Review: Asus Zenbook UX31 ultrabook

The Ultrabook category of computers is still relatively new, but many companies are putting the best foot forward to try and stake their claim in the market. The Asus Zenbook UX31 is the top of Asus’ Ultrabook lineup, so we decided to see how it compares to other devices on the market.

Like all Ultrabooks, the UX31 is insanely thin. At the thickest point, this machine is only slightly bigger than the two USB ports they managed to sneak onto the sides. The case is made of what Asus calls “hairline” aluminum, which feels incredibly solid. There’s no flexing in any part of the casing or the screen. The hinge even feels more solid than most laptops made today. Sure, you need to apply some force to open or move the screen, but once it starts to move it glides very smoothly. The keys on the keyboard are plastic, coated in a material that makes the keys look just like the rest of the casing. Just above the keys are the Bang and Olufsen ICEpower speakers, which are attached to the screen.

Every part of this Ultrabook feels solid, but still stays under three pounds. The sides host to a micro Display Port, microHDMI, and an SD card slot, in addition to those USB slots. Like most of the devices in this category, the Zenbook can have either an i5 or an i7 with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. The integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics card drives the Ultrabooks 1280×800 screen. Even under heavy use, the UX31 still stays cool. The vents that line the back of the laptop with matching vents under the speakers create enough air flow without making a lot of noise. The only downside to the hardware design is that the entirely of the exterior is a gigantic fingerprint magnet.

When looking for an Ultrabook, the key components for one to be successful is a sturdy design and good battery life. One of the biggest features Asus totes about the Ultrabook is the ability to suspend the battery for days, even weeks. Asus includes a battery widget on the homescreen of the laptop that tells you how long the device can hibernate for before the battery is dead. On a full charge, the widget claims the device can hibernate for 12 days.

Leaving the Ultrabook off the charger over a weekend, I returned to that widget telling me the laptop would stay hibernated for 7 days. Nevertheless, the laptop then proceeded to deliver 6 hours of battery life. On a full charge, the laptop would typically deliver 9.5 hours. The hibernate software from Asus is impressive compared to other laptops, but it seems the math is slightly off for just how useful it is.

Unfortunately, the Zenbook is not perfect. As a consequence of being so thin, the microphone in the bezel of the screen is downright unusable. It picks up every touch of the keyboard, the air that passes by the Ultrabook, and any time you shift the computer. The touchpad is great for all of the single touch uses you could have, but the multi-touch control on the ultrabook is lacking. The touchpad is far more responsive with left to right controls than it is with up to down controls, and there’s no real way to control the sensitivity of the scrolling with the built in software.

As an added perk to the normal Windows 7 OS, the UX31 includes a facial unlocking tool that can be activated. The software allows you to save various images of your face, and uses the webcam when the lockscreen is on to try and match your face to the images that have been stored. Unfortunately, the software is incredibly slow, making it so you need to hold your face still for upwards of 30 seconds before a lock is achieved. I found that I needed to store more that 20 pictures in order for the unlock experience to be even remotely fluid. IF you are willing to put the time into it, the Asus face unlock would be a nice addition.

Aside from the microphone and the lack of sensitivity controls on the touchpad, the only thing I would say needs to be fixed on the Asus Zenbook is a backlit keyboard. Being an extremely mobile device, Ultrabook users routinely find themselves in a place where a backlit keyboard would be a huge benefit.

The i5 version of the UX31, which was tested for this review is available for just under $1,000 which makes it on-par with the rest of the Ultrabook realm. When compared to the 13″ Macbook Air, the Zenbook is $300 cheaper, but given the lack of backlit keys, lower quality microphone and touchpad, and the core i5 processor over the Air’s core i7, the decrease in price is matched by the decrease in quality.

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