The one element that most often lets us down on premium laptops is their displays. Unfortunately, even on Ultrabooks most manufacturers (LG being a notable exception) offer sub-par TN panels rather than the IPS we would like to see. It’s a little frustrating that Asus’ Transformer Prime has a far superior screen to the Zenbook despite costing half as much, though naturally the UX31’s other components are more expensive.
So how does the 13.3in screen on the company’s Ultrabook actually hold up? A major positive is its resolution, which at 1,600 x 900 is higher than the 1,366 x 768 most rivals can offer (even the Air only goes up to 1,440 x 900). Thanks to this, sharpness is also excellent, and despite the reflections it causes, its glossy finish enhances perceived contrast. Combined with the screen’s high brightness, it means colours generally come across as vivid.
Good news continues with even backlighting and no bleed, while dark detailing is decent with all but the darkest two shades on our greyscale plainly visible. However, blacks aren’t particularly deep and what really spoils the party are viewing angles, which are quite poor. Especially on the vertical, you have to be really careful to avoid significant contrast and colour shift. Overall then, the screen impresses as long as you position it ideally.
Audio is undeniably good for an ultraportable. The UX31’s speakers, well-positioned between the screen and keyboard, were developed in conjunction with Bang and Olufsen - and it shows (or rather sounds), with a surprising amount of volume, detail and even a hint of bass marking one of the better performances we’ve heard from a laptop this thin. That being said, best of a bad bunch is faint praise and distortion creeps in at anything close to maximum. We would deem them acceptable for light entertainment in a quiet environment, but otherwise you’ll still want an external solution.
Getting to performance, Ultrabooks give a minimum standard which even at its worst will be more than adequate for most. However, the UX31 kicks things up a notch with a dual-core Core i7-2677M CPU, compared to the Core i5 that’s standard on most competitors. This 1.8GHz processor will turbo clock up to 2.9GHz on a single core and offers support for up to four threads. It’s backed by the standard 4GB of RAM, with a 128GB SSD taking care of storage duties.
As with all Ultrabooks (and most ultraportables, barring the Sony VAIO S and a very few others), this 13in Zenbook uses Intel’s integrated HD 3000 series graphics, which is suitable for light gaming. In TrackMania Nations Forever (at 720p and medium detail) it managed a perfectly smooth 41.4fps, but trying the same settings in a more demanding title like Stalker: Call of Pripyat resulted in an unplayable 13.4fps.
Throughout testing, the UX31 remained cool but didn’t stay as unobtrusive on the noise front as the Acer Aspire S3.