I'm not going to toy around: Asus' ZenBook is the most stunning Ultrabook on shop shelves today. On the aesthetic front it demolishes its Toshiba and Acer Ultrabook competition and is the closest to matching the allure found in Apple's MacBook Air.
It looks sublime from every angle. Its metal lid is characterised by a concentric circle design which draws lingering eyes to its complementing Asus badge, giving the brand the usually elusive prestige aura.
A small lip found on the middle of its lid makes it easy to open the Ultrabook. It also helps that its 1.4kg weight is distributed evenly, giving it the sure footing Acer's Aspire S3 lacks.
Once the lid is opened, a two toned interior continues charming users. The silver keyboard matches its brushed steel base and track pad, while a dark grey screen bezel complements the key's tray.
The hinge used to bind the screen to the base is perforated, acting as a speaker grill which audio seeps through.
The ZenBook is an orgy of bespoke, premium and quality parts, with even the most insignificant components appearing sculptured.
Keyboard, Track pad and Connections
When it comes to functionality, the Asus bears a strong stride bar a few moments of weaknesses.
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It's well spaced keyboard carries a smooth texture that is gentle on the fingertips, but their shallow bed will leave brash typists absorbing more shock than they should. Careless typists will have to exercise more restrain and consciously caress keys rather than assaulting them.
The track pad has a polished texture to it, and although the hardware feels right, it and the software fail to communicate fluently. When browsing the web, multi-touch inputs seem inconsistent and jittery. You're always over or under zooming, inspiring frustration when all you want to do is surf from one page to the next without any hassle.
Most of the time it's a minor inconvenience and can be tended to by turning off multi-touch input, but it shouldn't have to come to that.
Beyond the inconsistent functionality of its keyboard and track pad, the UX31 gets back on track with strong connectivity support. Facing the monitor, its left side features a USB 2.0 port, auxiliary (3.5mm) input and a SD card slot, while right side harbours a USB 3.0 port, microHDMI input, a charging port and a VGA (D-sub) input.
Screen and Audio
The UX31 sports a 13.3 inch LED backlit LCD screen that has a 1600 x 900 resolution. For those unfamiliar with the quantitative measurement and technical jargon, the ZenBook's screen is well back lit, incredibly sharp and impressively thin. It still amazes me that, Ultrabooks in general, can house this kind of technology in such restrictive confines.
Compared to Acer's Aspire S3 and Toshiba's Z830 Portege, the screen is the best in its class.
The Zenbook's sound is full of body and stretches across the range. There are delicate lows, articulate mid tones and sonic highs. Unfortunately there's an additional layer of repelling potent distortion. Every time you watch a YouTube video, play music or even chat via Skype, an unattractive buzzing noise lurks in the background. It gives the impression Asus bit more of than they can chew and the Bang and Olufsen speaker decal is yet another cosmetic attribute.
I was hopeful that my review unit was faulty, but the noise persisted even after Asus were kind enough to send out another ZenBook for review.
The introductory UX31 ZenBook comes with an Intel Core i5 CPU that clocks 1.7GHz, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, 128GB of SSD memory and a bloated $1,500 recommended retail price.
The review unit we had was a little higher in the food chain, and benefitted from the Intel Core i7 1.8GHz processor and 256GB SSD memory drive. These little additions up the price to a $2,000, which is right on par with Acer's range topping S3.
The innards are impressive, especially when you take into consideration the ZenBook's puny proportions. It was a sucker for punishment, withstanding video playback, web browsing (ten tabs worth open, via WiFi), Microsoft Word and Facebook chat. It's easily powerful enough for everyday computing, ideal for the common businessman and tertiary student. However, if you're a gaming enthusiast, there are better suited buys.
Older notebooks running Windows were pretty slow when waking up from hibernation. Ultrabooks have tended to this inconvenience by using a feature they coin as 'instant on.' As promised by Asus, the ZenBook does awake from hibernation in roughly 2 seconds.
When it comes to battery life, the Zenbook earns another point. When playing video back-to-back with WiFi still running, the battery lasted little over 3 hours and performed even better with light usage, almost reaching a market leading five and a half hours.
It should be noted all Asus ZenBooks come with a Solid State Drive (no HDD option) and are incredibly well equipped on the accessory front, bundled with an elegant carry bag and various peripheral adaptors.
The jittery track pad and shallow keys are small prices to pay for a notebook that performs in every other area exceptionally. However, when coupled with the dismal sound quality, the Zenbook trips, falling below acceptable, and right into barely bearable. It is painfully attractive because you want to love the ZenBook. It looks so good you want to be proud of it, but unfortunately the track pad, keyboard and abysmal audio leaves you cringing.
Hopefully by the next generation of Ultrabooks, Asus will produce a product with the same irresistible beauty, but equipped with the functionality to match.