Review: Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A

Our score: 5/5
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August 10, 2012 9:02 AM
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Published: July 13, 2012 1:00 PM
By Alexandre Botella / Eric Piedallu
Translated by: Hugh Ehreth
After the UX31E and UX21E, Asus is releasing the Zenbook Prime UX31A, the crowning jewel of its second generation of ultrabooks. The aluminium body provides superb housing to an Ivy Bridge CPU, a solid-state drive and a beautiful, matte Full HD IPS display.

Design4/5



We were thrilled to find an all-aluminium body like the one we loved so much on the UX31E. And the finishing is just as accomplished. Asus definitely made the right choice on this one. 
  
Overall
 
The company seems to have taken note of the criticism it received last time and gave the UX31A a keyboard that offers a slightly softer stroke. The keys are still a little low for our taste, but it's nonetheless a very nice keyboard to type on. We also appreciate the new backlighting.

Asus Zenbook Prime

The touchpad is just as good as before. It's responsive, smooth to the touch and precise. You can click anywhere on the pad, and it features several multitouch functions (zooming, two-finger scrolling, and so on).

Zenbook prime connectivity
                        Micro-HDMI, VGA adapter port, USB 3.0                                          USB 3.0, headphone/mic combo jack,
                                               and power supply                                                                         and SD card reader
 
Little has changed in the connectivity arena. The UX31A has a micro-HDMI port, an SD card reader, a headphone/microphone combo jack and a VGA adapter port. One big improvement is the two USB 3.0 ports, where the UX31E had just one USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0. It also comes with a USB-to-RJ45 (Ethernet) adapter and a mini-VGA-to-VGA adapter. However, like with the UX31E, once you plug the accessories in the computer naturally loses some of its visual pull. But they do open it up to a wider range of uses, so hey... We really like the fact that the USB ports are located on either side of the computer, rather than right next to each other as you find on many competing laptops. This means a large connector won't block the other port.

Asus Zenbook Prime
Heat readings with the components under stress.
Images captured with a Fluke Ti25 thermal imaging camera.

The UX31A stays impeccably cool and quiet during start-up and ordinary office tasks such as word processing, web browsing, spreadsheets, etc. Once you push the processor with more CPU-intensive software the fan starts to make itself heard, but it can easily be drowned out with the sound from a movie or simply the ambient noise in the room. The heat remains low at all times, which isn't easy to do with a chassis of this size. The air ventilates out through a space between the chassis and the display. That way your lap doesn't get hot when you have the computer sitting on it.

Zenbook Prime

One of this ultrabook's biggest selling points is its Full HD, matte IPS display, which prevents reflections, offers wide viewing angles and has nicely homogeneous colours.

We measured a Delta E of 3.5 (Delta E is a colour accuracy measurement that shows the difference between the original, intended colours and those displayed onscreen, in which 3 and below is ideal). This is just barely over the mark for being considered perfectly accurate, but for a 13.3" notebook (the average Delta E for notebook displays in 2011 was 12.1), this is nothing short of amazing! Add to that the UX31A's 970:1 contrast, and you've got an excellent display.

As if that wasn't enough, the 1920 x 1080 resolution is exactly the same Full HD quality we've come to love on our TVs. The MacBook Pro with Retina Display certainly beats this with its 2880 x 1800 pixels, but it's still crystal clear and miles away from the 1366 x 768 and 1600 x 900 found on many notebooks. In fact, it's so precise that people with poorer eyesight may have to enlarge tiny lettering that most people can see clearly just to be able to read it properly.

Audio3/5



ux31a freq resp
Frequency response: lows to the left, highs to the right. The hike at 20 Hz is a measurement artefact.

The Zenbook Prime UX31A gives a generally respectable audio performance. The speakers won't blow your mind, but they do emit a comprehensible and relatively clean signal. Just don't expect too much in terms of volume.

The line in/out gave very good results and the volume should be enough for any headphone or hands-free kit. But don't forget, there are no separate jacks for the input and output, only a headphone/mic combo jack.

Our Review Model:

The model we were sent for review features an Intel Core i7-3517U processor, 4 GB of RAM, an Intel HD 4000 graphics chipset and a 256 GB SSD. Our comments so far have applied to all versions of the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A, but what follows applies only to the model we tested, as each version has different technical specs.

Processing Power5/5



The Intel Core i7-3517U processor can handle any task, and quickly. It's the low-consumption version of the PC processor, but it's the fastest CPU we've ever seen on an ultrabook. The i7-3517U takes, on average, 10% less time to execute the same tasks as the most powerful version of the UX31E.

The 4 GB of RAM and, especially, the 256 GB SSD make the UX31A a highly responsive machine. It recognises USB keys almost instantly, starts up in less than 30 seconds (including Wi-Fi connection time), shuts down in less than 10 seconds and returns from sleep mode in 3 seconds.

Gaming2/5



While the Intel HD 4000 chipset is clearly an improvement on the HD 3000, the display's 1920 x 1080 resolution doesn't help matters when it comes to running games in their native resolution. Even with the few games that can run native (games like FIFA 12) you'll still need to lower the detail settings considerably. To run more processor-intensive games like Dirt 3 or Call of Duty: Black Ops, you'll have to switch to 1366 x 768.

The Zenbook Prime UX31A may not work wonders with video games, but it decodes 1080p videos effortlessly—in which case the Full HD display comes in quite handy.

Battery Life5/5



The battery life doesn't last quite as long as the HP Folio 13 (6 hours), but it can still play movies (with Wi-Fi and keyboard backlighting turned off, the screen at 100 cd/m² and headphones plugged in) for 5 hours and 20 minutes. That's the same battery life as the UX31E. Like any good ultrabook, the size (32.5 x 22.3 x 0.3~1.8 cm) and weight (1.3 kg) make the UX31A fit easily into any normal-sized backpack.
5/5 Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A DigitalVersus 2012-07-13 14:00:00

Pros

  • Good overall performance from the CPU, RAM and SSD
  • 5 1/2-hour battery life
  • Low heat
  • Good air ventilation
  • Large multitouch touchpad
  • Extremely thin and light (1.3 kg)
  • Matte IPS display with good contrast

Cons

  • Limited connectivity means you have to use adapters (for VGA, Ethernet, etc.)
  • Low gaming performance
  • Mediocre webcam

Conclusion

While in terms of power, battery life and finishing not much has changed since the excellent UX31E, the Zenbook Prime UX31A adds a second USB 3.0 port and, most importantly, a superb, matte, Full HD IPS display. That bumps it up to the coveted five stars.

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