Note that the model tested here has an Intel Core i7 processor and a 256 GB SSD while the basic version has to make do with a Core i5 (see the paragraph on the processor) and a 128 GB SSD. This is the version (Core i5) currently on sale at just under £800. Make sure therefore that you check what you’re getting when you buy.
While some differences in respect of the processor (less powerful) and battery life (longer) are to be expected, our remarks on the screen, audio quality, hardware or gaming and HD video capacities are still entirely valid.
Hardware: lightweight connectivityIn contrast to the S3, here the casing hasn’t been designed to create the impression of being in aluminium. Rather, it is in aluminium, from top to tail! The only bits of plastic (matte) are the frames for screen and keyboard. The UX31E therefore doesn't pick up too many marks from your fingers. There are no issues with the finish and the different parts of the chassis all fit in nicely with each other.
The UX31E also comes with a protective wallet - one thing less to shell out for!
At first sight, the keyboard seems perfect. Once you start using it however, you find the chiclet keys are a bit shallow and if you tend to type with force when word processing, you’ll soon feel as if you’re typing on a touchscreen tablet. Nevertheless all the keys are in their usual positions, are a decent size and don't make too much keying noise.
The multitouch touchpad is much nicer to use, has plenty of surface area and the glide is fluid. We do however advise you to push the cursor speed up as far as you can (within the limitations of the Windows settings) as the default speed seems incredibly slow.
Asus has gone for a poor quality webcam (0.3 Mpixel). The pixelised image, the fact that the blacks lack any nuance and that movements are so poorly rendered all go to make it rather unpleasant to use: a fallback solution at best.
Asus has limited the connectivity to two USB ports (1 x 2.0 and 1 x 3.0), a headphones/mic jack and an SD card reader so as to keep its ultrabook as slim as possible. There’s a micro-HDMI out to link up to an external display and another port designed for a VGA adapter. It also has wi-fi N and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. If you want to link up to an Ethernet network, unfortunately you have to sacrifice one of the two USB ports to a USB/RJ45 adapter (supplied with the ultrabook).
Perfectly cold and quiet on start-up, the UX31E makes itself heard when you ask a bit more from the processor (heavy applications). Temperatures are well contained, which isn't always the easiest thing to achieve in a chassis of this size. The air is expelled between the chassis and the screen, which is a good solution for users who want to avoid burning their knees.
The UX31E’s temperature readings with the components under stress.
Mini-VGA/VGA and USB/Ethernet adapter
Micro-HDMI out, VGA adapter port, USB 3.0 port and power supply
USB 2.0 port, headphones/mic combo jack and SD card reader
Processor: a low consumption Core i7, between an i3 and i5Here we tested the high-end UX31E (on sale for around £1000 with the Core i7 processor and 256 GB SSD). The model on sale for £800 has an Intel Core i5-2557M. This is the same processor as used in the MacBook Air 13.3-inch tested here a few months ago. The MacBook Air will therefore give a good idea of the capacities of the UX31E in its basic configuration (CPU index 86).
The processor used in the UX31E is slightly more powerful than that tested with the Acer S3, but they behave similarly all the same. This Acer ultrabook is therefore able to complete all the tasks that you care to throw at it but won’t be the fastest machine around (processor index: 120, office documents, Internet browsing and so on are a walk in the park).
The inclusion of an SSD makes it faster to install software than if you were using a hard drive. Thanks to the SSD the UX31E can also start up in 12 seconds and turn itself off in 5. It also comes out of standby in under 2 seconds.
Gaming: undemanding titles advisedAs there are no discrete graphics here, this ultrabook has to make do with the capacities of its integrated chipset and while it’s perfect for decoding HD videos, it’s a lot less impressive with games. Old, undemanding titles (Left for Dead), or major concessions in terms of graphics options and screen resolution are the only way forward with the UX31E.
Audio: a vibrating chassisThis phenomenon is unfortunately all too common: the speakers (fixed to the computer chassis) make it vibrate and this is really annoying, especially as maximum volume isn’t all that high!
The ins/outs aren’t too bad however and though the headphones out lacks power, it is clean and balanced. Unfortunately there’s no combo connector (still incompatible with the vast majority of headsets).
Battery life and portability: lasts a little longer than the S3We knew it was thin (17 mm at its thickest) and relatively light (1.3 Kg) but the UX31E also has good battery life. You’ll get 5 hours 30 video playback time (headphones plugged in, screen at 100 cd/m², wi-fi and Bluetooth off) which is very good for such a powerful machine and a little better than the S3 (5h), though still less than the MacBook Air 13.3-inch (6h12).
- Very slim and light (1.3 kg)
- Good general performance: CPU, RAM and SSD
- 5h30 battery life
- Moderate temperatures
- Hot air expelled so it doesn’t burn the knees
- Large multitouch touchpad
- Poor webcam
- Speakers lack power and make the chassis vibrate
- Reduced connectivity, adapters required
- Low gaming capacity
At last, a serious competitor to the Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch! While Asus still has a few things to perfect (battery life, audio and screen quality) to put itself on an equal footing with its competitor, the UX31E ultrabook is more powerful, has better cooling and, best of all, costs less.