Want a laptop that’s a wafer-thin square of aluminium with more power and storage than a MacBook Air, but for £400 less? That’s the promise of the Asus Zenbook UX31, one of the first notebooks to meet Intel’s full Ultrabook spec.
From a distance, it could easily be mistaken for an Air, but the Zenbook is shinier, more industrial and not as smartly dressed, with a mismatched lid and body. That said, the build quality is spectacular.
It’s cold to the touch, at least at first – beryllium alloy heatpipes under the skin turn the case into a giant heatsink for the CPU. This means it warms up around most of its surface area when in use, without developing a hot spot when you use it on your lap for a while.
Asus's Zenbook UX31 uses Intel’s HD graphics for 3D rendering, which means it’s tuned for high-speed video editing at HD resolutions and can run new games, albeit at very low graphics settings. It’s just a shame that the high-resolution screen is pale and lacking in contrast.
Asus’ flattery of the MacBook Air continues in the pricing – there’s also an 11in model for £850 – but this Core i7 model offers exceptional performance and value.
The UX31 has a dual-core Core i7 processor that’s optimised for video editing as well as multitasking. You can get games running, but only if you’re happy with low graphics settings.
Clever tweaking has gone into the hibernation mode and power management settings of Windows 7: the Zenbook can go for 10 days on standby and restores to full operation within two seconds of the lid being opened.
Asus might be aiming for zen-like calm, but the fine metal edges could easily be warrior monk rather than oasis of tranquility. It is light, though, taking a few grams off even its Apple rival.
The screen has a high resolution for its size, but it is disappointingly pale. The Bang & Olufsen speakers are much more encouraging, but we’d swap them for a better display.
The Zenbook scores well on connectivity, with microHDMI, microVGA and adaptors for full-size VGA and USB-to-Ethernet. These adaptors cost around £25 for other machines.
At this price, the design, build and performance are nothing short of astonishing, and while we'd rather see a clearer display, the Zenbook UX31 delivers enough to overlook the slightly drab panel.