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

Controversy has dogged the MacBook Pro lately. Is it still a good purchase?

The MacBook Pro is a controversial laptop these days -- and that's unfortunate. Due to some divisive changes Apple made to the functionality of the MacBook Pro, fans are more split. Does the 8th-gen refresh change that?
Computing

The Asus ZenBook 13 offers more value and performance than Apple's MacBook Air

The Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 is the latest in that company's excellent "budget" laptop line, and it looks and feels better than ever. How does it compare to Apple's latest MacBook Air?
Product Review

LG Gram 14 proves 2-in-1 laptops don’t need to sacrifice battery for light weight

The LG Gram 14 2-in-1 aims to be very light for a laptop that converts to a tablet. And it is. But it doesn’t skimp on the battery, and so it lasts a very long time on a charge.
Deals

From Chromebooks to MacBooks, here are the best laptop deals for January 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.
Gaming

Can't stand keyboard gaming on PC? Here's how to use a PS3 controller instead

Properly connecting a PlayStation 3 Controller to a PC is no easy task, especially when you opt for third-party peripherals. Thankfully, our guide will help you through the process.
Computing

Zipping files on a Chromebook? Follow these four easy steps

Chromebooks support file compression, though they work a little differently than on Windows or Mac. Here's the step-by-step process to zipping files on a Chromebook, and then unzipping them again for extraction.
Computing

How good are you at spotting phishing scams? Take this quiz to find out

Are you able to discern between a legitimate email and one that's a scam designed to phish for your personal information? Google created an online quiz with tips to help you better understand phishing so you don't become a victim.
Computing

Yes, you can use Android apps on your Chromebook. Here's how

You can now get Android apps on your Chromebook! Google has enabled the Google Play Store app support on its Chrome OS and Chromebook hardware, so to get you started, here's our guide on how to get Android apps on a Chromebook.
Computing

Patent application reveals what’s to come after AMD’s Graphics Core Next

A published patent application from AMD has revealed a new type of graphics processor core which could make a big difference to the capabilities of its GPUs if it finds its way into them in the future.
Computing

Microsoft targets Chrome OS with $189 Windows 10 laptops for education

Microsoft announced seven new low-cost Windows 10 laptops, all priced under $300 to take on Chromebooks and iPads in the education market, along with a new Microsoft Allora stylus for students using the Surface Go tablet.
Computing

Lenovo patent hints at a future tablet with a folding screen

Folding devices are a new trend, and according to a recent patent, Lenovo is considering a foldable 2-in-1 with a hinge mechanism that would allow consumers to bend back the screen on the device. 
Computing

Wifi Porter is a high-tech block of wood that lets you share your broadband

Tired of manually connecting your guests to your home Wi-Fi network? The latest invention from the folks at Ten One Design, the WifiPorter, allow individuals to connect to your Wi-Fi with the tap of their phone, or by scanning an available…
Computing

Midrange Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti graphics card may be 20 percent faster than GTX 1060

In the freshest development in graphics card rumors, alleged benchmarks are showing that the GTX 1660 Ti graphics card could be as much as 20 percent faster when compared to the older GTX 1060. 
Computing

Work and play anywhere with these portable, large-screen monitors

Via a recent and successful Kickstarter campaign by Unick, a new line of portable, large-screen monitors has been announced. The Gemini Taihe line of monitors offers two models: the Gemini FHD and the Gemini UHD.