The Bottom Line
Sep 7 2012 - The ASUS Zenbook UX32A-DB51 may be their latest revision of the 13-inch ultrabook that corrects a number of minor issues with their first model but ends up as a whole being not much of an upgrade. The main reason is that its $999 price tag results in it actually being priced the same as the older Zenbook UX31 but with less performance from its hybrid hard drive solution and a lower resolution display. Sure, you get more storage space but it sacrifices weight, size and battery life to achieve this. On the plus side, the slightly larger profile does allow for it to have three USB 3.0 ports which is more than the competition.
- Stylish and Solid Design
- Three USB 3.0 Ports
- Erratic Trackpad Behavoir
- Hybrid Storage Is Slower Than Similarly Priced SSD Based Ultrabooks
- Pricing Higher Than Many Similarly Equipped Ultrabooks
- Intel Core i5-3317U Dual Core Mobile Processor
- 4GB PC3-12800 DDR3 Memory
- 500GB 5400rpm SATA Hybrid Hard Drive With 24GB Solid State Cache
- 13.3" WXGA (1366x768) Display With 1.3 Megapixel Webcam
- Intel HD Graphics 4000 Integrated Graphics
- 802.11a/g/n Wireless, Bluetooth
- Three USB 3.0, HDMI, mini-VGA, SD Card Slot
- 12.8 x 8.8" x .72" @ 3.2 lbs.
- Windows 7 Home Premium, Office Starter
Review - ASUS Zenbook UX32A-DB51 13.3-inch
Sep 7 2012 - At first glace, the ASUS Zenbook UX32A-DB51 is very similar to the first generation Zenbook UX31 but there are some significant differences. It still uses the same spiral metal lid and silver color throughout but the keyboard is black rather than silver. The most notable difference is that it is a bit thicker on the front edge than the past model while still keeping the same .72-inch thickness at the hinge. The thicker front profile does give it a slight advantage as there are now three USB 3.0 ports compared to two in the past revision. This version is also a bit heavier at 3.2 pounds compared to the under three pound weight of the old model.
Performance is roughly the same as the past model but it has become a bit more efficient thanks to the new Ivy Bridge based Intel Core i5-3317U dual core processor. It is matched up with 4GB of DDR3 memory which now runs at a full 1600Mhz speed. These two combined offer a good level of performance for the average user. It is capable of more demanding tasks such as desktop video editing but it will suffer from its low voltage design compared to a traditional laptop or the more powerful Core i7 found in some ultrabooks.
Storage has also changed for this inexpensive version of the Zenbook UX32. Rather than using a full solid state drive, ASUS has opted to use a 500GB hybrid hard drive configuration that uses 24GB of solid state cache for system and frequently used files. This helps keep boot times and data access faster than a traditional hard drive but it isn't quite as fast as a full solid state model. The extra weight and power draw of the hard drive are also things to consider as tradeoffs for the extra storage space. As mentioned previously, there are three USB 3.0 ports for use with high speed external storage devices which is more than the typical ultrabook.
To keep the costs down for the system, the 13.3-inch display panel of the Zenbook UX32A-DB51 has a 1366x768 native resolution. This is typical with many of the lower cost ultrabooks but well below what the Zenbook Prime UX31A comes with. The colors and viewing angles are a bit better than the average 13-inch ultrabook but a far cry from the Prime's display. Apple's MacBook Air 13 is just a couple hundred more and comes with a much better panel with slightly higher resolution. The graphics are handled by the Intel HD Graphics 4000 that are built into the Core i5 processor. This is a step up from past HD Graphics but still lacks 3D performance for real gaming beyond casual levels at modest resolutions and lower detail levels. What the graphics does provide is improved video transcoding capability with Quick Sync compatible applications. For those that do want to get the higher resolution display and better graphics, there are more expensive models with the 1920x1080 IPS display panel with a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce GT 620M graphics.
In addition to making the Zenbook UX32 keyboard black, ASUS also address one of the minor shortcomings of the original model by also including backlighting to the keys. In addition, the key travel has also improved that gives it a more accurate feel and one of the better keyboard experiences on the market. The same can't be said for the trackpad. While it is a very large size with integrated buttons, the accuracy of the trackpad especially with multitouch gestures is some of the worst to be seen in this segment. Many buyers will likely want to invest in a portable mouse to take with their laptop.
The battery pack for the Zenbook UX32 has shrunk slightly down to 48WHr from the Zenbook UX31 which had a 50WHr capacity battery. In digital video playback testing, this resulted in just over five hours of running time before going into standby mode. This is less than the UX31 which achieved roughly a half hour more. Both the Apple MacBook Air 13 and the HP Folio 13 are able to run for roughly an hour more than this.
With its $999 price tag, the ASUS Zenbook UX32A-DB51 carries the price tag of many solid state drive based ultrabooks. This is going to be one of its biggest pitfalls as most new ultrabooks that use the hybrid storage configuration are much cheaper. For instance, the Lenovo IdeaPad U310 is just $799 with much lower street pricing. The larger 14-inch Toshiba Satellite U845 is priced at $850 with lower street pricing. Now, the ASUS has much better built quality and is more compact than both of these options but price is a major factor for many buyer's today. At this price, it might just be worth looking to see if you can find the first generation Zenbook UX31 which is faster and has a higher resolution display albeit without a backlit keyboard or as many USB ports.