen is a small VGA webcam.

Beneath the keyboard is where all the power is – there’s an Intel Core i7 processor, 4GB RAM and 256GB solid state drive contained within that thin aluminium chassis.

Connection options are fairly impressive, with the UX31 offering one USB 2.0, headset 3.5mm jack, and an SD card slot, a single micro HDMI port, one mini display port and one high-speed USB 3.0 port (which is backwards compatible with the regular USB 2.0 devices).

You’ll also find wireless catered for in the form of Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi 802.11 b/g/n.

Inside the package are accessories to make Apple blush, with some nice touches designed to make users feel special. For starters, there’s a brown fabric envelope with a magnetic clasp for you to store your laptop in if you so choose. There are also two smaller brown fabric satchel; one for storing the plugs necessary to convert one USB port into an Ethernet port, and the other for accessory that converts the mini display port into a VGA port.

The Ethernet and VGA port accessories are thrown in the box, waiting for you to try them out.

Other brands charge for those kinds of  accessories, so their inclusion here is thoughtful. Big tick, Asus.

You’ll also find a black power brick, and a box containing manuals and a cable tie.

Performance

Design-wise, the ZenBook seems to have taken inspiration taken from a MacBook Air. From the side, it’s downright identical, with the same angle and sharp edges in evidence. The colour is different to the Air, but like the MacBook, the UX31 is made entirely from aluminium, making it more robust and longer lasting than moulded plastic computers.

The metal build also lends a satisfying heft to the UX31, and this speaks further to its quality. It’s so well weighted, in fact, that you can open the lid of the UX31 with one hand without the machine lifting off the table.

Performance on this machine is strong, too, as expected. There is, after all, a second generation Intel Core i7 in charge of operations here. Although it’s obviously not a hardcore gaming platform, the UX31 still impresses, and will more than meet the needs of most geeks on the go.

Start-up speeds from power-off to Windows 7 login sat at just under 27 seconds, with wake-up times from standby considerably lower, at a second-and-a half.

The UX31 is so well-built, you can lift the screen up with one finger and the whole computer won't lift up with you.

The 256GB solid state drive provides enough space, and being split into two sections – partitioned into two drives – makes it easier to manage. This setup means that if you want to install apps to the regular C drive and keep other files on the D drive, you can do that easily.

We like the screen too. Like it a lot.

The 1600 x 900 resolution on this 13.3 inch LED screen is more than most 15 inch notebook models.  This allows photos, images and video to display with greater levels of detail, and makes for a better experience when working with Adobe Photoshop and InDesign applications.

And for the first time on a Windows PC notebook we have a power brick (above) that’s small, lightweight and easy to carry. Someone at Asus has been paying attention.

You may not have to use it that often, though. With WiFi turned on, we easily achieved more than five hours of operation from the battery. You can use the system sporadically as well, with our tests showing the UX31 able to retain high charge levels, and could wake up over the course of a week from a single charge.

Asus hasn’t completely nailed it with the UX31, though. There’s no backlit keyboard, for example, and there really should be. Apple includes the feature on virtually all its notebooks, as do many other makers at this price point. It’s hard to understand why a feature so common to the competition is absent from this premium Asus offering .

With no backlit keys, you'll have rely on the bright screen to see those letters in the dark.

The keyboard isn’t entirely successful either, with the shallowness of the chassis impeding the amount of travel in the keys. As a consequence, we found ourselves striking the keys overly firmly in order for them to register. We didn’t break any keys, but many typing errors were made before becoming accustomed to the keyboard.

The mouse takes some getting used to, as well. The big trackpad is nice, but unlike Apple’s one-button touchpad, it’s not as easy to press because of the way the two-button mouse has been divided. In fact, you pretty much have to click dead inside the small space allotted to the left and right buttons to get them to work. Lose your concentration and right-clicks are interpreted as left-clicks, making it especially difficult to select text.

The audio system is a touch inadequate for our tastes too. Sure, Asus likes to mention the audio being tuned by Bang & Olufsen – the partnership is declared below the keyboard on the right-hand side – but the thing just isn’t loud enough, not by a long shot.

Conclusion

There is a lot to like about the UX31, foremost among them being design, specs, and screen. When it comes to usability, however, its keyboard and mouse are likely to provide a far less enjoyable experience than you’d want from a $1999 notebook.

 

 

Price (RRP)

$1999

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Very sturdy; Good connectivity options; Power pack is nice and small - very different for a PC laptop; Excellent screen resolution, better than most 15 inch laptops have;

Product Cons

Speakers aren't super loud; No backlit keys; Keyboard and mouse could be a lot better;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Performance

Ease of Use

Design

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