The first time I personally saw the Asus Zenbook, I knew it would be my next laptop (the last two I bought were all Macbook Airs). And while ultrabooks are still in their infancy stage, they’ve already sparked interest and awe to the point of being an aspirational device. I’ve been using the Zenbook UX31 for a couple of weeks now and have actually made it my primary laptop without much hesitation. Check out our full review of the Asus Zenbook UX31 after the jump.
It is not a huge secret that Asus got its inspiration for the Zenbook from Apple’s venerable Macbook Air. The body is made up of solid aluminum alloy — sand-blasted lid with concentric-pattern finish that comes in a earth brown tones. The interior is coated in silver, brushed-metal finish using the same aluminum materials.
The ultrathin frame is achieved by using an all-aluminum unibody design and a curved chassis construction that tapers toward the edges. This gives the Zenbook that impression of thinness although the center can go as thick as 0.71″.
The out lid has that circular brushed finish while the interior and and bottom of the laptop are all in brushed-metal finish in their natural silver color. The edges are a bit sharp and cause some minor scratches on the flesh if you’re not careful. The aluminum alloy used here feels more solid than the one used in the MBA.
The display on the Zenbook is one of the sharpest ones Iâ€™ve seen in any laptops I have tried this year. The 1600×900 pixel resolution is also one of the highest among the laptops in this size category, even surpassing the pixel density on the Macbook Air 13 which is only 1440×900. The dark, narrow bezel around the display gives it nice, cinematic appeal.
The keyboard on the Zenbook is also made up of aluminium alloy which makes it more elegant and durable. The chiclet-type keys are well-spaced apart and comfortable to use.
The cold, smooth surface tends to get slippery at times and the some of the keys arenâ€™t set evenly (you will definitely notice a lot of individuals keys seem to lean on one side.) A very minor detail but feels like it adds to the typing slip-ups (Iâ€™ve experienced more than the usual misses on the keys making my typing rate significantly slower).
The biggest feature that’s sorely lacking here is the back-lights on the keyboard.
The large and generously-proportioned trackpad is another frustration altogether. It’s too jerky and sensitive that most of the multi-touch gestures are un-intentionally or doubly activated.
After tweaking the settings a bit, I was able to minimize the jerkiness and reduce the sensitivity to more tolerable levels (two-finger scroll has become smoother). For the most part though, Iâ€™d prefer using an external mouse rather than the trackpad. I hope there’s a software fix for this in upcoming updates.
The very thin frame of the Asus Zenbook provided little space for ports — a USB 2.0 port on the left side along with the 3.5mm audio port and SD/MMC card reader; another USB 3.0 port on the right side with a power plug, mini-VGA port and micro-HDMI port. The HD webcam and two microphones are placed in the top corner of the bezel, just above the screen.
While this particular configuration will not actually be available in the Philippines (see below for the full specs of the commercial units), the Windows Experience Index of the Zenbook gives us a good perspective on how it performs compared to other laptops weâ€™ve used before.
The Core i7 processor got an impressive 6.9 sub-score while the Intel HD 3000 graphics took a good 6.1 mark. The lowest sub-score was attributed to Windows Aero at 5.6 while the highest was on the SSD at 7.9 (this SSD is really fast!).
Cold boot-up on Windows 7 as around 21 seconds. Photoshop CS3 loaded in under 7 seconds while MS Powerpoint 2007 fire up in 2 seconds flat. That’s with other applications already running in the background (Firefox, Chrome, TweetDeck, etc).
The Intel 3000 HD graphics offer mid-level GPU performance while maintaining low-power usage. This particular configuration only has 64MB of dedicated video memory but allows up to 1632MB of shared system memory.
The speakers on this unit is amazingly crisp and clear with more than enough volume to enjoy a full movie even if youâ€™re a couple of feet away. The audio is powered by Bang & Olufsen ICEpower which offers really high sound quality, considering there’s not much room or space on the unit for the sound chamber.
The battery is not user-replaceable but you can still access it by loosening up the 10 metal screws at the bottom. Asus promises up to 7 hours of battery life in a single full charge. From experience, Iâ€™m seeing 4.5 hours when doing heavy tasks, 6.5 hours on moderate use but can stretch it up to 9.5 hours in â€œflight-modeâ€ or battery-saving mode (that means 10% screen brightness, WiFi & Bluetooth off and only running MS Word â€“ the exact settings I used to write this review). Not bad for a pretty powerful laptop.
While the Zenbook does not have a built-in LAN port (a must if you stay in hotels often like me), there’s an Ethernet-to-USB adapter that you can bring along on trips. There’s also micro-HDMI port and mini-VGA port if you need to connect to an external HD display or monitor.
Unfortunately though, these two will not come along in the box s you’ll have to purchase them separately I’ve just been told by Asus PH that the two adapters will come bundled free (that’s a Php3-k value right there).
The USB 3.0 port also offers much faster data transfer to external storage and quick charging even if the laptop is turned off (Asus USB Charger Plus).
Note though that the specs of this review unit is a bit different than the ones that will be released commercially in the Philippines. The difference is on the processor used in this unit — an Intel Core i7 2677M 1.8GHz versus the Core i5 2557M 1.7GHz. See listing of the hardware configuration below.
Asus Zenbook UX31 specs:
13.3â€³ display @ 1600Ã—900 pixels
Intel Core i5 2557M 1.7GHz (Turbo Boost to 2.7GHz)
Intel HD Graphics 3000 64MB VRAM
4GB DDR3 RAM
128GB SSD SandForce SF-2281
1 x USB 2.0 port
1 x USB 3.0 port
1 x micro-HDMI port
1 x mini-VGA port
SD/MMC card reader
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
Bang & Olufsen speakers
up to 7 hours battery life
Windows 7 Home Premium
With a suggested retail price of Php59,995, the Asus Zenbook UX31 undercuts the price of the 13â€ Macbook Air (with similar configuration) by a little over than 10%. It’s not a huge difference but it will definitely a lot of people who are comfortable with Windows to stick to this one if theyâ€™re looking for a powerful and light laptop on the road (Iâ€™ve personally pre-ordered for one of these).
Asus has definitely attracted a lot of attention with the Zenbook. For the longest time (about two years actually), the Macbook Air has remained un-challenged in the ultra-thin and ultra-light category (the Sony Vaio X got the thin and light right but was under-powered and over-priced during its time). The Acer Aspire S3 is also a challenger but they’ve decided to go with the hybrid configuration (20GB SSD + 320GB HDD) to be able to offer a more affordable model in the local market.
Among all the ultrabooks we’ve seen and tested, the Asus Zenbook is definitely on the top of the heap — solid construction, impressive design, pretty good set of specs with impressive battery life. It’s got its share of shortcoming though — no backlit keyboard, jerky trackpad and no options for larger storage capacity (you’re stuck with 128GB). Still, I’m confident to say that the Asus Zenbook is the ultrabook to beat this year.
Disclosure: This author has pre-ordered the Asus Zenbook from Asus Philippines with a special media discount. Asus Philippines is also an advertiser on this blog.