This gleaming, slimline laptop garnered rave reviews in its original incarnation as the ZenBook UX31E, and quickly emerged as one of the leading lights of the first wave of Ultrabooks back in early 2012. But, having made such a big splash, Asus has been a little slow to update the ZenBook and keep it ahead of the pack. See all high-end laptop reviews.
In fact, one of the biggest changes with this latest model is its new name. That boring old model number has been relegated to a sticker on the base of the machine while the packaging now proclaims this as the ZenBook Prime Touch (a small detail that still hasn’t been updated on the Asus web site). See also: what's the best high-end laptop?
That’s the only visibly obvious change, though, and the basic design of the ZenBook remains essentially unchanged. But, to be fair, that design remains very striking even after almost two years. The ZenBook measures a maximum of 11mm thick along the back edge where the screen and keyboard panels hinge together, and tapers to a mere 3mm on the front edge. It only weighs 1.3Kg, and the weight is so well balanced that you can easily pick it up and spin it around with one hand as you admire the sleek, metallic design. Take a look at our review of the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus too.
The brushed metal casing might owe an obvious debt to the MacBook Air, but the dark, silvery-grey top panel looks impeccably classy, while the edge-to-edge glass on the screen panel makes the chunky metal bezel of the MacBook Air look rather dated. The keyboard and the large trackpad both feel comfortable to use, and although there’s no Ethernet interface Asus does include a USB-to-Ethernet adaptor for wired networks. My only real complaint about the design is that the metallic edges of the unit are a little sharp, especially on the front edges of the keyboard section.
But that’s all business as usual for the ZenBook. The main improvement with this model is that the 13.3-inch screen now provides touch-sensitive controls for Windows 8. The top-of-the-range model that we review here also includes an IPS display with 1920x1080 resolution, and a minor – 0.1GHz – speedbump to its Ivy Bridge processor.
The display is excellent, and definitely an improvement over its predecessor. The image is clear and detailed, with bright, vivid colours and wide viewing angles that will work well for streaming video, photo-editing, or business presentations. The Bang and Olufsen speakers don’t provide much bass, but they produce a clear, detailed sound and enough volume to let you listen to a few tunes without reaching for your headphones.
However, the rest of the machine's specification remains virtually unchanged from last summer's edition. That little speedbump we mentioned boosts the clock speed of the Ivy Bridge i7 processor from 1.9GHz to 2.0GHz, along with 4GB of memory and 256GB solid-state storage for a total price of £1499.97. There's also an older model still on sale that includes an i5 processor and 1600x900 LED display without touch controls for around £1000.00.
The lack of a Haswell upgrade is disappointing, though, mainly because of the battery life improvement that it might have offered. The ZenBook's five hours (305 minutes) of streaming video was impressive 18 months ago, but now looks rather disappointing when compared to the 12 hours you can get from Haswell rivals such as the MacBook Air.
Performance, too, is respectable rather than breath-taking. The ZenBook’s score of 5112 when running the PCMark 7 benchtest is certainly more than adequate for running Microsoft Office, as well as more demanding applications such as photo- or video-editing. The ZenBook also starts up very smoothly too, taking just 12 seconds to cold boot and only pausing for two seconds before waking from sleep.
However, that score isn’t particularly impressive for a laptop costing the best part of £1500.00. Even if the ZenBook can’t stretch to a Haswell processor then you might be entitled to expect a dedicated graphics card. As it is, the integrated HD 4000 was only able to run Stalker: Call Of Pripyat at a meagre 15fps with medium graphics settings at 1920x1080 resolution, and the ZenBook had to drop right down to 1280x720 in order to reach a playable 27fps.