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Asus Zenbook Prime Touch UX31A review

Katharine Byrne
20 Sep 2013
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,539
inc VAT

Still one of the best Ultrabooks ever made, but we would have preferred a Haswell refresh instead of a touchscreen

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Specifications

13.3 in 1,920x1,080 display, 1.4kg, 2GHz Intel Core i7-3537U, 4.00GB RAM, 256GB disk, Windows 8

Last year, the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A was one of our Ultimate award-winning laptops thanks to its peerless design and gorgeous 1,920x1,080 IPS screen. The Zenbook Prime Touch is the latest model of Asus’s premium Ultrabook and, as its name suggests, now adds a ten-point touchscreen to the mix.

Asus Zenbook Prime Touch UX31A

BUILD AND DESIGN

As with previous Zenbooks, the Prime Touch impressed straight away. Its Full HD resolution looks super sharp on its 13.3in display and the touchscreen was quick and responsive. We had no trouble tapping on files and opening new internet tabs despite its high resolution and swiping from either side to access Windows 8 shortcuts worked every time.

It’s a nice addition, and one we would expect given the continued push toward touch support, but the real star continues to be its superb IPS panel. Colours were punchy and vibrant throughout our solid image tests, and its glossy display only helps to make them jump out of the screen even more. Blacks and whites were deep and true as well, and its contrast levels were equally superb. Our high contrast test photos were full of detail, particularly in darker shadow areas, and colours were rich and accurate. It remains one of the best Ultrabook screens we’ve seen, which is just as well considering the price.

Asus Zenbook Prime Touch UX31A

Otherwise, very little has changed since the previous model. The Prime Touch still weighs a paltry 1.4kg and measures a mere 9mm at its thickest point, tapering to just 3mm at the very front of the laptop. It’s a stunning piece of design and its brushed aluminium chassis looks smart and stylish alongside its glossy black bezel. A huge amount of engineering has gone into the screen hinge as well, as you can open the lid with just one finger.

Ports are limited, but this is expected given the meagre size of its chassis. Two USB3 ports, an SD/MMC card reader, a micro HDMI output and a combined headphone and microphone jack are all you get, although you also connect the laptop to an external display via VGA using its bundled adapter. You’ll probably want to connect it to a dedicated set of speakers, though, as its integrated Bang & Olufsen ICEpower speakers were a little disappointing. While our test tracks had plenty of bass, higher frequencies were decidedly tinny, which detracted from our overall audio experience.

Asus Zenbook Prime Touch UX31A

Luckily, the Zenbook Prime Touch was a joy to use for everyday tasks. The bouncy backlit keys were very well spaced and gave a great level of tactile feedback while we typed, and we were impressed with the amount of travel there was between the keys and the keyboard tray. We were a little wary of the power button being incorporated into the main keyboard, though, as its position in the top right corner is normally where the Delete key is located. Thankfully the power button will only take effect if you press and hold it firmly, so any accidental slips won’t suddenly turn the laptop off unexpectedly. The all-in-one touchpad was very accurate and responsive while navigating the desktop and multi-touch gestures like two-finger scrolling worked perfectly.

Asus Zenbook Prime Touch UX31A

PERFORMANCE AND BENCHMARKS

The Zenbook Prime Touch isn’t short on processing power either. We were a little disappointed to see it was still running one of Intel’s Ivy Bridge processors rather than the newer Haswell types, but its 2GHz Intel Core i7-3537U processor and 4GB of RAM still delivered a high level of performance. It’s perfect for office tasks as well as more demanding programs that require multi-threading, and its overall score of 51 in our multimedia benchmarks puts it on par with the Dell XPS 13. This is actually a few points ahead of the Haswell-based Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus, but in practice you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference, even when using multiple programs at once.

Instead, it was the Prime Touch’s battery life where we felt the absence of an ultra-low voltage Haswell processor most keenly. It lasted 7 hours and 42 minutes in our light use test with the screen set to half brightness, which is great by Ivy Bridge standards, but it just can’t compete with the 11-odd hour battery lives produced by the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus and Sony VAIO Pro 13. This is a shame, as this could have turned the Prime Touch into an award winner.

Like most Ultrabooks, graphics are handled by its integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 chip, but the Zenbook Prime Touch performed surprisingly well in our Dirt Showdown test. When we set the quality settings to High on a 1,280x720 resolution, it managed 17.5fps. This isn’t anywhere near fast enough for playing fast-paced action games, but most Ultrabooks fail the test altogether. Lowering the settings also produced much better results than other ultraportables. We managed a much smoother 39.2fps when we set the quality to Low and disabled the anti-aliasing at a 720p resolution.

We’d recommend sticking with this resolution if you’re adamant about playing the latest 3D games on the Prime Touch, though, as we had to set the quality to Ultra Low before we saw a comparable 38.8fps in Dirt Showdown when we increased the resolution to its native 1,920x1,080. Older titles and 2D games from the Windows 8 Store should still work perfectly fine, though.

CONCLUSION

The Asus Zenbook Prime Touch remains one of the most stylish and powerful Ultrabooks we’ve seen, but its choice to stick with third generation Intel Core hardware instead of opting for newer fourth generation components means it risks falling behind other more desirable laptops like the Ultimate award-winning Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus. The addition of a touchscreen is a nice extra, but the cheaper Ativ Book 9 Plus does everything the Prime Touch does, and more, for roughly £200 less.