Asus Zenbook UX31E review
The first of the Ultrabooks is a lithe laptop with power and stamina, but the ergonomics aren’t quite there
Review Date: 25 Oct 2011
Reviewed By: Sasha Muller
Price when reviewed: £999 (£1,199 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
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.
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.
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/m2 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.
Not enterprise class, unfortunately
No WWAN, no TPM, no fingerprint reader... All things available on the Sony Z or S, or various Lenovo machines.
In slavishly copying the MacBook Air, Asus has also copied its limitations. Stupid.
By PaulOckenden on 25 Oct 2011
"it ranks among the prettiest laptops to sport a Windows sticker"
Well that's priority number 1 that is. Being pretty.
Oh wait, that's how they think over at MacWorld. Have I somehow browsed to the wrong site?
There are so many mentions of the MacBook Air in this review I though I was reading a review of that device.
By Lacrobat on 25 Oct 2011
You seem to have missed page 2 where there are a lot more words and what's called a 'conclusion' which, if you read it, points out that looking pretty is commendable but less important that other factors.
The reason for the multiple references to the Macbook Air is explained right at the beginning of paragraph 2.
Did you get out of bed the wrong side today?
Thanks Sasha for a great review.
By nelviticus on 25 Oct 2011
Your ceaseless trolling on every Mac or Mac-related review is getting tiresome.
It's compared to the MacBook Air because that's patently the inspiration for the Asus Zenbook and a direct rival.
And do you really expect us to ignore the styling of a device that is so clearly design led?
If you can't abide any mention of the 'M' word, can I respectfully suggest that you read your PC reviews elsewhere.
By Barry_Collins on 26 Oct 2011
I don't want my laptop to look like an immitation MacBook Air.
I certainly don't want to be paying Apple prices for a Windows laptop.
At least the Samsung isn't trying to mimic another manufacturer's design.
By Grunthos on 26 Oct 2011
Nice Mr Collins, really nice.
I know what you mean, and irrespective of whether the Mac "inspired" the Asus or not, you correctly compare goods to their competitors and \ or the class leaders; in this case the 'Air'.
However given the current Apple inspired 'patent wars' which are stultifying Tablet development and sales at present a few questions are in order.
Firstly has ASUS 'copied' or even been 'inspired' by the MacBook Air? An important question becuase as the iPad was not the first Tablet, so the Air was not the first very small laptop \ notebook.
Portable gadget need to be, well, portable i.e. small & light. In Darwinian terms an 'ideal' form-factor and structure which provides for small, light, usable notebooks has evolved, and yes its a lot like the MacBook Air.
So because Apple were the first to realise this format does it mean that everyone else is 'copying'. Are they (in the case of Tablets) infringing Apple's notional IP by producing items which have similarly evolved to meet this format?
By wittgenfrog on 26 Oct 2011
Well said Barry,
Lacrobat adds very little to the comments section except reader irritation.
By kingjulian on 26 Oct 2011
Well said both of you
So, can we expect that the amusing chastisement of Lacrobat for his trolling will be replicated for SwissMac's similarly relentless trolling?
However, I do agree with Barry Collins that this review should draw comparisons with one of the best laptops in its class. If it were aimed at a business market, I would expect that to be the Vaio Z, but since this product is patently aimed at the shiny-look-at-me market, then the MB Air is really the only choice.
If the review showed that Asus produced a laptop that worked as well as the MB Air (which nobody can deny is excellent at what it does), but was lighter, cheaper and faster, and hopefully looked completely different to a MB Air, then many of us (including myself) would be queuing up for one.
By TheHonestTruth on 26 Oct 2011
I know a lot of us can do without an optical drive by using software such as magic disk to work with iso images, but it would really be a cool feature to cram one in without making the thing any thicker. Perhaps a new way of reading disks will be possible. Reading a disk by just having it near the computer would be good.
By Roger_Andre on 29 Oct 2011
lets be fair here
AFAIK the ux31 has several things the Air does not, like mini vga, SD card slot, usb3...
The "sharp edge" on the wrist rest is almost identically shaped and positioned to the Air, so it seems weird a reviewer will talk about "design flaws" when the apparent king of design has the same design. Get a thinner USB device, its not the computer that's at fault, your USB gadget is.
Weird review... reminds me a bit of the Indian cricket team captain... on the take.
By fredphoesh on 1 Nov 2011
A little unfair...
I have just managed to buy a UX31 and I have to say I'm delighted. I bought it on spec without trying it out first and am amazed at how fast it is in comparison to my over-clocked i7 2600K desktop system (256GB SSD RAID Windows partition)which I have to say seems almost sluggish in comprison. I did however, have problems with the touchpad (mine is most certainly not made of glass btw) but after loading the drivers (something missed by Asus I guess), all is now well. The keyboard is fine for me at least although I don't have that much copy - just the odd email (and this) so far! It's my third laptop this year - it's absolutely fantastic and I can't recommend it enough!
By sinclairhouse on 27 Nov 2011
Don't get it
I'm sorry guys, but I think that you need to become a little more strict in your reviews. There is no integrated 3G networking here. How is that ultraportable. Ultra something OK. Ultra light maybe, but portable? Not a chance. It has to be a defining feature for this class of laptop surely. A dongle is a liability with one of these on your lap.
By It_s_me_ on 9 Apr 2012
I have purchased this laptop and I agree with sinclairhouse that it is a great bit of kit. As for some of the other point suggesting the need for integrated 3G on an ultraportable I have never found the need for this personally as find tethering to my iPhone (am I allowed to mention that I have an Apple product!!) works perfectly and means I don’t need a second data plan. An integrated DVD drive would be nice but I would not want to compromise on the thickness of the laptop and all thin drives I have used in the past have caused the laptop to overheat. This laptop is perfect for my needs of being a device that I can use easily around flat but also take with me when I travel. Highly recommended.
By Tommy_Gun on 10 Apr 2012
The conclusion to your review states "...That makes it impossible to fully recommend right now..." Yet your rating is "PCPro recommended" A-List.
So which is it?
By Joe90 on 14 Apr 2012
I brought this 'Ultra book' expecting great things. All pretty good apart from battery life. How did you get 8 hours? I get 2 hours 40 mins listening to internet radio only. That has to be light use. Did PC World do me?
By stevenup2 on 12 Jun 2012
ASUS ZenBook UX31 battery
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By briancope on 1 Dec 2012
Spec not good enough.
4GB RAM is too small (I need 8GB)
Screen too low res. (I need 1080p)
And I need touch.
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