Asus Zenbook UX31 Review

For some buyers, the scales will tip in favor of this laptop: It is one of the quickest Ultrabooks, and its portability can’t be ignored. But the design issues keep it from obtaining a broader recommendation.
For some buyers, the scales will tip in favor of this laptop: It is one of the quickest Ultrabooks, and its portability can’t be ignored. But the design issues keep it from obtaining a broader recommendation.
For some buyers, the scales will tip in favor of this laptop: It is one of the quickest Ultrabooks, and its portability can’t be ignored. But the design issues keep it from obtaining a broader recommendation.

Highs

  • High-resolution display
  • Good sound quality
  • Great performance for an Ultrabook
  • Above-average battery life

Lows

  • Disappointing design and build quality
  • Keyboard lacks quality feel
  • Runs warm
  • Expensive

The UX31 is more than just a flagship in Asus’ notebook lineup; it’s a flagship among Ultrabooks in general. It was one of the first products to hit the market, and also one of the most expensive. You’ll still have to spend about $1,049 to acquire a base model, but if you want some upgrades, you could end up spending up to $1,700.

That’s a lot of money for a 13.3-inch laptop that doesn’t have an Apple logo on the back. In return for your coin, you receive typical, but strong, Ultrabook hardware. Our review unit arrived with a Core i5-2557M processor clocked at 1.7GHz with a maximum Turbo Boost of 2.7GHz. This is paired with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB solid state hard drive.

In other words, the hardware is basically the same as most other Ultrabooks. Which isn’t a surprise — Intel’s put down some fairly right specifications, and there’s not any way to meet them without a combination of parts similar to this.

There’s more to the Ultrabook then a specific collection of hardware, however. It’s all about being sexy, portable and cool. If this Asus laptop is going to justify its high price, it will do so because of its aesthetics. Let’s see how looks next to its competition.

Slim, but not that sexy

From afar, the UX31’s silver aluminum body looks very similar to the MacBook Air. Upon closer inspection, however, the display lid sets this laptop apart. It has a spiral pattern etched in to the aluminum that radiates out from the Asus brand logo. This is the exact same aesthetic touch that is used on the Transformer Prime tablet, and it works just as well here, serving to break up the monotony of metal surfaces.

Unfortunately the interior is not as distinct. Brushed aluminum is the order of the day here, and unlike the lid, there aren’t any neat textures to quell the tedium. We’re calling it right now — bare aluminum is over. The parade of metal-clad Ultrabooks has taken all the rarity and excitement out of the material.

We’re not saying the UX31 is ugly. If you’ve never laid eyes on an Ultrabook before, it will probably look downright striking. But this is basically the way all similar laptops are being designed. It’s becoming common at the speed of light.

asus-zenbook-ux31-review-angle-lid-open

The use of aluminum doesn’t automatically guarantee rigidity. While the display lid is exceptionally sturdy, the lower chassis has some flex to it. Press anywhere on or around the keyboard and you’ll see flex span from the point of contact to the corners. Picking up the laptop from the corners has an unfortunate tendency to elicit groans of protest, as well. In these areas, this laptop clearly falls short of the rock-solid MacBook Air.

Connectivity is provided by two USB ports, mini-DisplayPort, mini-HDMI, a combo headphone-microphone jack, and a card reader. Ethernet and VGA are provided by adapters that ship with the laptop, but they’ll eat up your ports. Limited connectivity is a common issue of Ultrabooks, so the UX31 is not bad for its class. You’ll simply need to decide if buying a thin-and-light laptop is worth putting up with this downside.

Keyboard troubles

The keyboard on the UX31 could be better. The primary problem is a lack of key travel. With so little vertical height to work with, there’s not much room for keys to move. As a result you don’t receive much feedback when you are touch-typing. It’s easy to miss a key and not even realize it until you see that you’re missing a letter.

Some minor build quality issues reared their heads while I was using the keyboard. The flex, although disappointing, is not annoying. What is annoying is the tendency for the longer keys (such as Shift and Enter) to not sit entirely level. You can actually move them back and forth if you press on their ends. We also noticed that the far right corners of the right-side Enter and Shift keys do not work. It’s possible to depress one end of the key without the laptop registering any input.

asus-zenbook-ux31-review-keyboard

The touchpad does help save the situation somewhat. Based on the glass trackpads found on the MacBooks (of course), it offers a large surface that is responsive and handles multi-touch scrolling well (for a Windows) laptop.

Instead of physical keys, the touchpad integrates the left and right mouse buttons into the surface. Some Windows laptops fudge this a bit, but I had no problem with the setup used here. The spring used to provide feedback when you “click” the touchpad is not overly stiff and there aren’t any dead zones that fail to register.

Surprisingly solid entertainment

Our review unit came with the standard 1600 x 900 display, and the difference in sharpness between it and the 1366 x 768 resolution you’ll normally find on a laptop of this size is instantly noticeable. Text is extremely crisp, and video content looks razor sharp if you’re viewing a 1080p source (720p isn’t bad, either).

Black levels are low for a laptop display, though when they do cut out, they seem to do so abruptly. Display brightness is fairly high at maximum, but you will need it to cut through the glossy display. It’s happy to reflect anything and everything placed in front of it. Though not without its flaws, this display is better than average and usable in most situations.

asus-zenbook-ux31-review-front-screen

One major surprise is the audio quality, which is strong. Though there is a predictable lack of bass, volume is high at maximum and there’s not much distortion. You could easily watch a movie on this laptop and not feel annoyed at the results, or you could jam out to your favorite tunes in a pinch. Some thicker laptops like the HP Envy 15 are better overall, but given the size of the UX31, you end up with more than you’d expect.

Product Review

Acer Predator Triton 500 review

Nvidia’s new RTX 2080 Max-Q is the fastest GPU you’ll find in any laptop, but it usually comes at a steep price. Acer’s Predator Triton 500, starting at $2,500, makes it a little more affordable. But what must you sacrifice in the…
Deals

From Chromebooks to MacBooks, here are the best laptop deals for March 2019

Whether you need a new laptop for school or work or you're just doing some post-holiday shopping, we've got you covered: These are the best laptop deals going right now, from discounted MacBooks to on-the-go gaming PCs.
Product Review

The Lenovo Legion Y740 brings RTX 2080 graphics power for under $2,500

Coming with the Intel Core i7-8750H processor, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics, 16GB of RAM, and a 256GB PCIe NVMe SSD, the Legion Y740 one big beast. But priced at under $2,500 how does Lenovo’s Legion stand up against the crowd?
Deals

From Air to Pro, here are the best MacBook deals for March 2019

If you’re in the market for a new Apple laptop, let us make your work a little easier: We hunted down the best up-to-date MacBook deals available online right now from various retailers.
Computing

Convert your PDFs into convenient Word documents with Adobe or a free option

PDF files are great, but few document types are as malleable as those specific to Microsoft Word. Here's how to convert a PDF file into a Word document, whether you prefer to use Adobe's software suite or a freemium alternative.
Computing

Our favorite Chrome themes add some much-needed pizzazz to your boring browser

Sometimes you just want Chrome to show a little personality and ditch the grayscale for something a little more lively. Lucky for you, we've sorted through the Chrome Web Store to find best Chrome themes available.
Computing

Amazon sale knocks $200 off the price of 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

If you always wanted to buy a MacBook Pro but found it a bit too expensive, now is your chance to save. A base version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is currently on sale at Amazon for $1,600.
Computing

Need a free alternative to Adobe Illustrator? Here are our favorites

Photoshop and other commercial tools can be expensive, but drawing software doesn't need to be. The best free drawing software is just as powerful as some of the more expensive offerings.
Computing

You don't have to spend a fortune on a PC. These are the best laptops under $300

Buying a laptop needn't mean spending a fortune. If you're just looking to browse the internet, answer emails, and watch Netflix, you can pick up a great laptop at a great price. These are the best laptops under $300.
Computing

Dodge the biggest laptop-buying mistakes with these handy tips

Buying a new laptop is exciting, but you need to watch your footing. There are a number of pitfalls you need to avoid and we're here to help. Check out these top-10 laptop buying mistakes and how to avoid them.
Computing

Keep your laptop battery in tip-top condition with these handy tips

Learn how to care for your laptop's battery, how it works, and what you can do to make sure yours last for years and retains its charge. Check out our handy guide for valuable tips, no matter what type of laptop you have.
Computing

Is it worth spending more for the Surface Pro, or is the Surface Go good enough?

The Surface Go vs. Surface Pro — which is better? While the higher price tag of one might make you think it's an easy choice, a deeper dive into what each offers makes it a closer race than you might assume.
Computing

Apple’s 4K 21.5-inch iMac is now $200 off if you pre-order it

Apple's new iMacs are now available and if you pre-order one from B&H you can get the midrange version for $200. That's a near 20-percent saving on one of the most competitive configurations.
Emerging Tech

Microsoft’s latest breakthrough could make DNA-based data centers possible

Could tomorrow's data centers possibly store information in the form of synthetic DNA? Researchers from Microsoft have successfully encoded the word "hello" into DNA and then back again.