Screen & Audio Quality / Included Software
Like so many other ultra portables, the Zenbook uses a highly reflective glossy screen which is nearly impossible to see in bright areas. This is particularly unfortunate since by its very nature, an Ultrabook is supposed to be used in a wide variety of situations, from airports to classrooms to outside on a park bench and a mirror-like screen coating makes the viewing experience anything but enjoyable.
With a 1600x900 resolution, this screen gives a large amount of viewing real estate for its comparably small size. However, the use of a lower quality TN panel may result in good brightness output (which partially compensates for a horribly reflective screen) but contrast isn’t all that great and colours are anything but accurate. There’s also a slight blue shift which tends to make images look overly cool but this can be easily overcome with a few easy control panel changes. While basic viewing shouldn’t be an issue, photo editing is absolutely out of the question.
Viewing angles aren’t all that great either, with a serious reduction in contrast when the panel is viewed at anything but head-on. This is a typical issue with TN panels and it once again repeats itself here.
Ready for a surprise? The Zenbook may be ultra slim, making speaker integration a challenge, but the sound it pumps out is nothing short of incredible. Supplied by Bang & Olufsen, the ICEPower system has been carefully integrated into the lower screen bezel and incorporates several micro-sized speakers that –when working together- can pump out size-defying sound. Both treble and bass are accurately exhibited without excessive tonal variance and distortion is virtually nonexistent until the absolute upper volume ranges.
Throughout testing, people would stop and stare open mouthed at the Zenbook as it output sound that literally filled a room. It may sound like we giving a dramatic to its accomplishments but this is one notebook you have to hear firsthand to believe. It is truly unfortunate that most of this Ultrabook’s audio time will be spent with headphones plugged in.
Pre Installed Software
Like many of ASUS’ notebooks, the UX-31 has a fair amount of bloatware installed and this causes something of a problem. On platforms that feature 6GB or more of pre-installed memory, we wouldn’t normally have concerns but the background processes on this unit eat up a good 1.5GB, or more than a quarter of the system memory. In addition, all of this pre installed software eats up valuable space on the relatively small capacity SSD, cutting down on its already limited storage space. Are items like the Nuance PDF reader, Bing Bar, ASUS LifeFrame and resource hungry Trend Micro virus software really needed? Absolutely not but ASUS uses their inclusion to partially subsidize the price of their Zenbook.
While may never happen, we believe it is time Intel and Microsoft join forces in an effort to mandate a reduction of pre installed software on Ultrabooks. These systems just don’t have the capacity or performance to spare by running unnecessary software.
Among the more useful programs are ASUS’ own Instant On which allows for quick booting from a hibernating state and the Power4Gear Hybrid power management software that allows for easy access to various non-Windows controlled performance states. The PowerWiz desktop gadget is somewhat less useful but it does allow you to quickly view battery life in Standby, Performance and Battery Saver modes.
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