ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A Ultrabook review

Zenbook Prime UX31A: an Ultrabook with a superb screen, fast performance and much improved user comfort

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  • User Reviews (3)
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ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A-R4003X Ultrabook review
  • ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A-R4003X Ultrabook review
  • ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A-R4003X Ultrabook review
  • ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A-R4003X Ultrabook review
  • Expert Rating

    4.25 / 5
  • User Rating

    4.00 / 5 (of 3 Reviews)

Pros

  • Fast performance
  • Stunning Full HD, IPS screen
  • Respectable battery life
  • Strong build quality

Cons

  • Touchpad can be a nuisance
  • Ambient light sensor not great
  • Space bar squeaked on our model

Bottom Line

Excellent overall performance and a stunning screen are just two important features that the ASUS Zenbook UX31A brings to the table. It's thin, light, has a backlit keyboard and its battery life is impressive. It still isn't perfect, and our primary gripe with this model is its touchpad, but it doesn't overshadow the strong Ivy Bridge-based configuration and the beautiful IPS-based screen.

Would you buy this?

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The 13.3in ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A was the most anticipated Ultrabook release of the year — for us, at least. Its specifications made sure of that, not to mention the promise of ASUS fixing the problems that surfaced with the original Zenbook. Now that we've finally got our hands on it, we can understand the hype behind this machine and we can see that ASUS has indeed fixed a lot of what was wrong with the original. However, as much as the Zenbook Prime is a vast improvement over the original Zenbook, there are still a couple of niggling issues that are present. They aren't big enough issues to allow one to completely dismiss this Ultrabook though — at the moment, it's definitely one of the top units in the Aussie market.

Design and features

The Zenbook Prime retains the same wedge shape and the strong build quality of the original Zenbook. It feels very sturdy in the hand thanks to its all aluminium construction, and at around 18mm at its thickest point (including the rubber feet on the base), it's an impressively slim laptop. You can carry this thing to and from work with ease thanks to this slim profile and a light weight of 1.4kg. Although, to be fair, this weight is at the high end of the scale for an Ultrabook. Thankfully, carrying its power adapter doesn't make the overall package much heavier; it's a simple wall wart rather than a power brick with cables sticking out of each end, which ensures that it's one of the smallest and lightest laptop power supplies on the Australian market, and it won't take up much room in a bag.

Along its thin, tapering sides, the Zenbook Prime features two USB 3.0 ports (one on either side), a full-sized SD card slot, a combination microphone and headphone port, micro HDMI and a custom connection for a VGA dongle. A VGA dongle is included in the box, as is a USB-based Gigabit Ethernet adapter, should you ever need to plug in to a wired network. If you want to use HDMI to connect to your TV, you'll have to get an adapter or a cable with a micro connection on one end. Bluetooth is present, and the wireless networking module has been upgraded to an Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235. This is a big improvement over the Atheros (AR9485WB) module that we saw in the original Zenbook: it supports dual-band and Wi-Di, and it performed reliably during our tests.

Two slits on either side of the chassis provide a passage for sound to escape from the Zenbook Prime's speakers. They are of good quality considering the slight dimensions of this laptop, even though they are not very loud. In a quiet room, they can make for enjoyable music listening and YouTube viewing. A good thing about their location is that you can't muffle them unless you are pressing both sides of the laptop into your thighs while using it on your lap.

The tiny speaker grille on the right side.

You can't easily access the internal components of the ZenBook Prime, but it's not designed to be end-user serviceable. It has a panel on its base that is held together by a series of tiny torx screws. Unless you have a set of such tiny torx screwdrivers, your hopes and dreams of playing with this laptop's gizzards will go unfulfilled. It's this integrated, non-user-serviceable design that has allowed ASUS to make the Zenbook Prime so thin. It has also allowed it to implement a configuration that is very impressive for such a thin laptop.

The ports on the right side.

The ports on the left side.

Specifications and performance

Running the Zenbook Prime show is a third generation (Ivy Bridge) Intel Core i7-3517U CPU, which is an ultra-low-voltage (17W) CPU with a 1.9GHz frequency (it can go up to 2.4GHz in this Ultrabook in Turbo Boost mode), two cores and Hyper-Threading. It's a CPU that gives this Ultrabook a lot of power for regular office tasks, and it can also be used for transcoding media files (when you want to convert files for use on a mobile device, for example). It's accompanied by 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM (1600MHz) and a 256GB SanDisk U100 solid state drive, which has a formatted capacity of 220GB. It's a strong configuration all up, and it allowed the Zenbook Prime to put up good results in our tests.

In our Blender 3D rendering and iTunes MP3 encoding tests, the Prime returned times of 42sec and 48sec, respectively. In our AutoGordianKnot DVD-to-Xvid conversion test, a time of 50min was achieved — anything under one hour for an Ultrabook in this test is outstanding — while in the ArcSoft Media Encoding test, where we convert a DVD file to an MKV file, it took just over 10min. We enjoyed using this Ultrabook very much for daily work and entertainment tasks; applications loaded swiftly and multitasking was a breeze (especially with the large screen resolution).

The ZenBook Prime uses integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics processing, which provide much better performance over previous generation Intel HD 3000 graphics. In 3DMark06, the Zenbook Prime reached a mark of 5150, which is almost a 50 per cent improvement in performance over the first-gen Zenbook. The adapter drives a Full HD screen that looks stunning, and we'll get to that in a moment.

For storage, the 256GB SSD provides ample space for a mobile computer — it's plenty for lots of applications and the operating system, as well as for carrying around a selection of media files for when you're on the road. It's also very quick. In CrystalDiskMark, it achieved sequential read and write speeds of 461 megabytes per second (MBps) and 352MBps, respectively, and these actually exceed the manufacturer's stated ratings for this SSD. In our file duplication tests, the speed was also impressive, recording 57.12MBps. It's a better overall result than the storage system in the Ultrabook, but the Dell XPS 13's storage still leads the way in our file duplication test, with a recorded rate over 160MBps.

Overall, it's hard to fault the Zenbook Prime's performance. The Core i7 CPU and the fast solid state drive ensure that things move along swiftly. Using the out-of-box configuration, boot-up time for the Ultrabook was clocked at 20sec from a cold start, and resume time from sleep mode was a mere 2sec. Using the laptop for hours in our lap for tasks such as word processing, emails and Web browsing, the base of the unit got slightly warm, but not enough to become uncomfortable (although it is winter).

Noise also wasn't an issue with this Ultrabook. The fan inside the chassis piped up when the processing load was full, and it worked intermittently during other times, but it was never bothersome, unlike the fan in the Fujitsu U772, for example. Air intake vents are located on the rear of the base and can easily be blocked while using the Ultrabook on your lap, but there are lots of them and the chances are you probably won't block them all at the same time. Warm air exits up through the vents on the spine of the chassis, just in front of the screen.

User comfort

The stand-out feature of the Zenbook Prime is its 13.3in screen. It has a Full HD resolution of 1920x1080, which is the highest resolution currently available for a thin-and-light laptop, and it's perfect for multitasking — we're writing this right now with two windows comfortably open side by side: one for Google Docs in which we are writing, and one for Gmail, which is making it hard to ignore work emails. More than the resolution though, the screen is excellent because it's an IPS panel that possesses wide vertical and horizontal viewing angles. We didn't have to adjust the screen at all during our tests in order to make the picture look right. Colours, contrast and brightness are all top-notch on this screen and it's definitely the best we've seen on an Ultrabook — it's better than the Samsung Series 9's screen thanks to the higher resolution.

The hinges that hold the screen could be better though. The Zenbook Prime is slightly heavier at the rear, near the screen and the hinges sometimes give way when the notebook is moved. You can have the screen positioned at the angle you desire, but picking up the Ultrabook to move it to another location, for example, can cause the screen to tilt back all the way — it doesn't happen all the time though.

The keyboard is one of the other areas that has been improved over the previous Zenbook. It's now backlit (there are four intensity levels to choose from) and it looks great. Not only that, the keys are full-sized, and they possess plenty of travel and responsiveness, which is impressive for a notebook with such a thin chassis. Long story short: it's a pleasure to type with this keyboard. It can take a while to get used to the power button being in the top-right corner, but it doesn't spell doom if you accidentally press it thinking it's the delete key — a simple hit will do nothing, and a prolonged press will bring up an on-screen menu asking you if you want to shut down or perform another task. The only thing that was annoying with the keyboard was a slight squeaking that developed in the space bar. The ambient light sensor that controls the keyboard backlight could also stand to be a little more sensitive (also, we noticed that this sensor only controlled the keyboard light and not the screen, which we would have liked).

The keyboard backlight in action.

The ELAN touchpad in the Zenbook Prime is also an improvement over the Sentelic pad that was used in the original Zenbook, but it's still far from perfect. It got in the way regularly while we typed on the laptop, causing the pointer to skip all over the screen and sometimes select and overwrite text. It's possible to adjust the palm rejection area and make it larger through the "ASUS Smart Detector" feature of the driver, and this is what we had to do to try to counter this problem, but it didn't work well. Apart from that and some slight stickiness now and then (the same type of stickiness we noticed in Samsung's Series 9), the touchpad was responsive and worked well, even allowing us to perform right-click-and-drag operations without any problems. Three-finger swipes and two-finger scrolling gestures were comfortable to use. However, the driver doesn't support four-finger gestures, which is a shame considering the pad is a large 115x71mm.

Despite the squeaking space bar and a cursor that sometimes skipped all over the screen as we typed, the Zenbook Prime offers a much better overall user experience than its predecessor. It's comfortable for lap use, its keyboard is enjoyable to type on and, above all, it's screen is simply beautiful to look at, whether you're working on documents, editing photos or watching movies.

Battery life

A 50 Watt-hour battery is installed in the chassis and it provides the Zenbook Prime with a very useful lifespan while it's away from an outlet. In our standardised rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the battery lasted 3hr 29min. This is a little lower than other Ultrabooks, such as the Samsung Series 9 and even larger Ultrabooks such as the Dell XPS 14, but considering the high-quality, Full HD screen that the battery has to drive, we feel that it's a respectable result.

While using the Zenbook Prime for everyday tasks such as word processing, Web browsing, watching the odd YouTube video and listening to music now and then, it lasted close to five and half hours, which is a great result. That was with the screen brightness at the halfway point, the keyboard backlight enabled at its lowest intensity, and with the system at the high performance power setting.

The entire package, including the VGA and Ethernet adapters.

Conclusion

With solid construction, a superb, Full HD screen, a backlit keyboard, fast performance and good battery life, the Zenbook Prime is a strong candidate for Ultrabook of the year. It does have some niggling problems, such as a touchpad that can sometimes make typing difficult, an ambient light sensor that isn't overly sensitive, as well as a squeaking space bar (on our test model at least), but overall it's a very good unit that's worthy of your consideration. Official pricing that we were given for this unit at the time of publication was $1799 $2199. Online searches turned up pricing that was closer to $2000, so it pays to shop around. The Core i5 version with a 128GB SSD costs closer to $1600.

Note: This review was updated on 13 July with the correct pricing from ASUS.

Related notebook reviews:

Fujitsu Lifebook U772 Ivy Bridge Ultrabook
Dell XPS 14 Ivy Bridge Ultrabook
Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook
Lenovo ThinkPad X230 Ivy Bridge laptop
Apple MacBook Pro (15in with Retina display)
ASUS N56VM Ivy Bridge laptop
Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3 Ultrabook
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530 Ivy Bridge laptop
Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook

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Ivy Bridge Zenbook Prime Ultrabooks hit Aussie market
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James101

1

Love this laptop, fast efficient and amazingly portable. Great choice to service all needs.

Peter

2

I think some of the "niggling" issues you found with this ultrabook may have been your unit. I have one and there is no squeaky space bar, the light sensor works fine and I've had no problems with the touchpad. It's a great computer though certainly not cheap. It's solid, has a beautiful screen and powerful enough to do most of the things people need, as you found.

neil

3

mac air beats the pants off this overpriced copy cat piece of trash, every ultrabook by every company HAVE COPIED THE MAC, EVERYONE, THEY HAVE NO IMAGINATION, NONE

neil

4

Windows Laptop sales were going down the toilet, every company used plastic in the manufacture of these products, with the advent of Ipad and other technologies. sales were taking a hit, Mac was the new kid in town pro, air iphone,ipad,one of the richest companies in the world, with great products, retina screens, who gives a shit about touch screens, these are computers, NOT PADS OR PHONES, if you want a touch screen get an Ipad or Iphone, so what do the other computer companies do, COPY MAC, start using metal in the production of their "new machines" so they bring out ULTRA BOOKS because Apple was kicking their arses, if I want windows, I can put it on my macs, TRY AND PUT OS X ON YOUR WINDOWS SYSTEM, END OF ARGUMENT, IF THERE EVER WAS ONE

neil

5

And when a new operating system comes out, Apple gives it to you for FREE, what does Microsoft do, charge a fortune, and then make you buy more copies if you have more than one computer in your house, screwing you in the ass every time, I get my OSx free and can put it on a hundred computers, why the fuck would I buy into a windows system, greedy bastards, people are sheep, they will wake up one day and ditch this greedy company, Microsoft, it took Steve Jobs to change everything, shame he's gone, so have the ideas, but he leaves a legacy, what will Microsoft leave you, frustrated and broke

neil

6

The biggest sham in history, making people buy more licences to use in a home environment, If I buy a copy of Windows as far as I am concerned I own it, not leasing it, fuck you Microsoft, you bunch of thieves, buy it once and put it on your 3 home computers, why would I buy 3 copies, it is fucking ludicrous, corporate greed, no wonder I don't buy Microsoft shit, just on principle, nothing wrong with office 2003, but these thieves need a constant flow of cash so they produce more meaningless upgrades 8 microsoft offices, 95,97,xp 2000,,2003,2007,2010,2013, got to keep taking the money from the sheep, lets make another unnecessary copy of office 2015 just to keep the money flowing, the world doesnt need one, but we need our profit margins, lets keep churning this shit out for as long as we can, these dumb sheep will keep buying it

neil

7

this is not innovation, the best office, 2003, but if they stop there, these thieves are out of business, so the have to perpetuate, it's a never ending loop of greed, I wouldn't mind if they went forward, but they just change the seats on the ship, rearrange the furniture, repackage the same shit and re sell it over and over and over

neil

8

The only thing this thieving company gave away was Internet Explorer browser, why, because they wanted to put Netscape out of business, they wanted it all, so by coupling the browser into the operating system, and charging a fortune for that, Netscape were dead in the water, a good browser made redundant by greedy thieves who wanted it all, but the Government sure put a stop to that Microsoft crap, anti, anti, anti , that's Microsoft, taking the Japanese marketing ploy, reduce the cost of a product, undercut your competitor, take a loss for a year, two years who cares, when the other companies can't compete and fold, YOU HAVE ALL THE BUSINESS, great strategy but these parasites didn't reduce the cost, THEY GAVE IT AWAY, CAN'T COMPETE WITH THAT

neil

9

But Microsoft and other companies have found a way around this, instead of you buying office outright or any anti virus program,along with numerous other programs, they want to ass fuck you on a yearly basis, pay for a subscription, use it for a year then continue to pay until you drop dead, these parasites are sucking the life blood out of people

WHEN I BUY SOMETHING, I OWN IT, AND CAN CONTINUE TO USE IT FOR AS LONG AS I LIKE, I DON'T NEED A SUBSCRIPTION FOR THE CAR I BOUGHT, OR THE NEW FRIDGE, THIS IS A FUCKING SHAM, THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD BE ONTO THESE PARASITES

ANOTHER REASON TO USE A MAC, WHEN YOU BUY THE COMPUTER YOU HAVE A WORD EXCEL TYPE PROGRAM GIVEN TO YOU WITH YOUR PURCHASE

THERE IS NO REASON TO PURCHASE A WINDOWS COMPUTER EVER AGAIN, THE WORLD HAS BEEN HOODWINKED, GOOD TO SEE GOOGLE CHROME COMING TO THE PARTY AND STICK IT RIGHT UP MICROSOFT'S ARSEHOLE

neil

10

And after fleecing the world for 40 years, Gates is now giving money away to charity, make himself feel good about his self, how about of lowering the price of your shit so the people who supported you can get a fair shake
If you think I'm anti Microsoft, YOU ARE RIGHT

neil

11

They have rarely been innovative, keen to copy others, to buy out competitors, then take the credit for introducing onto the market something someone else worked on and invented, typical Microsoft, buying smaller companies with BIGGER ideas than they ever had, then palming them off as Microsoft ideas

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Tim

4.5

1

Pros
love the weight, cpu and screen
Cons
trackpad
• • •

I am surprised they have not addressed the trackpad issue. In my asus N71 I had the same issue, the keyboard/pad was replaced under warranty but it did not fix the issue

shawngee

4.5

2

Pros
Lots
Cons
Lots
• • •

I have recently purchased a Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A - R150 from Best Buy. I really like this laptop, but it has both positives and negatives. I personally feel that the positives completely outweigh the negatives, but ASUS does need better quality control.

Pro:
1. Amazing quality of the screen. (I do have a small amount of light bleeding when in pitch dark).
2. Nice processor.
3. Increased speed of Sandisk SSD from a 5.9 windows experience in the UX31E to a 7.5 on this new UX31A.
4. Keyboard is much better and back light nicely.
5. No more sound distortion at high levels, but look at 6 in the Cons section.
6. Trackpad is Elan and works fine.

Con:
1. Small amount of light bleeding when completely dark and in a dark room.
2. Slower bootup time.
3. Battery life doesn't seem as good, but it might still be calibrating.... so not sure yet.
4. Does not seem to trickle charge while constantly plugged in like the UX31E.
5. Space is an issue on this model. Out of the box with my UX31E I had around 80 and this one is about 65....
6. The sound is flat and lifeless.

Overall this is a good computer. I am trying to decide if I will return this one for another because of the light bleeding, but I am not sure due to the fact that it doesn't bother me that much. In addition, I have seen reviews of people returning the item, only to get a worse bleed.

PAUL

3.5

3

Pros
Well specced
Cons
Price
• • •

$2199!! - Are Asus kidding themselves?? Appears they're milking the hype

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