ASUS Zenbook UX31 is fantastic to look at. Though it looks similar to the 13-inch MacBook Air, the manufacturer added enough original elements to make it its own. We were immediately taken with its brushed-aluminum build, spacious, buttonless track pad and razor-thin silhouette. It feels like an exceptionally solid, well-made product. Etched concentric circles on the dark grey metal lid, the deck’s linear brush pattern and smooth metal keys add extra visual flourish and lend the laptop a modern, industrial look.
It is a welcome change from the usual brushed metal effects found on many laptops and certainly better than plain plastic. The hinge area gets its own treatment, with a fine dot pattern and UX31 Series Ultra Slim engraved in flowing script. Weighing just 3 pounds and measuring 13.3 x 8.9 x 0.1-0.7 inches, the UX31 is supremely thin and compact, the same weight as the Acer Aspire S3 ultrabook and the 13-inch MacBook Air. 325 mm wide and 224 mm deep, it will easily slide into any small bag.
Keyboard And Touchpad
Our Zenbook UX31 uses a chiclet island-style keyboard which is rapidly becoming a must-have feature for premium laptops. The large, well-spaced metal keys, though without backlighting, deliver a pleasant and comfortable typing experience.
Moreover, it is worth mentioning that when hit, they make a quiet, low-pitched sound which is always a marker of sound build quality. The arrow keys are smaller than what you will find on some other ultrabooks, but pretty easy to find by feel.
Smooth and expansive Elan touchpad measures 4.1 x 2.75 inches. Its broad touch surface supports multi-touch gestures (e.g. two-finger scrolling, pinch-to-zoom, three-finger swipes etc.) enabling easy and flawless navigation when surfing web-pages, viewing photos or other content, working with documents etc. Though it has distinct right and left mouse buttons, it also features a clickpad.
Video And Sound
The ASUS UX31 excels with a 13.3-inch widescreen display that comes with the resolution of 1,600×900 pixels, which is far more fitting for a premium system than the standard 1,366×768. Such an upgrade gives plenty of space to scroll through web pages and documents, and enables crisp and bright movie playback.
At 450 nits, the UX31’s display is brighter than that on the Samsung Series 9 (which is at least a few hundred dollars more expensive than the Asus UX31), and matches the backlit screen of the Acer Aspire S3. The resolution of this Asus is even higher than 1,440×900 monitor of the 13.3-inch MacBook Air.
As a result, text and images appear very sharp and the screen itself is especially bright as well. The viewing angles are also impressive, making the laptop better suited to sharing the screen with another person.For outdoor use, the heavy glare from the glossy screen can translate into some difficulty viewing texts and images. Fortunately, the high maximum brightness can somewhat alleviate this problem. Battery life will, of course, take a hit, but the laptop will be very usable under shade, and as long as distracting reflections can be avoided.
That bright, sharp panel teams up with sound system provided by Bang & Olufsen’s ICEpower speakers. The latter are located in the hinge area of the device; the sound is pushed out towards the screen and bass is transmitted through the keyboard area. Though the speakers can’t be seen on the machine, they make their presence felt.
This happy blend of features and technology results in crystal-clear pleasantly loud sound and noticeable bass, which is more than adequate for listening to music in a quiet room. Overall, considering the laptop’s size, it’s a very impressive setup.
Ports And Webcam
The UX31’s slim design does not leave much space for many ports: the front and back edges remain smooth; on the left side there is a USB 2.0 port along with an SD/MMC card reader and a dual headphone/mic port. The right side features mini-HDMI and mini-VGA ports instead of full-sized ones, and a USB 3.0 socket that promises faster charge of USB-powered gadgets.
In addition to these on-board ports, the manufacturer includes two additional adapters in the laptop’s package — a mini VGA-to-VGA adapter allowing enhanced use with monitors and projectors, and a USB-to-Ethernet adapter for a wired LAN connection.
In terms of wireless connectivity, the Zenbook comes with 802.11n Wi-Fi and cutting-edge Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology. The UX31 also features a 0.3-megapixel webcam that offers clear images and teams up with the ASUS FaceLogon Manager – facial recognition software which records an image of the user’s face to log them into the system.
The ASUS Zenbook UX31 features the following technical specifications: ASUS ZENBOOK UX31 is available in three configurations. The base level model features a Core i5-2557M CPU, 4GB RAM and a 128GB SATAIII drive. More advanced version comes with the same CPU and a larger 256GB drive. Lastly, the top-end configuration combines a 256GB drive and a Core i7-2677M CPU. It features 4GB RAM as well.
As seen above, the UX31 family now features 4GB DDR3 RAM – it is worth noting here, that the modules are integrated directly onto the motherboard to reduce size and weight, so adding or removing memory is impossible.In any configuration, the machine proves to be more than powerful, making for an amazingly smooth and fast computing experience for everyday tasks, including an occasional foray into more demanding applications.
If scores are any indication, the UX31 matches – and sometimes bests – the MacBook Air’s performance. For example, under PCMark Vantage scoring system, the starting i5-2557M laptop manages an impressive 10,218, compared to 9,484 for the Apple’s machine. Under 3DMark06 it notches 4,171, while the Air has a similar score of 4,223.
What makes this particular Asus notebook even better is its ADATA XM11 SSD. This SATAIII drive is powered by the SandForce SF-2281 controller, the one that is currently utilized in many aftermarket SATAIII SSDs such as the Patriot Pyro, OCZ Agility 3 and Kingston HyperX lineups. With an interface speed of up to 6GB/sec, the UX31 is able to score an amazing 44,444 points in the HDD PCMark Vantage test, one of the highest scores ever seen for a laptop.
The Intel HD graphics in the UX31 shows a performance level on par with the current base level cards from NVIDIA (e.g. GeForce 310M) and AMD (HD 5450). While it can support Turbo Boost up to 1.2GHz or higher, this modest offering is not going to win the hearts of gamers, so the users should not expect to play many modern PC games at high or even medium settings. However, its score of 3,761 points in 3DMark06 is about 900 points above the average number (2,880), and fits between the MacBook Air (4,236) and the Acer Aspire S3 (3,257).
The ASUS Zenbook UX31 boots very quickly and resumes from sleep nearly instantly in an attempt to comply with the requirements laid down for ultrabooks by Intel. So, it boots Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) in 29 seconds, twice faster than the category average (59 seconds). It is only bested by the MacBook Air, which launches OSX Lion in just 17 seconds, and the Samsung Series 9 (25 seconds). Like the Air, the UX31 resumes from sleep in about 1-2 seconds thanks to exclusive ASUS Super Hybrid Engine II with Instant On technology.
The UX31’s system fan is sealed inside the chassis and vents warm air towards the hinge, which is then wafted up the screen surface. Fan noise is practically nonexistent when the device is doing word processing, light web browsing or other simple tasks.
A slightly more audible whirring can be heard during high definition playback, but nothing too distracting. Even under maximum stress, the system fan noise is still very manageable.
The UX31 Zenbook includes a built-in 6840mAh, 50Whr lithium-polymer battery module. The ASUS engineers claim almost seven hours of battery life with light use, and a little less than six with video streaming.
Real numbers are also in line with the company’s expectations: during the standard rundown test, which means watching movies off the hard drive with Wi-Fi enabled and the brightness fixed at 65 percent, the built-in battery of the UX31 holds out for almost six hours. Overall, the battery life comes in as good, but unfortunately, not as long-lasting as the 13.3-inch MacBook Air by potentially more than a couple of hours. Still, you should be able to get through most of the day on a charge.
Software and Warranty
The UX31 comes with a great deal of pre-installed software, which is for the most part ASUS’ own apps. However, this is a non-invasive bunch, with the one exception being the company’s registration page, which pops up as soon as you boot up. The most prominent utility is the ASUS PowerWiz technology, which not only tells you at a glance how much battery life is left, but how much working time remains when surfing the web, playing videos, games, or performing office-related tasks.
As far as third-party apps go, there is also Microsoft Office Starter 2010, a Bing toolbar, Nuance PDF reader, and Trend Micro Titanium Internet Security. Other apps include ASUS Vibe Center, a games and multimedia entertainment portal, and ASUS WebStorage (online backup).
For the base level model, the UX31E-DH52 (1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-2557M CPU, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD), the price starts at $950. Upgraded UX31E-DH53 version (1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-2557M CPU, 4GB RAM, 256GB SSD) will cost you $1,130.
The most advanced model in the family, the UX31E-DH72 (Intel Core i7-2677M CPU, 4GB RAM, 256GB SSD), is on sale for $1,300. As seen from the above, the ASUS Zenbook UX31 has better specifications than the base MacBook Air and beats its price by two hundred dollars, offering a pretty sweet deal.
Though there are a few minor drawbacks to keep in mind, the UX31 performs admirably: it is fast and its battery life is impressive. The especially high brightness and native resolution of the screen deserve another mention here as well. The design of this ASUS series also looks and feels more refined, thanks to the brushed-metal treatment and a wafer-thin chassis. Overall, this is a very tempting alternative to the more expensive ultrabooks, including MacBook Air.