Review: Asus Zenbook UX31E

The Asus Zenbook UX31 Ultrabook is the closest thing we've seen to a MacBook Air, that isn't a MacBook Air.

NameUltrabook: Asus Zenbook (UX31E-RY009V)
At a glance:Same thickness as MacBook Air,Intel Core i5-2557M CPU, 4GB RAM,Includes USB to Ethernet adapter,Good battery life under heavy use
Summary:Poor touchpad performance is the greatest let-down to this ultraportable ultra-achiever.

Let’s get the standard Ultrabook comparison out of the way first: physically the Asus Zenbook UX31 is the closest thing we’ve seen to a MacBook Air, that isn’t a MacBook Air. It’s the first ultrabook we’ve seen match the Air’s signature ‘wedge’ design, tapering down from 17mm thick at its rear hinge to just 3mm thick at the front edge.

Construction feels particularly solid; when closed, the brushed-aluminium body doesn’t torque or deform easily. Even when open, the screen can’t be twisted too far out of shape and doesn’t exhibit any creaking or obvious weakness. Of all the unexpected side effects to the emergence of ultrabooks, the ready availablity of sturdy all-metal laptops in the $1000-$2000 price range has got to be one of the best.

The Zenbook’s 13.3-inch display offers a nice improvement over the regular 1366 x 768 pixels found on most laptops, at 1600 x 900. That’s 37% more screen real-estate to play with; great for image editing, spreadsheets and other screen-hungry work. On the downside, colour reproduction is not fantastic and at higher brightness levels, there’s a definite ‘washing out’ of colours on screen.

The keyboard is comfortable enough, with no odd key placements or exceptions to the norm. Besides the shallow key travel as found on all thin laptops, high-speed touch typists are likely to get up to speed pretty quickly.

The touchpad is large, with the whole surface (buttons included) usable for pointing. Left and right click are separated by a thin vertical line, and the pad itself is flush with the laptop’s wrist-rest. It’s a nice visual design, but I found the touchpad sluggish and inaccurate. Gestures such as two-finger scrolling and pinch-zoom only worked some of the time, limiting their usefulness.

Our review Zenbook ran atop a second-generation Intel Core i5-2557M processor, included 4GB of RAM and offered 128GB of SSD storage. Wireless connectivity was 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, and the latest Bluetooth 4.0. Wired is limited to a pair of USB ports: one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0. If you need wired networking, a USB 2.0 to 10/100Mbps Ethernet adapter is included in the box.

External displays can be connected by micro HDMI or ‘Mini VGA’, the latter of which requires an included adapter to connect to a normal VGA cable. While VGA is a useful legacy connector, using the same space to provide a full-sized HDMI port would have likely proven more useful to a greater proportion of users.

Performance was particularly good for the form factor with CPU-, RAM- and storage-dependent benchmarks scoring among the best we’ve recently recorded for ultra-portables. Graphical performance is also impressive compared to other laptops also based on Intel’s on-CPU Sandy Bridge graphics, but weak compared to models with dedicated graphics solutions. Despite its high performance in all other areas, the Zenbook is not a 3D gamer’s or animator’s laptop.

You might expect that performance to have a negative effect on battery life; surprisingly, that’s not the case. Compared to the HP Folio 13 (opposite), our Zenbook showed an average of 64% higher performance across the nine benchmarks we ran, but only 10% (32 minutes) lower battery life at 4 hours 40 minutes. This is impressive battery capacity indeed, and it should be noted that we achieved that result with all of Asus’ fancy power-saving software turned off.

At $1,799, the Asus Zenbook offers performance, battery life, and a size and weight that can truly compete with Apple’s MacBook Air. It’s the most promising Ultrabook we’ve seen thus far, and would nab a five-star PC World Platinum Award if not for the poor touchpad response.

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Tags reviewasus zenbookasusasus ultrabookasus zenbook ux31eultrabooklaptop

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Harley Ogier

Harley Ogier

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