The Ultrabook style leader: ASUS UX31E review

There’s no doubt in our minds that the UX series is the sexiest line of notebooks ever made. The machined aluminium looks and razor-thin slimness just attract attention wherever you are.

The UX31E and its 11.6in sibling the UX21E can justifiably be considered direct competitors to the MacBook Air which inspired this whole Ultrabooks craze. They are unnervingly thin (both an insane 3mm at the front edge and around 17mm at the back) and light (the UX31E is 1.3kg and the UX21E is 1.1kg) but surprisingly solid thanks to their MacBook Air-like uni-body construction.

The whole point of Ultrabooks however is to be more than just razor-thin style leaders. Despite the slimness the hardware ASUS has been able to fit within the UX31E’s dimensions is astonishing. The model we reviewed the UX31E RY009V includes an Intel Core i5 low-voltage processor that’s not same kind of anaemic low-voltage CPU that blighted previous ultraportables on which opening a big PDF was a five-minute struggle. In some cases (like video encoding) it will actually exceed the performance of first-generation Intel Core full-power processors found in standard notebooks and in general computing will handle daily computing tasks and much more with ease.

In the UX31E we tested the Core i5 is mated to 4GB of RAM and has a 128GB solid state drive as storage. The SSD results in incredibly fast boot and application load times which help create the perception of excellent overall system performance despite the low-voltage CPU and ultraportable dimensions. The SSD also helps prolong battery life and the UX31E surprised us by giving us nearly five and a half hours of battery life with medium usage (spreadsheets email web surfing).

The 13.3in display on the UX31E delivers a resolution of 1600 x 900 which is superior to the MacBook Air’s 1440 x 900 and better than the Toshiba Z830’s 1366 x 768.  The UX31E also has an attractive well-spaced chiclet style keyboard with the no-button trackpad the only feature of the UX models that got some consistent criticism at launch because of some sensitivity issues. We tested a UX31E from later batches and didn’t find any sensitivity problems just a need to adjust to its smooth no-button design.

When it comes to ports the UX31E is not in the Toshiba Z830 class but still has two USB ports (one with the USB 3.0 superfast standard) a mini-HDMI port an SD card reader a mini-VGA port and an audio/microphone jack.    

One of the Intel requirements for Ultrabooks is anti-theft hardware. Used in combination with anti-theft software provided by companies such as McAfee this hardware communicates with an Intel security server and is able to shut down and remotely lock the notebook if it’s stolen.  But while anti-theft technology is part of the Ultrabook spec it’s a premium service that’s purchased through the notebook retailer not Intel or ASUS. Dick Smith is the first Australian retailer to offer the ‘anti-theft’ service for $49.95 for two years if you buy a UX31E or UX21E from there.

The ASUS UX31E powered by the Core i5 and with 128GB hard drive costs around $1499. The 13in MacBook Air that matches the UX31E (Core i5 128GB SSD) is $1449.

Available from ASUS retailing for $1499.
APC rating: 9/10 (Editor’s Choice)