The Zenbook Prime is awesome, except when it’s not.
I often think of ASUS as the PC’s answer to Apple. Their products are not up to Apple’s rigorous engineering, nor is the customer service as accessible, but ASUS does offer a number of products that were obviously designed to meet a set of high standards. I’ve always enjoyed the company’s G-Series gaming laptops, ultraportables like the U33 Bamboo and high-end multimedia laptops like the N53 and N56.
The original Zenbook didn’t impress me, however. PC Perspective never reviewed it, but I did have some hands-on time with one courtesy of Intel’s CES 2012 ultrabook giveaway. The build quality wasn’t great, the touchpad was quite poor and the overall look and feel proved a bit tacky (the cursive lettering below the display panel being the most obvious example).
ASUS has now followed up the original Zenbook with the new Zenbook Prime. There are a couple of different variants. We received the 13-inch UX31A which come equipped with the 1080p IPS display panel. As for the rest? Well, see below.
This is one well equipped ultrabook, which explains why it comes with a nearly $1500 price tag. You don’t have to spend that much, however. The basic Zenbook Prime, which still has the IPS display but downgrades to a Core i5, is $999 on Amazon.
Does the flagship of ASUS design deliver the goods? Let’s find out.
The first iteration of any design tends to have flaws. The second usually goes a long way towards rectifying the issues evident in the first. The Zenbook follows this path for some distance, but doesn’t travel to the end of the road.
Let’s start with build quality. I looked at two different units (due to display issues I’ll explained below). The first was great, but the second suffered from wobble because the laptop was not entirely flat. Some research into the issue unveiled user reviews that showed I’m far from the only person to have this issue. You can gently bend the system back into shape, but I don’t think anyone wants to bend their new $1500 laptop.
Aesthetics have improved. The chintzy cursive writing on the first model has been banished and the cheap-looking silver keys of the original have been replaced with matte black. The overall appearance of the laptop is subtly – but undeniably – more luxurious.
The chassis is similar to the original, however, so connectivity hasn’t drastically changed. Both the USB ports are now 3.0, but there is only two of them. Video output comes through mini-HDMI or mini-VGA, which works via an included doggle. There’s also a combo headphone/microphone jack and an SD Card slot.