Asus Zenbook UX31E
Ratings: 5 stars
Zenbook UX31E - one of the first ultrabooks that has the MacBook Air firmly in
The Asus Zenbook UX31E ‘Ultrabook’ is
one of the most positive, ground breaking portables we’ve seen for years.
Ultrabook is the new wave of laptop: incredibly light, thin and promising
almost instant boot times at affordable prices. It sounds like Apple’s MacBook
Air has a new rival…
Intel believes that by the end of 2012
four out of 10 new laptops will be Ultrabooks. And if the Zenbook UX31E is the
shape of things to come, the future is indeed bright.
The similarities between the Zenbook
and Apple;s MacBook Air are obvious. Both come with solid aluminium chassis and
impressive build quality; both are curved underneath to give the impression of
being even thinner than they are – no mean feat – and both could fit inside a
manilla envelope it you wish. Most importantly, thanks to the Core i7 CPU, both
are fully capable of acting as your main day-to-day desktop, even for heavy
For a laptop, the Zenbook is genuinely
beautiful and a pleasure to use. Its huge metal wrist rest and giant glass
mouse pad are cold to the touch, and the brushed aluminium base adds a touch of
industrial elegance. Below the surface, beryllium heatpipes use the metal
chassis as a giant temperature sink, which means the fan can be kept to
inaudible levels most of the time.
Unless you’re running a particularly
demanding application, the Zenbook is silent too, earning its tranquillity
But the key difference – apart from
the OS – between this and the MacBook Air is the price. You can get an Air for
less than $1,500, but to spec it out with the same processor in the Zenbook is
a dual-core chip – rather than the quad-core one in the Acer 8951G – but it’s
still highly responsive for desktop work and even a bit of light video
Asus enlisted Bang & Olufsen’s
audio experts for the speakers, which makes it sound better than your average
laptop, but if you’re looking for the perfect media machine this isn’t quite
The thing which lets the Zenbook down
is, sadly, the thing you’ll use the most. The screen is pale, washed out and
disappointingly low quality, even if it is high-resolution, so you can fit a
lot more open windows side by side than in similarly sized rivals.
Also, the battery life is
disappointing. It’s easy to extend that to over five hours by engaging more
power saving options, but we’d hoped to be able to get a full day’s use out of
the Zenbook. There is something to offset these flaws, though: near instant
start up times. Close the lid and the Zenbook goes into a standby mode,
extending battery life to 10 days. Open the lid back up and you’re into a
usable desktop within two seconds. This ability makes the Zenbook supremely
convenient to just pop open and use. But perhaps the most important thing about
the Zenbook is the price. Even with the slightly dodgy screen, it’s a joy of a
machine to own and one which is fully recommended.
Dell XPS 14z
Ratings: 4 stars
XPS 14z - Squat, solid and a good all-rounder with extra graphics power for
Dell has been making notebooks of all
sizes for a considerable amount of time and should know by now what it is that
people want. And if the latest in its flagship line – the XPS 14z – is anything
to go by, people are prepared to carry round a little more bulk for a
considerable amount of extra power.
The XPS 14z has – on paper at least –
something which will please everyone. For the design-conscious, it’s an
all-metal build with subdued aluminium lid and magnesium allow base that offers
both handsome looks and scratch-resistant longevity. Its 14-inch screen ensures
there’s enough room to make it a comfortable workhorse as well as tip the
scales on just the right side of 2kg for lugging around.
And, for the thrill seekers among you,
the Core i5 processor is coupled with 6GB of RAM and a discrete Nvidia GeForce
GT520M graphics card, which kicks in for 3D power when gaming or editing HD
videos. At $1,275, the XPS 14z isn’t outrageously priced either, and it’s even
got a passable set of speakers mounted into the side – so why is it that the
XPS 14z feels like slightly less than the sum of its parts? For starters,
there’s that screen. At 1,366 x 768 pixel resolution, it’s not quite sharp
enough to carry off the 14-inch diagonal with aplomb. It does have a high
contrast filter over the top, though, which means colours are richer than
nearly all of the other laptops on test here (bar the Aspire Ethos 8951G.
There’s an inevitable downside in that
it’s got a reflective surface, but if we could take this screen and put it on
the Asus Zenbook UX31 – but keeping that machine’s denser pixel count – we’d
have an obvious group test winner.
But the XPS 14z has other things to
worry about. All the ports are round the back of the screen, for example –
admittedly great for keeping power cords out of the way, but less so for
quickly plugging in the thumb drive. The keyboard is also oddly designed, with
awkward, plastic keys that have a soft action, making high speed typing
something of a chore.
Then there’s the battery life. We
tested the Dell XPS 14z at just over three hours – far below our expectations
of a top-end Sandy Bridge notebook. Alarmingly, this figure drops to around and
hour if the Optimus Nvidia graphics kick in.
Coincidentally, Asus does an 11-inch
version of its Zenbook for exactly the same price as Dell’s XPS 14z – and
there’s almost no reason to buy this over that. There is one reason why the XPS
14z might still appeal, though: its discrete Nvidia graphics chip. You won’t be
playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in high-definition, but at least
you’ll be able to play it, which isn’t necessarily the case for laptops which
rely solely on Sandy Bridge graphics.
If you want a complete all-rounder in
a portable package, the XPS 14z may be the laptop for you, but worries about
battery life in particular mean it falls far from our full recommendation.