Asus Zenbook UX31E review

25 Oct 2011

The first of the Ultrabooks is a lithe laptop with power and stamina, but the ergonomics aren’t quite there

Price when reviewed: 
1,199(£1199 inc VAT)
4

Intel’s thin-and-light Ultrabook concept has been gathering steam over the past few months, with a whole host of players looking to take on Apple’s hugely popular MacBook Air. Proudly leading the charge is Asus with its 13in Zenbook UX31E. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and this little laptop looks startlingly familiar.

From the design of the box to the hardware itself, it seems Asus has been taking notes from Apple, but the Zenbook is still strikingly attractive in its own right – it isn’t only pretty by Ultrabook standards, it ranks among the prettiest laptops to sport a Windows sticker. Concentric circles shimmer across the dark grey lid, the brushed-metal finish softening to a lighter grey on the base, and the combination of sharp angles and smooth curves makes for a beautiful design.

Asus Zenbook UX31E

Measuring mere millimetres-thick at its front edge and tapering to a delicate 17mm at the rear, the Zenbook weighs only 1.4kg. That’s nowhere near light enough to trouble Sony’s flagship VAIO Z Series – that pricey ultraportable weighs only 1.15kg – but where many thin laptops sacrifice durability, the Zenbook feels unyieldingly stout. It’s far sturdier in the hand than either the Sony or Samsung’s Series 9 – so much so, you’re likely to pull a muscle before you eke any flex from the rock-solid base.

One of the principal appeals of the Ultrabook concept is that style and a light weight come with serious power, and the Zenbook achieves that. The Core i7-2677M processor is an ultra-low-voltage part, but with its nominal 1.8GHz clock speed boosting right up to 2.9GHz when required, and a blazingly quick 128GB Sandforce SSD alongside, the Zenbook romped through our Real World Benchmarks to a result of 0.62. That’s just ahead of Apple’s Core i5-equipped MacBook Air.

It makes for a responsive system. Applications spring in and out of view with lightning-speed, and Asus’ claims that it wakes from sleep in two seconds are spot on. Even from a cold boot, the Zenbook UX31E raced to the Windows desktop in 20 seconds. It isn’t just quick, either: we recorded an impressive 8hrs 53mins in our light-use battery test.

Sound tumbles from the integrated Bang & Olufsen speakers with surprising loudness and clarity, and when you add the blindingly bright 13.3in display above, the Zenbook looks a perfectly capable little entertainment centre.

Asus Zenbook UX31E

However, on closer examination the chinks in the armour begin to appear. While the 1,600 x 900 panel makes for a spacious Windows desktop, and gives a stunning 506cd/m[sup]2[/sup] maximum brightness, image quality is average at best. Colour accuracy is wayward, with the panel’s high-colour temperature leaving skintones and images dogged with a bluish tint. The contrast ratio of only 203:1 is disappointingly low, and the darkest greys are crushed into black.

Details

Price ex VAT £999
Price inc VAT £1,199
Overall rating 4
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 4
Performance 5

Warranty

Warranty 2yr collect and return

Physical specifications

Dimensions 297 x 196 x 17mm (WDH)
Weight 1.400kg
Travelling weight 1.6kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core i7-2677M
Motherboard chipset Intel QS67
RAM capacity 4.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 0

Screen and video

Screen size 13.3in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,600
Resolution screen vertical 900
Resolution 1600 x 900
Graphics chipset Intel HD Graphics 3000
Graphics card RAM N/A
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
HDMI outputs 1
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 128GB
Hard disk usable capacity 112GB
Spindle speed N/A
Internal disk interface SATA/600
Hard disk ADATA XM11
Optical disc technology N/A
Optical drive N/A
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 100Mbits/sec
802.11a support no
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch no
Wireless key-combination switch yes
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 1
FireWire ports 0
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 1
SD card reader yes
Memory Stick reader no
MMC (multimedia card) reader yes
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset Realtek HD Audio
Speaker location Underneath keyboard
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 0.3mp
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case yes

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 1min
Battery life, heavy use 8hr 53min
3D performance (crysis) low settings 30fps
3D performance setting Low
Overall Real World Benchmark score 0.62
Responsiveness score 0.73
Media score 0.66
Multitasking score 0.47

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
OS family Windows 7
Recovery method Recovery partition