The Asus UX31 Zenbook is a streamlined ultrabook that looks and feels like the definition of an “executive” laptop, from its brushed aluminum lid to its metal-capped keyboard. (Remember those gold-plated calculators in the 80s? It reminds me of those, but aluminum and more tasteful.) It also has an awesome high-res, 1600×900 display that leaves even the Macbook Air behind on pixel density.
The UX31 Zenbook is definitely the computer of choice for flashy criminal defense lawyers, but it’s also a pretty good choice for anyone else.
Price and features
The version I tested is currently $990 on Amazon, which is comfortably in the neighborhood of the competition. When it first shipped, the UX31 was “agressively priced” according to Engadget. Now, it’s priced pretty normally for this category.
Its 1600×900 display is the Zenbook’s big differentiator when it comes to features. That is still the highest-resolution screen you will find on an ultrabook — including the Macbook Air.
For ports, the Zenbook is spare but adequate. It has a mini-VGA port and a mini-HDMI port (both require adapters to use, but at least a mini-VGA to VGA dongle is included), two USB ports (one 2.0, one 3.0), and an SD card reader. Just don’t lose track of that VGA dongle; it won’t be nearly as easy to replace as an Apple dongle.
The power brick apes Apple’s standard square brick, which means it is small enough to fit nicely in a bag.
All in all, the Zenbook has a pretty standard feature set for a pretty standard price, the display being a notable exception.
Hardware and design
Remember when I said the Samsung Series 9 was really good looking? I still think so, but the Zenbook takes it to another level. It is gorgeous: all brushed aluminum and sharp lines. It reminds me of those old-school, gold-plated executive calculators — except aluminum. Even the bottom is smooth and refreshingly devoid of labels.
On the other hand, it also looks like the designers basically put the Macbook Air in a 3D scanner, then tweaked the design just enough so the Zenbook wouldn’t look like a carbon copy. The result is a machine with great build quality that looks like the quintssential “executive” laptop. The Zenbook is not just for show — but it does look good.
I think the metal-capped keys are unnecessary flash, and while they feel okay, I think plastic is generally a better material for typing on. Key travel is short, which is par for the course on ultrabooks, but the action is also vague. I found myself missing letters if I didn’t hit the keys just right. It isn’t hard to hit the right keys themselves, at least. They are nicely-sized and spaced well. The keys aren’t backlit, which might bother you if you frequently type in dim lighting.
As with most keyboards, you will get use to the keys after a while, but it’s not a great typing experience. The touchpad isn’t a great experience, either.
Although nearly everything about the Zenbook feels solid and sturdy, the (giant) touchpad is inexplicably flimsy. Just clicking with ordinary pressure makes it flex like cheap plastic. Using the touchpad takes some adjustment, but with some tweaking of the typing detection settings, you can stop the cursor from jumping around the screen most of the time. It’s still an often-frustrating experience, though. To be fair, this isn’t just Asus’s fault. Most Windows buttonless touchpads are tolerable, at best, but the Zenbook’s is better than most, for what that is worth.
Initially, I had trouble with the wireless antenna cutting out frequently. I have tested at least a dozen different computers on the wireless routers in my home and office, and none of them have had any issues. In fact, I’m even using an ASUS wireless router. Nevertheless, the Zenbook was constantly dropping the signal. Fortunately, an update that came through the included utility seems to have fixed the problem.
On the plus side, the high-resolution display is fantastic. Most ultrabooks are 1366×768. The 13″ Macbook Air is 1440×900. The Asus UX31 Zenbook is 1600×900. That means you can put two pages side-by-side on the screen and the text will remain clear. It has pretty good viewing angles, too. I didn’t feel like the screen washed out too quickly when tilting it forward and backward, or when moving it side to side.
To sum up the hardware and design, this is a slick-looking, sturdy-feeling laptop with a mediocre keyboard and touchpad but an impressive screen.
Like most computers, the Asus comes packed with bloatware utilities, although most of them can be safely ignored or turned off. I did use the LiveUpdate utility, which got the job done even if it felt a bit clunkier than other update utilities I have used.
I found the rest of the included Asus utilities to be either useless or obnoxious. For example, every time I restarted, I got several messages about apps that weren’t working right, and desktop widgets I had deleted regularly reappeared. I don’t mind if manufacturers include crapware as long as I can turn it off and/or remove it. Either the Asus brand crapware didn’t work properly or it refused to be turned off. Either way, it was annoying. I think the only recourse would be to remove it completely, assuming you won’t miss the functionality.
The Zenbook also comes with Office Starter Edition, which gives you basic Office functionality. This is fairly standard on new Windows computers, but lawyers will probably want to upgrade to Office Home and Business right away.
You also get a 30-day trial subscription of Trend Micro Titanium Internet Security. It seems fine. It is unobtrusive, at least, and didn’t slow things down noticeably. Still, I would remove it in favor of Microsoft Security Essentials right away if this were my computer.
As usual, the first thing I did was turn off or remove most of the included software (except for update utilities) and replace it with the free software I can’t live without.
The UX31 Zenbook has good boot times and great wake times, especially for a Windows PC. It takes 20–30 seconds to boot, now that I have all the upgrades and installed some basic software, but it takes less than 3 seconds to wake from sleep. It’s not “instant” like the marketing materials claim, but it’s pretty darn good. I’ve got no complaints about the wake times; this is how fast a laptop should wake from sleep.
I thought the Zenbook might feel sluggish due to the extra graphics processing power needed to drive the big screen, but it feels just as fast as the other ultrabooks I have reviewed. And the Zenbook did not have any problem streaming HD video from Netflix. This isn’t particularly relevant to practicing law, but it does give a general idea of the level of performance you can expect.
Engineered by Bang & Olufsen, the sound is — surprisingly to me — very good. You can definitely rock out with an audience of one, or enjoy a movie without headphones.
Battery life is good. Engadget ran the battery on the Zenbook down in 5 hours, 41 minutes, which is quite respectable. It won’t quite get you through the workday, but it will be close, unless you are spending the entire day with your nose in your laptop.
Who should buy an Asus Zenbook UX31?
If you want a laptop that will make you look like an executive for light computing, the Asus Zenbook UX31 is the laptop for you! If you have a lot of typing to do, however, try the Samsung Series 9 or the Dell XPS 13, which have great keyboards and much better touchpads.
Reviewed by Sam Glover on .
Summary: The Asus UX31 Zenbook is a slick-looking, sturdy-feeling laptop with a mediocre keyboard and touchpad but an impressive screen.
- Price and features: 3
- Hardware and design: 3
- Included software: 2
- Performance: 4
Rating: 3 (out of 5)