Asus has been back in the spotlight since its netbook glory days recently, after producing one of the most hotly anticipated tablets (and the keyboard dock to turn it into a netbook equivalent) with the Transformer Prime. Among all the hype regarding the most premium Android tablet going it’s easy to forget that the company is also a huge player in the laptop market, and we’re checking out its slim and stylish 13in Zenbook, the UX31.
Like the Acer Aspire S3, the UX31 is an Ultrabook. Ultrabooks are Intel’s new ultraportable laptop standard that’s making serious headway in the premium laptop sector. To qualify, entrants need to be stylish and quick-booting, under 22mm thick, weigh 1.4kg or less, last a minimum of five hours away from a socket, use some form of flash-based storage (though this can be hybrid, combining an SSD cache with a HDD) and of course sport an Intel ‘Sandy Bridge’ processor.
So what does the Zenbook bring to this category? Like its competitors it’s metal-clad, with a concentric ring pattern on its lid. It beats most rivals on connectivity by offering not only USB 3 and a bundled USB-Ethernet adapter but also twin digital video outputs, has a class-leading screen resolution of 1,600 x 900, comes with an SSD as standard, and includes a carrying case. Overall then, its sub-£1,000 MSRP (currently UK availability is limited, though the 11in UX21 can easily be found for £840) seems like pretty decent value.
Let’s start off with design. The ‘Zen-inspired’ concentric ring pattern across the lid, which lends this Ultrabook range its name, looks very stylish and helps the UX31 to stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately the lid is still fingerprint prone, more so than the Aspire S3 and certainly more than the MacBook Air 13in. Still, the included carrying case and cleaning cloth go some way towards addressing this.
Opening the Zenbook up to reveal its brushed-metal keyboard surround, it still lacks the ultra-stylish minimalism that makes Apple’s machines such design statements. This is due especially to the screen’s dark-brown bezel, though whoever decided to make the obligatory Windows and Intel stickers silver deserves a word of praise. It’s also worth remembering that in its own right Asus’ creation is still one very attractive laptop, and the only element we actively dislike is the cursive “UX31 Ultra Slim Series” text above the keyboard.
Build quality isn’t quite up to the Air standard. Don’t get us wrong, the Zenbook’s aluminium, ‘unibody’ chassis feels very solid, but there’s just a tad more give here and there. Mind you, it’s still head and shoulders above the average laptop and more than holds its own against other Ultrabooks.
Despite eschewing the use of lighter magnesium alloy for all-round aluminium, the UX31 weighs the same as Acer’s S3: 1.4kg on the dot, just light enough to stay within Ultrabook limits and more than portable enough not to cause discomfort when carrying it around for extended periods. It’s also incredibly slim, tapering from 17mm to an Air-rivalling 3mm at its thinnest end.