ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A Review
Thanks to ASUS for providing us with the ASUS UX31A
We get down and gritty with the review of the latest Asus Zenbook, the UX31A which was released this year with similar specs as previous generations, but with the added bonus of being one of the few Ultrabooks (if not the only) with a 1080p display (optional) – making it one of the best portable entertainment options you can have. However, as with a new line comes a new review and that’s where we come in!
We’ve all seen and/or used the latest Asus ultrabooks at one point or another, so it’s safe to say anyone who has come in contact with the Zenbook line knows that the quality is pretty up there. Basically, the entire body of the Zenbook is encompassed in a steel/metal built making it extremely durable and solid (though it certainly does add some weight). It looks exactly the same as the other Zenbook’s as you might be aware, thought all the changes have taken place beneath the surface in the hardware department to make it faster and better in most aspects.
For our review model, we actually got the top of the line UX31A with an i7 3517U Processor (a dual core 1.9GHz processor capable of turbo boosting up to 3.0GHz), 4GB 1600MHz RAM, Windows 7 Home Premium, a 13.3-inch 1920 x 1080 IPS (16:9) Display, an a 256GB SSD – so as you can see, it’s the top of the range specs in the Ultrabook department. The processor is actually quite speedy and added with a Intel 4000 graphics card, you could probably even get by with playing low end games, and it could most certainly chug through any word/internet task you might want to get down to. It’s not capable of video editing, so keep that in mind if you wanted to do that on the move, at least big files aren’t possible. You do have that speedy and large 256GB SSD to keep everything else working at an extremely fast speed so that’s always a bonus. In terms of slots, there are 2 USB 3.0 slots (as opposed to just 1 on previous Zenbooks) which is always useful, 1 Micro HDMO port, 1 Mini VGA port, and a SD Card reader slot as well. So you’re looking at a nice package with lot’s of accessories (including a ethernet to usb converter, and a VGA to mini VGA coverter for all your printing needs). Added to the package is also a sleeve which will hold your Zenbook nicely if you want to move about with the Zenbook in tow.
Looks wise, we’ve always been big fans of the Zenbooks, and the UX31A is no different, looking nice and cool with it’s metallic finish. We still feel the Metallic finish is a bit too fingerprint friendly (and we find ourselves cleaning it often), that’s a small price to pay for one of the best looking and built Ultrabooks on the market. It’s clear Asus have thought this current build is working and so they’ve decided not to go ahead and change it. In fact, they’re so confident with this current build that even the next generation of Zenbook’s will be sporting the same design, albeit with a different OS. The curves and the weight give it a feel of quality, without overpricing it. Asus have done well and frankly there’s not much else we could say apart from the fact we do wish they offered one Zenbook in a Matte finish (would probably make it lighter as well), but that’s not an issue with it already weights a mere 1.3kg. We’re big fans of the overall look and feel, and we hope ASUS continue to make these Ultrabooks.
The one issue we did find however is with the hinge – it feels rather week to us and we wouldn’t be surprised if it started getting loose within weeks of opening and closing it. Not as issue unless you like looking at the screen in bed or at strange angles, then it may become an issue. However the solution is so take care when closing it, and treating it properly.
The display on the UX 31A is easily the best display I’ve ever seen on a Ultrabook. Obviously with a 1080p display you’re going to have to expect some quality viewing, but not in a way you’d expect from a glossy screen or anything but the Full HD IPS panel pulls through nicely. With a bigger resolution on a 13-inch model, you’re getting better viewing aspects on the computer than most other computers out there (ultrabooks). With a superb display, viewing angles are quite good as well and you can see the screen from most viewing angles and not suffer as a result of that (something we know was an issue on the original lower res zenbooks). If you are planning to get this model, do remember that the 1080p screen is optional and is a slightly upgrade from the 900p resolution display. We guarantee this upgrade is worth it, and you’ll feel silly for getting a lesser and poorer 900p display, so it’s highly recommended as it just improves the entire user experience on this machine.
One thing to note is that it’s still not as crisp and bright as a Macbook’s Retina display, but they’re most certainly getting closer to the mark. As more Ultrabooks get churned out the quality can only get better on these machines including the display quality, though we don’t see Retina making it’s way to a Windows PC till next year at the very least. Nothing much more we can say about this situation of the computer screen but we thoroughly enjoyed watching videos or even internet browsing on this machine. When we’re used to a 2560 x 1440 display on my desktop now, 900p is such a huge step down it almost feels like a punishment but we can say we never felt like that with the Zenbook.
The UX31A features a i7 3517U, at least in our model, which is a dual core processor clocked at 1.9GHz, and capable of turbo boosts up to 3.0GHz – something greatly appreciated after trying out the i3 processors on different ultrabooks. For some reason, when we got the machine it seemed that the entire machine was slow and especially Internet Explorer seemed to be sluggish in finding web pages (despite a 15mb/s home net connection) and this is a problem we could never truly fix (net side) until we downloaded Chrome. It was clear that IE and the UX31A were not playing nice with each other, but Chrome was a breeze and we were forced to uninstalled IE. Performance took a sharp upturn from there. Startup boot times averaged around 21 seconds which is fast, yet slower than the 13 seconds we were getting on our original Zenbook. While that’s not necessarily a big deal, we wonder why the times increased on the boot, while sleep to wake up times were around 2.5 seconds (quick as usual). Regardless, it’s still faster than computers without an SSD and we shouldn’t complain too much.
It’s possible that the reason for the slowdown may be either a case of a sub par (refurbished perhaps?) SSD or (and more likely) was the enormous amount of Bloatware we had on our machine. We can’t understand why companies continue to force bloatware upon bloatware upon us, for no apparent reason. Being a reviewer is no different to purchasing the product for self use and I can assure you either way is not a pleasant experience. However once you do get over the initial shock of the in your face bloatware, things do settle down and the User experience improves dramatically to the first impressions. Asus, if there’s one thing you should do is not install rubbish bloatware which we don’t need and/or want.
As for gaming or anything else, do remember this only comes with an integrated Intel 4000 graphics card which isn’t comparable to your average graphics card at all. We did try a rather low game in Dota 2, and the computer could not handle it at maximum graphics (which is expected considering this is not a gaming machine). There is an Asus UX32 in the works with a standalone graphics card capable of low-key gaming, however the days of playing Crysis 2 on an untrabook look to be at least a year away, if not more. Web browsing, Emails, watching videos, listening music is all smooth and dandy and that’s essentially what ultrabooks are designed for – Low key work.
Though that beautiful screen with come complete with the same crisp and beautiful Bang & Olufsen speakers from the original Zenbook? Guess again, because they don’t! Yea, so Asus have gone ahead and taken what was probably one of the Pro’s from the original Zenbook, and turned it into a con. The speakers used to be based on the grill that connected the screen to the keyboard, but they’ve reversed that and actually placed it at the bottom of the computer (in a way) with slits. What the result is, is actually a very soft sound that is incapable of breaching more than 3 sets of ears. It’s literally to soft to be used as a media entertainment center for more than two people. We were actually surprised by just how soft the volume was when we tried to turn it to maximum (only to realize it was already at it’s max level). Don’t get us wrong, the sound quality is still crisp, it’s just not loud and that’s not a good tradeoff as we enjoy our music and movies.
The issue is obviously displaced by using speakers or headphones (those are fine), it’s just the issue of travelling with the laptop. Might as well listen to it full volume on the train because the guy across from you won’t be able to hear a thing. Obviously we’re being a little harsh in this regard, but you can feel our disappointment as well. The Bang & Olufsen is more of a gimmick in this edition and we hope they change the speakers for the next time.
Battery life is quite decent on this model, even with the screen at max brightness. Of course, the more you do on it (videos, music, browsing), the faster the battery will drain. With max brightness and a series of videos and some Facebook’ing on the side – we clocked in an average of 5 hours. At 50% battery we got closer to 7.5 hours which is decent, but by no means the best in it’s class. We guess that 1080p really does suck out the battery faster than we would have hoped, but it’s not a failure by any means. Just pure web browsing got us more than 5 hours, but it’s not the most battery efficient computer in the world.
Do rememember that it’s still an extremely thin laptop and trying to crap in a bigger battery is always impossible till the technology catches up. Always carry your charger because it could conk out at any time after extended periods of use (standard with any laptop). Overall, keep an eye on your battery, and probably use the built in Intel Battery saver settings to wring out every ounce of battery usage you can.