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Asus ZenBook UX31 review: Asus ZenBook UX31

Much like the UX21, the ZenBook UX31 is a beautiful performer trapped in a cage of awful usability. We look forward to Asus' next revision, where it will no doubt refine the experience into a winning product.

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Craig Simms
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Craig Simms

Special to CNET News

Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.

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We weren't too impressed by the ZenBook UX21, the 11.6-inch Ultrabook from Asus. It was beautiful, it had a Sandforce SSD and it managed to pack in a Core i7, but the terrible touch pad, bad keyboard and limited viewing angles of the screen massively hampered its usability.

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6.5

Asus ZenBook UX31

The Good

Excellent performance thanks to the Sandforce-driven SSD and Core i7. Beautiful looks. 1600x900 screen is a nice departure from 1366x768. Good battery life.

The Bad

Terrible touch pad and keyboard make the product almost unusable.

The Bottom Line

Much like the UX21, the ZenBook UX31 is a beautiful performer trapped in a cage of awful usability. We look forward to Asus' next revision, where it will no doubt refine the experience into a winning product.

So is anything different with this 13-inch version? Well, it incorporates a 1600x900 screen, for one; a nice increase over the far-too-common 1366x768. We don't know at what stage low-resolution screens became cool, but it's nice to have something with a little more space. Maybe it's only size that allows for this, but viewing angles are superior to the UX21.

By pure virtue of having extra room to play with, it gains an SD card reader, extra battery capacity and reduced operating heat, offering uncomfortable heat instead of scalding. It otherwise contains what the UX21 does — one USB 3.0 port, one USB 2.0, micro VGA and HDMI ports and a headset jack.

Although we found the response a little better on the UX31's keyboard than the UX21, it still frequently dropped keys, and the Sentelic touch pad is as genuinely awful, as it has always been, mixing up multi-touch gestures to the point that you'll need to turn them all off.

Our review sample contained a Core i7 2677M @ 1.8GHz, 4GB of RAM and a 256GB Sandforce-powered drive. While the drive suffers in write speeds compared to its full-sized brothers, the speed is nothing to sneeze at:

If only all hard drives were this good.
(Screenshot by CBS Interactive)

Performance

Handbrake encoding (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)


In this test, we're encoding a 720p XviD file to H.264, a primarily processor-bound task. The UX31 makes excellent representation in the Handbrake test. Considering the UX21 has the same specs, we can only assume it succumbed to heat, and throttled performance down.

iTunes encoding (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)


Our iTunes test encodes two albums of AAC files to 224Kbps MP3s. It stresses both CPU and disk, allowing the SSD units to show their might against mechanical hard-drive competitors.

Photoshop CS5 benchmark (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)


CNET Australia's Photoshop CS5 test applies many different filters to a series of RAW files, performs common tasks, such as layer creation, image rotation and resizing and then exports to the web. It hits all aspects of the system, and it's no surprise that the ZenBooks come out on top here.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)


For our multimedia multitasking test, iTunes is set to encode to MP3 continuously, while a Handbrake encode is run in the background; the time taken is when the Handbrake encode stops. Designed to punish the system, every extra bit of performance here counts. Here, the UX31 trades barbs with the UX21, the difference between the included SSDs and likely heat management showing some interesting results.

Battery life (time)

  • Heavy battery test
  • Light battery test

(Longer bars indicate better performance)


Interestingly, the Toshiba handles heavy loads on the battery better than the UX31, suggesting that it has superior power management. The Asus manages to claim the prize for light usage, though, making it likely that it has a higher-capacity battery.

Conclusion

Much like the UX21, the ZenBook UX31 is a beautiful performer trapped in a cage of awful usability. We look forward to Asus' next revision, where it will no doubt refine the experience into a winning product.