Keyboard and Trackpad
The days of miserable Asus Ultrabook trackpads is behind us: the Asus-branded trackpad works predictably with no cursor jumps, and the two mouse buttons feel just right. There's a basic control panel for multi-touch settings and we found that two finger gestures like pinch zoom worked fine. The trackpad is overly sensitive to edge swipes, and all too often we triggered a left edge swipe that sent us back to our last used app. Maddening, but the Zenbook isn't the only Windows 8 laptop with this problem.
The keyboard has good tactile feel, laudable key travel by Ultrabook standards and a nice damped feel. It's a pleasure to type on at length.
1080p Display with Touch
The Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A Touch has an excellent IPS display with 5 points of multi-touch and 1920 x 1080 resolution. Sharpness and clarity are excellent and the display almost completely covers the Adobe sRGB spectrum for much better than average color gamut. Contrast isn't as high compared to its non-touch cousin the UX31A, though contrast levels are still good at over 500:1, and are a wee bit higher than the Samsung Series 7 Ultra with touch screen. This is a glossy display (like all touch screens these days), so graphics professionals may favor the non-touch version. But non-graphics pros will likely adore this bright, colorful and sharp 13.3" touchscreen, as will pros who've learned to make peace with glare.
Despite the glare and gloss, it has less glare than the competing Samsung Series 7 Ultra with 1080p touch screen: in our comparison video, you'll note the Samsung looks a little washed out vs. the Asus and that's because the Series 7 Ultra glared like a monster at our video camera, and it really isn't washed out. The Asus 350 nit display is more than adequate to fight glare in well lit settings and at 50%, it's almost too bright for in-home use under incandescent lighting. I've yet to find a setting where I really want to use 100% brightness.
Light bleed is Asus' middle name, and though our Touch model has less than our UX31A non-touch and Asus Transformer Android tablets, there is still some light bleed here. The bottom edge and right lower side do indeed glow faint white when displaying a black background. It's not terribly noticeable unless backlight is set near max and the room is dark, so I'm not deducting points from our final score.
The touchscreen is responsive, and the display hinge is still up to the 90 degree mark. Push it back beyond 90 degrees and it has a slight tendency to flop back too easily.
Horsepower and Performance
The 3 lb. 5.5 ounce laptop runs on a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U ULV CPU with Intel HD 4000 graphics, 4 gigs of DDR3 dual channel RAM (not upgradable) and a 128 gig fast mSATA SSD drive (Adata v3 with a Sandforce controller in our unit). We hear that some customers are getting units with Sandisk SSDs as well, but Sandisk has improved their SSD performance so we don't expect the large performance divide we saw with older Zenbook Prime models.
Interestingly, Asus chose not to take advantage of the newer and slightly faster 1.8GHz Core i5-3337U for this updated touch UX31A model and they're going with the same CPU used on the mid-2012 UX31A non-touch. Asus does good performance tuning, and the UX31A Touch manages respectable numbers among Intel Core i5 ULV notebooks.
As with other Zenbook Prime 13.3" models, the machine has an mSATA SSD, but it's a proprietary gum stick shaped model, so you won't find aftermarket alternatives should you wish to replace or upgrade in the future. And once again, RAM is soldered onto the motherboard and there are no RAM slots, so 4 gigs RAM is max. This is a typical, non-upgradable Ultrabook. If you want an upgradable model, consider the Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD or the Samsung Series 7 Ultra.
The laptop gets warm on the bottom but not hot, even when playing BioShock Infinite (on the lowest settings and 1366 x 768 resolution) for 30 minutes. The fan is silent to almost silent during productivity use and is quite audible but not annoying when 3D gaming.
PCMark 7: 4670
Windows Experience Index:
Graphics (desktop): 5.5
Gaming Graphics: 6.4
PCMark 7 Benchmark Comparison Table
CrystalDiskMark SSD Scores
Wireless and Audio
The UX31A Touch has dual band Intel WiFi 802.11/b/g/n 6235N with Intel WiDi wireless display and Bluetooth 4.0. There's no NFC or 3G. Despite the all-metal casing, WiFi reception was good even at a 30 foot distance from our 802.11n router. We did change the default wireless card power settings in power management. Asus' Power4Gear power settings drop WiFi card power down quite low when unplugged, and that can reduce performance. We set it to medium power savings and all was well.
The Asus Zenbook UX31A Touch has stereo speakers (underneath along the side edges) with the usual Bang and Olufsen ICEPower branding. Despite the B&O badge, the Zenbook Prime UX31A sounds like a 13" Ultrabook: thin and not wildly loud. It's less hissy and tinny sounding than the UX31E and some other Ultrabooks, but the Samsung Series 7 Ultra's dual 2 watt JBL speakers blow it out of the water. Sound out via wired headphones and Bluetooth is good, as is HDMI audio out to AV gear.
Battery life has been a pleasant surprise given how poorly many touch screen Windows 8 laptops fare, and the beefy 50Whr Lithium Ion Polymer has averaged 6 hours of use in mixed productivity and entertainment scenarios with brightness set to 50% and WiFi and Bluetooth on. It ships with the same compact square adapter we've seen with previous Zenbooks.
The Asus Zenbook Prime was and is the definition of a high end Ultrabook. It's still the poster child for what Intel imagined when they coined the Ultrabook term: thin, light, extremely stylish and quick. Among Windows machines, it's still hard to beat it for seriously high end styling, fit and finish, features and value. Yes, $1,100 isn't cheap, but when compared to Samsung's top of the line Series 9 with a 1080p non-touch display, it's the more affordable choice. The new $999 Samsung Series 7 Ultra gives the Zenbook UX31A Touch a run for your money, and may even win depending on your criteria, but few other Ultrabooks come close in this size, weight and price class. The display is stunning and bright, the black metal casing with swirled lid and taped sides are gorgeous, though largely unchanged (other than color) from the 2011 model. The keyboard is very good, wireless performance is likewise good and performance is strong. Our only complaints are backlight bleed, though it's now at tolerable levels on the touch model, and the micro ports and associated dongles that are easily forgotten or lost.
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