Note: If you haven’t read my initial impressions of the Zenbook, you might want to head over and read that first: The ASUS Zenbook UX31: Initial impressions
I’ve been using my ASUS Zenbook for just over a month at this point, and it’s time for a second review now that I’ve used it for a while on a day-to-day basis. I’ve heard from many of you about being eager to read the next installment in this process, so I’m glad to know that you’re finding this experiment useful too.
First, I want to address something that came up on Twitter a few weeks ago, when it was brought to light that there’s apparently some variation between the touchpad and SSD hardware components that ASUS used in different builds of the same model Zenbooks. You can read more about that in this Amazon review.
The short of it is that Zenbooks that ship with an ADATA SSD are potentially much faster when it comes to some tasks and models with the ELAN touchpad are usually less quirky when multi-finger gestures come into play. I don’t know if that’s an ongoing inconsistency or if all units have the improved hardware going forward, but it’s something important to keep in mind.
One implication I saw mentioned was that ASUS may have provided us with ADATA/ELAN equipped models in order to elicit the best possible reviews. However, while the model that I received does have the ELAN touchpad, its SSD is the slower Sandisk variant.
More importantly, my Zenbook was shipped directly from Amazon, not ASUS. There was no opportunity for that kind of trickery to occur. If you look closely at the photo above, you can see that we actually happened to capture a photo of the Amazon shipping label during the unboxing.
Further, Intel is sponsoring these reviews, not ASUS. So, any suspicion that ASUS is providing us with the best possible model to review is probably misplaced.
Speaking of the ELAN touchpad, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well the touchpad in this UX31 works. I guess I’ve just sort of resigned myself to PC laptops having cheap, plasticy touchpads and clunky support for multitouch gestures, but the Zenbook has definitely changed my perception of that.
Gestures like two-finger scrolling work as you’d expect, but it also supports pinching to zoom in and out, three-fingers to the left or right to navigate back and forward, and three-fingers up to invoke Aero Flip 3D. Overall, I found the gestures reliable and quite useful (though I can’t speak for the zoom and rotate gestures because I don’t use those).
My one gripe with the touchpad relates to scrolling. Its implementation of two-finger scrolling is responsive and fluid in most applications, but the two-finger momentum scroll gesture results in an awkwardly jerky transition from scrolling to stationary. Since the scrolling is fluid with fingers still on the touchpad, it doesn’t make sense that it can’t fluidly come to a halt. However, that ought to be fixable via software tweak, so hopefully a subsequent driver update can cure this problem.
That one quirk aside, even though I was coming from my MacBook Air’s gesture-laden OS X Lion environment, I didn’t feel like I was compromising when it came to the touchpad. As high as that particular bar is set, that’s impressive.
One of the selling points of both the MacBook Air and Ultrabook™ lines is how quickly they resume from sleep mode. Years ago, I never really thought that my venerable Dell XPS M1330's resume time was a serious issue… until I started using the MacBook Air.
As quickly as the Air resumes, I found myself pleasantly surprised yet again with the Zenbook. I can’t remember ever opening the UX31's lid and not finding it responsive to input almost immediately, whereas the Air is often unresponsive for several seconds after resuming to the desktop.
While he was taking the unboxing photos, Ray also shot this video of how quickly the Zenbook resumes from sleep:
Pretty impressive, huh?
Once the Windows desktop is visible, the machine is 100% usable. No delays and no compromises. That’s a welcome improvement compared to the facade of readiness that my MacBook displays for a few seconds before it’s truly responsive.
Unfortunately, my ongoing effort to acclimate to the UX31's keyboard has been unsuccessful. If I weren’t mildly obligated to give it a fighting chance, the keyboard would probably have been a deal breaker in the beginning. I’ve typed on enough keyboards that don’t require any adjustment period that I don’t have much patience for one I don’t get along with.
I believe the fundamental problem is a mechanical one. What I’ve found is that I can fully depress the corner of a key, even to the point that it gives positive tactile feedback, without anything happening. Typing heavily on the direct center of a key seems to be 100% reliable, but that’s not how I type; especially when it comes to rectangular keys like shift and enter.
Fighting with a keyboard is difficult enough in any circumstance, but having an unreliable shift key is particularly brutal when you’re writing code (or writing about code). Just think about how many times you type characters like
) during a average day. Now, imagine that about a third of them came out “unshifted”. Then, you’ll be able to picture how infuriating development work has been on this keyboard.
Another variation in the underlying hardware?
While I was in Bellevue for the Microsoft MVP Summit last week, I had the opportunity to try typing on two alternate UX31s, Jon Galloway’s and one in Bellevue’s Microsoft Store.
The one I tried in the Microsoft Store seemed slightly more responsive when I typed some ad-hoc jQuery code into a sticky note. One thing I did notice is that both of its shift keys had begun permanently sagging on their inside corners, presumably from heavy use in the store. Eventually, normal daily use would probably produce the same result.
On the other hand, Jon’s worked significantly better than mine. Even to the point that I wonder if this is another case of variance in the components in different batches of the Zenbook.
But, none of that helps me very much…
Maybe I’m a keyboard snob. I do use a diNovo Edge keyboard, with its “PerfectStroke key system”, on my development machine. Or, maybe the Zenbook’s keyboard just doesn’t like the cut of my jib.
Either way, we’re going our separate ways.
Ultimately, this particular Zenbook’s keyboard is a deal breaker for me. I’m not willing to waste time and money on a trial ‘n error process of searching for the occasional Zenbook that I can type well on (and hope that it doesn’t wear like the one I saw in the Microsoft Store).
The original plan was that I would write a total of three posts detailing my impressions of using the Zenbook on a daily basis. However, I’ve switched back to my MacBook Air as of last week. So, that plan doesn’t make sense anymore.
Instead, I’ll be writing a third post about what my month with the Zenbook has shown me that I’d like to have in my next laptop. Though the keyboard ultimately prevented me from sticking with the Zenbook, it has some great features that I’ve already missed since switching back to my MacBook Air.
As was the case in my previous post, all of the beautiful photos you see above are made possible by my friends at 35 Atlanta coming over and setting up studio in my house for a few hours. They’re based here in Atlanta, but they were doing a photo shoot in Cancun last week and have one in Seattle next month. If you need fantastic photos taken of just about any subject, in just about any location, I highly recommend them.
In case you’re reading this post before my previous one, I want to be clear that I received a complementary UX31 Zenbook in exchange for reviewing it. If there was any question before, this second review should have made it clear that I only recommend products I would actually use myself and that I’m giving you my fair and honest review. Also, here’s some legalese:
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe my readers will enjoy. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."