Way back at the beginning of 2011, when the world was introduced to the term "Ultrabook", the 13-inch ASUS Zenbook UX31 was a poster child used to extol the many virtues associated with this new segment of notebooks. It was the slim, sleek, metallic, and light Windows notebook that many had been waiting for. However since Intel’s announcement of this highly desirable product category, we’ve seen a handful of Ultrabooks come and go and recently we managed to spend enough time to bring you this full review of the UX31.
Although we didn’t manage to get our hands on it immediately after the launch in November 2011, reports regarding the UX31 came gushing in, mostly from disgruntled users. Most of the complaints were squarely aimed at the clickable trackpad (clickpad) found on the machine, which we will get into greater detail later in the review.
For now, let’s take a quick look at how the design and build of the UX31 stacks up against all of the other Ultrabooks that passed through the HardwareZone labs. First up for scrutiny is obviously the exterior. You can’t ignore the fact that aluminium clad machines tend to get consumers all excited. That's because in this age of cheap plastics, and flexible alloys, aluminium is still the preferred material to convey that premium feel. Some of its outstanding properties include being harder and tougher than most materials usually used on notebooks, and yet, it's still light weight. This helps keep the weight of the Zenbook UX31 at a comfortable 1.3kg.
Strangely, ASUS (like other manufacturers before it) chose a strange way to convey the rigidity of the aluminium chassis - it made the edges razor sharp. Such a design might give a sense of uniformity and precision, but if positioned poorly on your lap, it will dig into your wrists while you’re typing and make it really uncomfortable. In the worst case scenario, you could even get hurt.
However, sharp edges aside, the overall look of brushed aluminium is definitely a head turner. Especially if done in a tasteful manner like that found on the UX31.
Thanks to it’s highly metallic look and slightly tear-dropped side profile, the ASUS Zenbook UX31 reminds us of an axe blade. Fortunately for you, the thinnest point measures 3mm, while the thickest point measures 17 mm. Like the name suggests, the Zenbook UX31 doesn’t have much features on the exterior to mar the zen feel of the machine, but it does have most of the necessary ports that a student or an average executive would need these days.
The UX31 comes with a USB 2.0 port, a USB 3.0 port, audio jack, SD card reader, micro-HDMI, and mini-DVI port. To save space on the machine, the Ethernet and VGA ports have been taken out of the machine, and are supplied as converters that come with the unit (and plug into the USB 2.0 and mini-DVI ports respectively) . That’s a design consideration that other manufacturers should take note when trying to reduce the port clutter and streamlining the notebook. Even the power brick is designed to be space saving, although we're sure we've seen the same design elsewhere (hint: Apple).
The bottom of the machine’s chassis is also in-line with what we’ve seen on most other Ultrabooks so far. It’s got an almost "zen"-like feel to it, devoid of any features, save for the rubber feet, some screws and the ventilation holes, which are neatly placed under the hinges. Presence of screws is also a good thing, because that means you can easily open up the machine, and get cracking on the interior should anything needs changing. But unless you know what you’re doing, we’d strongly advise against it.