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Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A review

Verdict

A gorgeous Ultrabook with a superb Full-HD display and plenty of stamina, but the price is simply far too high

Review Date: 12 Jul 2012

Reviewed By: Sasha Muller

Price when reviewed: £1,272 (£1,526 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
2 stars out of 6

Performance
5 stars out of 6

The Asus Zenbook UX31E was the first laptop to nearly nail the Ultrabook formula. It buzzed with potential: it had the looks, the power, the stamina and, crucially, the price. Now, Asus has answered the criticisms levelled at its original Zenbook and rung the changes for its new model, the Zenbook Prime UX31A. With the addition of a gorgeous 13.3in Full HD screen, Intel’s latest Ivy Bridge technology and a backlit keyboard, it's gunning for the money-no-object Ultrabook crown.

From the outside, the Zenbook is just as pretty as it ever was. A dark swirl of metal spins across the lid, softening into a lighter brushed metal across the base, and the sharp, crisp lines of the Zenbook’s body are undeniably attractive. Weight-wise, the UX31A remains firmly in the featherweight camp, with its 1.4kg body light enough so you'll forget it’s in your bag. We’re fans of the compact wall-wart power supply, too – it adds a mere 200g to the overall weight.

Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A - front

Thanks to the presence of an Intel Ivy Bridge CPU, however, the UX31A’s stamina is unlikely to leave you rushing to a mains socket on a particularly frequent basis. Dim the screen and turn off the wireless radio, and the UX31A will keep on going for 9hrs 5mins. Pile on the pressure, and the Core i7-3517U processor, 4GB of RAM and 256GB SSD relish the challenge. A result of 0.68 in our Real World Benchmarks puts the Asus just ahead of the Sandy Bridge Core i7 in the previous model, which scored 0.62.

Gaming performance still isn’t going to set the world on fire, but the Prime's Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU is far more capable than the previous generation. The 37fps average in our low detail Crysis test drops to 19fps at 1,600 x 900 and Medium detail settings, but this remains an impressive level of performance for such a dainty machine. Keep the resolution and detail settings to more modest levels, and this pint-sized portable will gladly deliver a basic level of gaming performance.

Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A - rear

So the performance increases are subtle, but the display is impossible to ignore. The Zenbook Prime’s Full HD display knocks its predecessor for six, with an IPS panel delivering wide viewing angles and rich, saturated colours. Both brightness and contrast are far superior to the previous Zenbooks, and while the 166ppi density can’t match the 220ppi Retina display of Apple’s MacBook Pro, it still makes for stunningly crisp images.

Put to the test with our X-Rite colorimeter, the Full HD display really delivers: the 1,032:1 contrast ratio and a maximum brightness of 424cd/m2 are as good as laptop displays get, and the average Delta E of 3.1 indicates outstanding colour reproduction. If there’s a moan, it’s a minor one: the panel’s 6,185K colour temperature is some way off the 6,500K ideal, and lends images a warm, rosy tint.

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User comments

Looks like...

...a very nice machine. I've got the HP Folio 13 with its poor display :( Darn it.

P.s. I seriously think that 1080p is hitting a maximum on these units and I'd NEVER want the Retina (Buzz word) resolution and increasing the DPI is cheating a little.

By rhythm on 13 Jul 2012

Yikes, that's a bit steep.

I'd rather go for the older ZenBook if I was after something like this.

By Alfresco on 13 Jul 2012

Becoming bored of biased reviews

PCPro, the quicker you stop constantly mentioning Macs the better.
Can't you review a PC without mentioning Macs? A person looking at a Chromebook is obviously interested in staying with Windows..so Macs are irrelevant. Windows 7 is brilliant. You are PCPro, not MacPro.
This Retina buzzword is so over-used and becoming boring. On the iPhone it is no big deal at all because the screen is too small. My Super AMOLED Plus phone screen looks awesome alongside a Retina screened iPhone because the text is so much bigger!

By cooloox on 13 Jul 2012

rip off britain

You can pick it up from amazon.com for a shade over $1000 with the i5 chip and a smaller but apparently faster SSD.

http://www.amazon.com/Zenbook-Prime-UX31A-DB51-13-
3-Inch-Ultrabook/dp/B00863L2PK/ref=sr_ob_1?ie=UTF8
&qid=1342175460&sr=8-1

might have to get someone from the US office to bring one over for me

By big_dog on 13 Jul 2012

Balance and bias

Cooloox,

A review needs to address whether a particular product stacks up against its rivals. The MacBook Air, like it or not, is very much a rival to an Ultrabook.

Indeed, most people don't care whether their laptop runs OS X or Windows, they just want the best product for the money.

My goal - and it's really a very simple one - is to present all the facts so that anyone can make an educated buying decision. You don't have to agree with my conclusions, of course, but all the facts are there for you to make up your own mind.

Kind regards,
Sasha Muller
Laptops Editor
PC Pro

By SashaMuller on 13 Jul 2012

Re: Balance and bias

Sasha

As a subscriber and a reader of PCPro I would have to disagree with your statement.

"Indeed, most people don't care whether their laptop runs OS X or Windows, they just want the best product for the money."

I certainly do care if my Windows software does not run on my chosen Laptop

Yes I know you can use Boot Camp on OS X
But why would you want to, it is another OS to manage.

Some time as a PC mag you should review Apple products e.g Phones
I don't have a issue with this , as you are comparing apple and android , but to compare PC's and Apple I think is just plain wrong.

By emjga1 on 13 Jul 2012

You must compare PCs with Apple products....

Sasha and PC Pro in general are absolutely right to compare the Mac Air with other Ultrabooks. I(and my clients) want to know which laptop has the nicest screen, the best keyboard and so on. To leave out Mac books would be ridiculous.

By jmiii on 13 Jul 2012

Re Balance and Bias

"My goal - and it's really a very simple one - is to present all the facts so that anyone can make an educated buying decision."

If only you would stick to this, as you not only seem to pass what you consider as facts, but also make judgement/comparison on our behalf.

I have no problem with you doing so other than the contradication in the statement/reply made.

+1 to emjga1

By davidk1962 on 13 Jul 2012

Get over yourselves...

To all the complainers on here, get over yourselves.
If you really think that there won't be a sizeable chunk of readers of this review who are thinking "well this looks good, but how does it compare to a macbook air?" then you are, quite frankly, deluded.

Within the computer market Apple have made themselves a viable option for the vast majority of the buying public. The whole ultra book approach is a response to the popularity of the Air.

If you don't want Apple then that's fine. Really, it is. Just stop whinging will you...

By ChilliBoom on 13 Jul 2012

RE: Balance and Bias

First off, thanks for the response Sasha. I cannot agree with your statement that most people don't care about what OS is on their computer. Absolute nonsense!! Most people are familiar with Windows and that is what they want on their computers.
A second point, and maybe you can educate me on this one, is compatibility. I do a bit of design work (I am not a designer) for a friend of mine, for her business. She bought a Mac and now when she sends me Word documents they are "all over the place" suggesting incompatibility between Word on the 2 OSes. This would be a disaster in a larger business scenario. You can't send documents to a client which will look different on their system to yours. PDF is not the answer as "workarounds" are not editable and not an option in many scenarios.
The best product reviews seem to be the Youtube ones where we see for ourselves what a product does and form our own opinions instead of receiving someone else's.
I religiously listen to your podcasts and really enjoy them. The only thing I would change is in the Hot Hardware of the week. A product should be judged as hot (or not) in relation to its target audience and not to PCPro staff. A gaming machine, for example, is probably of little interest to most of you guys. Therefore, you can't judge it as not hot because you wouldn't buy it. The question is does it address the needs of its target audience and would they "likely" buy it?
Love the website and the podcasts...
Brian.

By cooloox on 13 Jul 2012

@davidk1962

All the facts are there, as is our judgment as to whether the product is good value in the context of its rivals.

Were I to remove all opinion, you'd have a press release with an accompanying list of benchmark figures. That would no longer be a critical review.

@cooloox and others

As for the preference of OS X vs Windows, then that is a personal choice, granted. The review concludes by suggesting that it's possible to buy either a rival Ultrabook, or a MacBook Air, for much less cash than the Prime. Value for money is the issue here, not the operating system.

If you prefer, or are indifferent to, OS X, you might choose a MacBook Air on the basis of this review. If you prefer Windows, you'd buy an alternative and far more affordable Ultrabook. And if you're just absolutely minted, well, you could throw caution to the wind and buy a Zenbook Prime for every one of your family members.

In either instance, I would hope that this review would leave a prospective purchaser able to make an educated buying decision.

Kind regards,
Sasha Muller
Laptops Editor
PC Pro

By SashaMuller on 13 Jul 2012

Apples & ....

@sasha, whilst I take your various points about making comparisons, I do think its fair to take you to task for comparing the Display to the 'Retina' on the MBP.

It's competitors in the Apple range are Macbook Airs, which don't sport 'Retina'.

Overall, however, I agree that this is very poor value for money at the ludicrous RRP\ street price that's being asked for.

If Apple can knock-out a roughly comparable 'Air' for less, then something's wrong....

By wittgenfrog on 13 Jul 2012

Utter Apple? Eternal damnation for you it is then...

The simple fact is you can buy a MacBook Pro with Retina display for the same money as this Asus Zenbook. So it is in direct competition on price. That is why Sasha has alluded to the screen in comparison. Read in context there is nothing wrong with any of the references to apple products in the review. It gives a balanced view in my opinion which is useful to the majority and not the minority apple haters on here ;)

apples are personal computers. always have been and always will be. so they will always warrant a place in reviews of 'PC' equipment.

honestly, anyone would think mentioning apple was blasphemy the way people get worked up about it.

By mr_chips on 13 Jul 2012

Too pricey by half....

Accordiong to the Apple website, you're looking at £1,799 for the lowliest Retina's MBP, and I believe the one recently tested by PcPro was around £2,229 this plays against £1,526 for the ASUS.

This is indeed a pretty astonishing comparison. One can only assume that ASUS and co. want to go broke.....

However if I were spending this sort of money, I'd have to consider the MBP, as I prefer a 15" screen....

By wittgenfrog on 13 Jul 2012

One minor gripe:-

If you're going to compare with Apple products (and I agree 100% that you should) then do you not think it would also make sense to check the comparative prices before recording the podcast? Seriously, how much pre-planning would it take?

FWIW, a 13" Air specced up an i7 is £1369 inc VAT - just so's you know.

By petermillard1 on 13 Jul 2012

One minor gripe:-

If you're going to compare with Apple products (and I agree 100% that you should) then do you not think it would also make sense to check the comparative prices before recording the podcast? Seriously, how much pre-planning would it take?

FWIW, a 13" Air specced up an i7 is £1369 inc VAT - just so's you know.

By petermillard1 on 13 Jul 2012

One major gripe

Why have dollars translated into pounds again. Sensibly speced this is only $1000, and yet you can't get them for under £1000.

By tirons1 on 13 Jul 2012

One minor gripe

Define pre-planning?
is it planning to plan?

though do I agree in the comparison should be with the Air. The results and spec listed on this site for the A-listed Mac Air, which is £200 cheaper, are quite comparable. Though once you add an Ethernet adaptor and a copy of windows your back on par. One got 2/6 for value for money the other 5/6. it's this inconsistency that I think people do not understand. It does seam to happen more with apple gear more than anything else. or maybe it is highlighted more.

By SimonCorlett on 14 Jul 2012

Valid comparison

I think the Macbook Air is a perfectly valid comparison.

I believe that, by and large, they're competing for the same pound. There'll be a small percentage of buyers that require a particular OS for program compatibility/availability, or because they just hate Apple/MS, but for most other people (me included) the OS makes up only a small part of the buying decision - There isn't anything I use that I can't find on either platform.

By Lemax on 14 Jul 2012

What's in a name

PC Stands for Personal Computer.That mean's any Computer used by you,personly that is.That's why this site's called PC Pro...not Microsoft Pro or Apple Pro or Acer Pro or...well you get my point..So comparing one Personal Computer to another Personal Computer seems quite valid to me....no matter what the operating system or who makes it.

By Jaberwocky on 15 Jul 2012

@cooloox

"A person looking at a Chromebook is obviously interested in staying with Windows"

Ummm don't ChromeBooks' run Chrome OS and not Windows?

@Jaberwocky, I think you'll find it's Apple themselves that make the distinction between PCs and Macs, such as their 'Mac vs PC' advertising etc.

By anthona on 15 Jul 2012

Comparisons...

I think many people share the same opinion as cooloox. Although, maybe he/she could have put it better.

Comparing A mac and PC is valid - in the case where the OS is irrelevant.

All we can ask from our reviewers is consistancy. And I don't buy the "I buy the magazine" versus the "I don't buy" argument. Just by viewing this page Dennis publishing gets revenue from advertising and affiliates. So every opinion is valid. In fact the more controversial PC Pro can be to generate these arguments the more money they make from repeat visits.

Let's look at the facts here. The same specced Macbook Air - which is the real comparison - is dearer than this machine. Yet the Macbook Air gets more stars in it's value for money than this machine - That's inconsistant reviewing.

The reviewer compared the screen on this machine to that on the Mac Book Pro - which is unnecessarily misleading - intimating that that is a machine to compare this model too.
However in terms of screen it does show where this new screen sits in the grand scheme of things, so in that respect is helpful.

Lastly, Dennis ownws more publications than anyone else in this sector if it's run the same way as my understanding is of multiple publication media companies, a lot of employees are contracted to work on a number of titles.

By CraigieDD on 16 Jul 2012

Good, but not perfect...

I have recently purchased a Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A - R150 from Best Buy. I really like this laptop, but it has both positives and negatives. I personally feel that the positives completely outweigh the negatives, but ASUS does need better quality control.

Pro:
1. Amazing quality of the screen. (I do have a small amount of light bleeding when in pitch dark).
2. Nice processor.
3. Increased speed of Sandisk SSD from a 5.9 windows experience in the UX31E to a 7.5 on this new UX31A.
4. Keyboard is much better and back light nicely.
5. No more sound distortion at high levels, but look at 6 in the Cons section.
6. Trackpad is Elan and works fine.

Con:
1. Small amount of light bleeding when completely dark and in a dark room.
2. Slower bootup time.
3. Battery life doesn't seem as good, but it might still be calibrating.... so not sure yet.
4. Does not seem to trickle charge while constantly plugged in like the UX31E.
5. Space is an issue on this model. Out of the box with my UX31E I had around 80 and this one is about 65....
6. The sound is flat and lifeless.

Overall this is a good computer. I am trying to decide if I will return this one for another because of the light bleeding, but I am not sure due to the fact that it doesn't bother me that much. In addition, I have seen reviews of people returning the item, only to get a worse bleed.

By shawngee on 16 Jul 2012

In defence of the review

I have to say, along with a few other educated souls here, I agree totally with Sasha's review and the comparisons with the MacBook Air. It is really its only competitor, and for the price a far better machine IMO. It's crucial to compare these systems, and just as important to keep iMacs, MBPs and Airs in the Labs reviews of similar PCs too. Many of us professionals used mixed platform environments, and many more are interested in the applications rather than the OS. As for some of the truly comedic responses regarding the incompatibility between files and apps between Mac OS and Windows, perhaps they are still using system 7?! I've run a successful mixed platform company for many years, moving and exchanging files primarily between Office, Adobe CS and Filemaker with little, if any, issues. Please PC Pro keep everything in mind when reviewing hardware. Macs are truly professional machines along with PCs and need to be treated as such.

By isofa on 16 Aug 2012

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