Laptops based on Intel’s Ultrabook specification are lightweight, with low-voltage Intel processors and SSDs, and are set to challenge Apple’s Macbook Air. The Zenbook UX31 is the first Ultrabook we’ve seen.
It weighs just 1.3kg and is only 17mm thick at its widest point, so it’s amazingly compact. A tapered design means the thinnest edge is just 3mm, which matches the tiny dimensions of the 13in Macbook Air. The brushed aluminium chassis is sleek and incredibly strong – the lid refused to buckle under pressure and we couldn’t spot any flex in the keyboard tray.
The full-size QWERTY keyboard is excellent, with well-spaced keys. Despite offering little travel, each key felt springy and responsive, and we were able to type at full speed right away. The large metal touchpad offers minimal friction and has responsive buttons, which makes navigation the Windows desktop easy.
As space is limited, Asus has used Micro HDMI and Mini-VGA video outputs. There’s also a multi-format memory card reader, 2 USB ports and a combined mic and headphone jack for mobile phone headsets.We were slightly disappointed that only one of the two USB ports was USB3, though.
Despite the UX31’s size, Asus has managed to fill it with high-performance hardware, including an ultra-low voltage version version of Intel’s Core i7 processor. The dual-core i7-2677M usually runs at 1.8Ghz but can turbo boost to 2.9GHz when extra power is needed. Paired with 4GB of RAM and a super-fast 128GB SATA3 SSD, it scored overall in our benchmarks.
This may not make it a match for desktop machines, but frequent travellers will have more than enough power for almost every task. The latest 13in Apple MacBook Air scored 43.
The 13.3in display looks fantastic and has a high 1600×900 resolution. This gives it an advantage over 13in MacBook Air, which has a 1440×900 display. Text looked sharp without appearing too small. Images were detailed and colors were accurate even at full brightness. Contrast was excellent too. Making it easy to pick out detail in dark sections of images and films.
Despite its powerful components, the UX 31 managed a superb 7 hours in our light-use battery test. If you stick to light tasks such as word processing and web browsing, it should last for most of a working day. An Instant On feature resumes from sleep mode in less than 2 seconds, which makes it ideal for stop-start working on the move.
As other Ultrabooks have yet to go sale, the ZenBook UX31 has only one competitor – the MacBook Air. However, the UX 31 has better specification, with its faster processor and higher resolution, and is more keenly priced, and at retail you should save more. It lacks a backlit keyboard, but matches the Air for styling, the battery life and portability.
The Air has Thunderbolt I/O port and the option of a larger 256GB SSD, neither of which is likely to tempt most buyers.