"Beautiful, light, very thin, solidly-constructed laptop"4.0 starson by Mann58
Pros: Weighs only 3 lbs; very thin, Intel i7 dual-core CPU; 256 GB SSD; near silent operation; remains cool during extended operation; bright 1600x900 LED screen; very large, glass Sentelic touchpad with extensive gesture support; nice folio case included
Cons: No keyboard backlighting (major deficiency), no WiDi, no GPS (minor issue), no built-in WiMAX or 3G/4G cellular access (minor issue). Max on-board RAM is 4 GB. Non-IPS LED screen has 20 to 30 degree vertical viewing angle. No CD/DVD or Blu-Ray drive.
Summary: The ASUS UX31E-DH72 laptop is a beautiful, light, very thin, solidly-constructed Windows 7 laptop that satisfies most, but not all, of my wish list requirements. I have owned one for a week and have used it extensively at home and at work.
I own and use a MacBook Pro and several full-size Windows laptops but have been looking for an "ultra-light" portable with a solid-state hard drive(SSD) for the ultimate in portability and lightining fast start-up. I had been seriously considering a MacBook Air for some time, but then heard several vendors were releasing thin, light-weight, Windows 7 Intel CPU-based "Ultrabooks" including the ASUS UX31. I'm glad I waited.
CPU Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-2677M CPU @ 1.80GHz, 1801 MHz, 2 Cores, 4 Logical Processor(s)
Graphics Processor: Integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000. Perfectly good for viewing full-screen HD YouTube videos and digital downloaded movies without pixilation or stuttering, but this is NOT a gaming machine. Do not expect to run the latest first-person shooters at 1600x900 resolution at playable frame rates. Of course, solitaire, Scrabble, Mahjongg, card games, Angry Birds, and similar low-frame-rate games won't be an issue and will look gorgeous.
RAM: DDR3 1333 MHz SDRAM; 4 GB on-board, no memory slot - not expandable or replaceable, which is disappointing and a negative in comparison with MBA and some other Windows Ultrabooks, which can be ordered or expanded with up to 8 GB RAM.
Appearance: The UX31, in my opinion, is physically very similar to the 13-inch MBA and slightly better looking. I much prefer the darker titanium-colored shell and dark metallic LED display screen border to the bright, lawn-chair aluminum colored shell and screen border of the MBA. Both machines are incredibly thin and portable, and both garner stares and envious comments from fellow bus and airline commuters.
Dimensions: According to the specs provided by ASUS, the UX31 case is 3 mm thick at front edge and 9 mm thick at the rear edge. These dimensions only reflect the thickness of the keyboard section measured at the extreme left and right edges. Given that the bottom metal case curves quickly from front to back and from the left to right side of the machine, the actual overall closed laptop thickness measurements including screen lid are, by my measurements, 3 mm at the front edge, 15 mm thick at the midpoint from front to rear, and 17 mm thick near the rear edge. Including the rubber feet on the base, the UX31 stands 11 mm high at the front edge and 19 mm high at highest point near the rear edge of the screen lid. So, not quite as thin as the specification dimensions would suggest. But, still, this laptop is impressively thin and absolutely gorgeous. To be fair, Apple similarly stretches the truth about the MBA thickness, reporting only the edge thicknesses. The styling and curvature of the bottom panel of both the UX31 and the MBA does give the illusion of a much thinner device.
Similar to the MBA, the UX31 screen is nearly invisible from the side when lifted from the keyboard base and is aprox. 4 mm thick. The high-gloss screen does mean reflections can be an annoying issue, particularly since the optimum viewing angle of the UX31 display is so narrow that the screen must be opened to a position where it is directly facing you for optimum contrast and color rendition. In practice with all glossy screens, reflections are typically only an issue if there is bright light source directly behind you, such as a lamp or window. Display color depth is excellent and colors are very bright. Even in my brightly-lit office at work, I turn the screen brightness down 2-3 notches from max; in darker conditions, such as sitting in living room at home, I set brightness at 50% level or lower for a comfortable viewing experience.
Portability: The UX31 weighs only 3 lbs. (ASUS website incorrectly lists weight as 1.3 lbs. on spec sheet), so it is extremely transportable and the rounded edge on the rear hinge side of this laptop make it comfortable to carry for long periods even without using the supplied portfolio case. I don't suggest carrying the laptop with the 3mm front edge in your palm, as "razor thin" takes on a whole new meaning, if you catch my drift.
Hard drive and Startup Speed: The 256 GB SSD drive facilitates boot-up from shutdown state to Windows 7 desktop display in under 20 seconds, and near instant-ON (approx. 2 seconds) resume from sleep mode. In a real-world startup situation, I can go from shutdown condition to login page to Windows desktop to an open Internet Explorer Google Search web page in about 35 seconds. I set the laptop to go into sleep mode whenever I shut the lid, and it auto-resumes SILENTLY in under two seconds when I lift the lid (i.e., instant ON). I can't adequately express how sweet that is.
Usability and Features - Touchpad: The UX31 is equipped with a very large glass Sentelic touchpad with extensive gesture support. Hands down this is the largest, best functioning touchpad I have ever used on any Windows laptop. The large touchpad has a slick, smooth surface and the entire pad acts as a click button very similar to touchpad on a MBA or MacBook Pro. I have read numerous reviews bad-mouthing the touchpad and, honestly, I don't know what the hell these reviewers are talking about. Perhaps they were working with beta touchpad drivers, or maybe there are units out there that have touchpad hardware from a different supplier. Also, the touchpad in the 11-inch and 13-inch models may be different. I don't know. But I LOVE the touchpad on my 13-inch UX31E. It is almost, but not quite, as responsive and pleasingly functional as the touchpad on the MBA and the 17-inch MacBook Pro that I have at home and the UX31 touchpad is bigger. NOTE: I ran the ASUS Live Update utility multiple times out of the box to ensure I had all the latest drivers installed.
There are thirteen different touchpad gesture functions that can be activated individually in the Finger Sensing Pad Configurator, which is a tool available as an icon in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, including: 2-finger up/down and left/right scrolling, 3-finger vertical up swipe to show all current apps as stacked windows on the desktop, 3-finger left-right swipes to easily flick between running app windows or to Page Up and Page Down, 3-finger down swipe to open front app window full screen, 2-finger pinch to zoom in/out, 2-finger click anywhere on the touchpad for a mouse right click (very useful), and a thumb and one-finger curve swipe to rotate objects CW or CCW, etc.). In addition, there are three more gesture function tweaks available in a separate "On-Pad Functions" sub-menu. These touchpad gestures all work very well, in my experience, with common windows apps including Internet Explorer, Word, Excel, File Explorer, etc. One note on 2-finger up-down scrolling in Internet Explorer, scrolling works very well, but you have to select the page with a single click first, and you must wait until the entire web page fully loads.
NONE of these touchpad gesture functions was activated by default - I had to turn each of them on in the driver, and several have sub-options. I have read several reviews complaining about difficulties using the touch-pad for standard drag and drop operations because using standard Windows mouse functions you must left-click by pressing pad (typically using your right thumb) in the designated left-click button area of the touchpad and then with pad button still depressed with thumb use your index finger to swipe the pad to move the selected object. I agree this is a hassle and not easily executed. Instead, I highly recommend enabling both the "tap and drag" feature and the "drag locking" feature under the separate "On-Pad Functions" sub-menu in the touchpad driver options. Then you can simply double-tap and hold (leave finger on pad after second tap) on a file name (in Explorer) or on an icon on the desktop and then move finger to drag item in any direction. With drag lock on, once drag operation has been initiated, you can lift your finger from the touch pad and then continue swiping in one or more direction(s) you want to move the selected item, then tap once to drop. Works great for me. In the "On Pad Functions" sub-menu, I also recommend enabling "Edge Scrolling" under "Two Finger Scrolling", which will allow you to continue to scroll in the same direction when your fingers reach the top or bottom edge of the touchpad (very useful).
Usability and Features - Keyboard: The keyboard keys are NOT backlit, which is a big negative and disappointment, especially when traveling. Yes - you can turn on an overhead light in an airline or Metro bus seat, but I much prefer the individual key backlighting available on the current MBA keyboard. Keyboard keys have a shallow travel depth but keys are large with slight depressions in center with decent tactile response (both sound and feel). I speed type and have very few issues with unregistered keys or miss-hits. No - it's not as nice as a full-travel keyboard, but if the keyboard keys were full-travel, the laptop would be two or three times as thick. The keyboard and surrounding metallic deck area do not exhibit any flex typical of some laptops. Given this laptop's razor-thin profile, that is impressive and speaks to high quality of construction. I like the large backspace and separate, but smallish, up/down/left/right keys. I wish there were also dedicated Pg-Up, Page-Down, Home and End keys, but these functions are available by holding the "Fn" key down and then pressing one of the four arrow keys. The palm rest area below the keyboard is very large considering the size of the laptop and the brushed dark metal surface remains cool and does not noticeably pick up finger/palm prints because it has a slight brushed texture.
Usability and Features - Display: The 13-inch 1600x900 back-lit LED screen is very bright with deep rich colors. Max brightness setting is almost painful to view, even in brightly-lit office. The dull, dark metallic bezel around the screen is not distracting at all and all but disappears in dim light (as opposed to the annoying bright aluminum bezel around the MBA screen, which is a distraction in any lighting.) However, I would have preferred a glass-to-the-edge type screen with a black bezel UNDER the glass like on my 17" MacBook Pro. The only negative, and it is significant, is this is NOT an IPS screen, and the useable vertical viewing angle, in my estimation, is only about 20-30 degrees (+/- 10-15 degrees from straight on viewing angle). This actually requires that the note book be opened to a wider angle than I am used to on other laptop computers and makes it slightly less convenient on coach airline seats with limited "desktop' area on the fold-down tray table, particularly if the passenger in front has reclined their seat. Fortunately, the UX31 is relatively small and very light and can be moved to the very front edge of the tray table or placed in one's lap if necessary (so that's why they call them "laptops"). Because the shell is so rigid and does not become uncomfortably warm even on extended use, actual "lap top" use is possible. Also, the screen lid opens to a very wide angle (~135 degrees), which is an absolute necessity to view it when the laptop is literally resting in your lap.
A 0.3 megapixel webcam is centered in the top screen bezel.(I expected a better webcam; disappointing)
Usability and Features - Ports: 1 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, mini-VGA (with included adapter cable), micro-HDMI (adapter cable NOT included). USB 2.0 to 10/100 Ethernet port adapter cable is included. Built-in SD card reader slot. Security cable lock slot. USB ports support USB charging of connected peripherals even when the laptop is in battery mode and sleeping or shutdown (you can set a minimum battery level at which point the USB charge feature is disabled).
Usability and Features - Speakers: The included speakers, which appear to be mounted under the keyboard, are provided by Bang & Olufsen. While there is no mistaking the sound from the laptop as coming from even a low-end stereo system, for laptop speakers they sound pretty good, especially considering this an ultra-thin laptop. The headphone output appears to be amplified, as I typically have to dial volume down to only one or two bars. ASUS indicates that the standard 1/8" headphone jack also doubles as a line-in audio jack, but I have not tested that functionality.
Usability and Features - Wireless Network: The built-in 802.11 b/g/n wireless networking has linked quickly and reliably with my home Linksys wireless b/g/n router as well as with my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 4G LTE tablet operating in personal hotspot mode with security protocols active. I have run multiple wireless network speed tests using (www.speedtest.net) with laptop linked to my home wireless system hitting 20 megabits/sec for downloads and 3.5 megabits/sec uploads (typical of my Comcast-based broadband service through my Linksys router). I was particularly impressed when the laptop remained connected to my Samsung Galaxy Tab sitting on the kitchen table on the opposite side of the house from my home office instead of switching over to the much stronger signal from the Linksys router upstairs. I speed tested a 3.9 megabits/sec download in this configuration and was shocked it even held this connection at such a distance. I'm not sure if that speaks more to the output strength of the Samsung tablet local hotspot antenna or the reception sensitivity of the UX31 wireless network antenna, or both.
No WiDi. The UX31 does NOT natively support Intel WiDi display of laptop screen image or videos wirelessly to an HDTV, which is a disappointment. However, I believe a USB WiDi transmitter and receiver combo is available from NetGear.
Bluetooth v4.0 support is built-in. I have not tested this.
Usability and Features - Accessories: Unit includes a 3-inch square, two-prong A/C power adapter with 8-foot cord (nice!) and lighted DC adapter tip. Some other reviews have complained the D/C power tip fits loosely in the UX31 power port - not so on my unit. However, the hard plastic adapter plug has a large 90-degree bend in it that I fear may end up damaging the connector inside the laptop power port if I move the UX31 quickly from my lap to a flat surface with the adapter plug pointed downward.
The UX31 comes with a very nice nylon-denier fabric portfolio sleeve case - an unexpected and much appreciated bonus.
Oh, and I did confirm, you can easily slide the UX31 into a standard office 10" x 13" business envelope and seal the flap - if you want to impress your colleagues with how thin your new laptop is!
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