Asus ZenBook…Finally a Windows alternative to MacBook Air
My review unit, an ASUS UX31E-DH51 Zenbook arrived at the Microbytes Pointe-Claire store in Asus’ signature..and very classy box. Inside I found a marvel of cool design..a thin wedge of aluminum that is as light as a feather. And surprise surprise..instead of the cheesy vinyl cases that come with a lot of devices ASUS includes a stylish sleeve made of champagne coloured ballistic nylon with matching leather trim..very classy.
ASUS went all out on the design of this cool notebook. The aluminium silver lid boasts a distinctive concentric circle design that catches and reflects the ambient light. The simple, sleek finish gives the Zenbook a premium look that keeps getting better as soon as you lift the lid. Big brushed aluminum keys on an almost full size keyboard and a huge glass covered button free touchpad coupled with Bang and Olufsen speakers. The 13.3″ screen features an impressive 1600 x 900 pixel resolution. Under the hood there is a 1.7GHz Core i5-2557M processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB Sandisk U100 solid-state drive.
So, this Zenbook is gorgeous..but. is it more than just a pretty face. Once you have it fired up you notice the screen is nice and bright with lots of readable information because of that higher than average 1600 x 900 pixel resolution. The UX31 uses an Intel i5 processor. (A slightly faster dual-core i7 is also available but the difference in performance is unnoticeable and not worth the extra $200. ) Paired with 4GB of system RAM the Core i5 is more than up to everyday tasks..actually pretty much anything except for 3D gaming limited but the on-board graphics. The Sandisk SSD U100 128GB SSD is blazing fast. That shows up in how quickly this notebook starts up and loads applications. You will be blown away if you have never used an SSD equipped computer before. Battery life is between six and seven hours, average for notebooks in this class. In normal use you will not shut off this notebook..it goes into a deep sleep when you close the cover..you get about ten days of standby time on a full charge..it is ready to go as soon as you open the cover..pretty much instant on. The included smart logon is cool..Face recognition works but it needs good lighting otherwise it can be very slow. Bluetooth logon will log you on if it detects a paired device..a smartphone..within range..it seems more reliable than the face recognition. Nice but entering a password doesn’t really bother me.
Multimedia performance is very good..1080p movies play well and this is where the Bang and Olufsen sound system pays off..it is surprisingly good with plenty of volume. It is equally as good if you want to play your favourite tunes in the background while you work.
Working on the keyboard takes a bit of getting used to..while the keys are of a good size and well spaced they need a solid press to function and a fast touch typist could end up missing letters. Once you get used to it the correct pressure becomes second nature but I found it slowed down my typing speed a bit. As well, the keyboard is not backlit a feature that I missed..maybe in the next model. I liked the big touch pad the sensitivity is good and it is multi touch. Some people might miss the buttons but I prefer pressing on the pad so this one works for me.
The UX 32 is well equipped with ports: two USB ports, one of which is USB 3.0 as well as an SD card slot plus a mini HDMI and mini DislayPort for connecting the ultrabok to an external TV or monitor. The Zenbook also has 802.11n Wi-Fi and cutting edge Bluetooth 4.0 wireless connectivity. ASUS includes two port adapters: a USB-to-Ethernet and mini-VGA-to-VGA..they come in a small pouch..it would have been nice to have included a HDMI adapter as well.
If you look at the bottom of this notebook you will notice there are no doors..it is sealed..there are no user upgradeable parts so 4Gb of memory is the max and if you think you need a bigger internal hard drive you better spend the extra $250 up front for the 256Gb model.
Overall, the Asus Zenbook is almost perfect except for the few warts I have noted. I really liked it and it is certainly a worthy competitor to the MacBook Air. I love small notebooks and was sorely tempted by the MacBook Air..but it never made any sense to me to switch operating systems just to get a small computer..now thankfully I don’t have to do that. The Asus Zenbook is available in 11.6″ and 13.3 models like the one I tested. Prices at Microbytes range from $1049 for the 11.6″ i5 model to $1519 for the 13.3″ model with the i7 processor and 256GB SSD drive.