ASUS Zenbook UX31 Ultrabook Review
In the short time they’ve been around, Ultrabooks have become a new hope for the PC in a changing market. With svelte dimensions, long battery life, capabilities far beyond what a tablet can offer and respectable performance, many have gravitated towards them. Naturally, there are still some things holding these notebooks back but several manufacturers have tried to reduce the Ultrabook’s limitations without expanding its physical footprint.
ASUS currently has a limited range of Ultrabooks spread across their aptly-named Zenbook UX-21 and UX-31 series. There are a variety of configurations and range in price of just under a grand to over $1400. The difference between these two series is screen size with the UX-21 featuring a small 11.6” screen while its big brother uses a 13.3” panel. In today’s review we will be taking a look at the more expensive and quite popular UX-31, a notebook that’s built for mobility but doesn’t compromise on build quality.
Specifications wise, our $1250 configuration certainly wouldn’t be considered a barn burner on the performance front but it has the components necessary to deliver a responsive computing experience for everyday usage. An i5 2557M low voltage processor coupled with a HD 3000 graphics engine heads things off, accompanied by 4GB of DDR3 memory. These days, 4GB is the absolute minimum you’d want when running Windows 7 but it should be sufficient for this Ultrabook’s market. Storage space is limited with a 256GB Sandisk SSD being offered on this model but even higher end models don't come with an upgrade (past models featured a 128GB SSD though). However, the star of this show is the 1600x900 high resolution screen which is a step above the 1366x768 panels most competitors receive.
As with most other ASUS notebooks, the Zenbook receives a globally recognized 2 year warranty but unlike some other products, it doesn’t receive the optional accidental damage coverage. Nonetheless, this is a year more than most other companies offer, regardless of ASUS’ supposedly lackluster after sales support.
Most notebooks come without any “fluff” but ASUS tends to package their higher end units with some additional accessories. In the UX-31’s case, it comes with a durable, high strength carrying folio and another small bag for the included adaptors (more on those later). While this may not seem like much, getting anything for free should be considered a bonus these days.
The outer casing of ASUS’ Zenbook uses a single sheet of milled aluminum that has been polished in a rough circular shape, projecting outwards from the center logo. It looks absolutely stunning at but the lacquer used is far too receptive to fingerprints so your well designed Ultrabook will look like a sloppy mess in no time. Just make sure you bring along a microfiber cloth, because you’ll need it.
Opening up the Zenbook, we see a design that is roughly reflective of the exterior but instead of polishing and applying a lacquer, ASUS anodized the keyboard’s surrounding areas with a matte silver finish. The effect is still quite stunning and it doesn’t mark up as easily as the exterior. We also love the use of colour matching Windows and Intel stickers instead of the usual “look at me” blue. Meanwhile, the screen’s bezel is thoughtfully finished in a matte grey, hardened plastic that still remains true to the Zenbook’s overall design.
To some, the over usage of grey and silver may look a bit like a “me too” statement from ASUS, this has to be one of the best built notebooks we’ve come across. The cast aluminum frame and near seamless fabrication give it a feel of impeccable construction and the utmost quality of fabrication. In many ways, it one-ups every one of Apple’s products in this respect.
The goal of Intel’s Ultrabook platform is to give mobile users a thin, light, adaptable notebook that offers excellent battery life. ASUS’ solution certainly hits the two first two points since their Zenbook UX-31 is a mere 9mm thick at its largest point and weighs in at less than three pounds.
Due to this notebooks hair-thin profile, ASUS didn’t’ have a luxury of space for their I/O connectors. As such, the layout is basic at best and somewhat anemic at worst. On the right hand side, there’s a power input, a USB 3.0 port, a mini HDMI output and a single mini VGA connector. The opposite edge holds a 3.5mm mic / headphone jack, a two-in-one SD / MMC card reader and a single USB 2.0 port.
ASUS provides adaptors for both LAN and VGA but a mini HDMI to HDMI converter hasn’t been included which (in our opinion at least) is a glaring oversight on a nearly $1300 notebook. In addition, use of the wired LAN jack necessitates the use of a USB port, leaving only one available for use at any one time.
Considering its ultra thin profile and a body which is constructed out of single aluminum sheets, some may be wondering how the Zenbook remains cool without transferring heat onto the lap of an unsuspecting user. There are several well placed ventilation holes at the back edge and hidden within the hinge whose sole purpose is to efficiently allow cool air into the chassis while directing heat away from areas touching your skin.
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