I’d like to start by stating that the Asus Zenbook UX31A is a spectacular machine. Although I’ve only owned it for about a week, I wanted to detail some thoughts about this Ultrabook in case anybody is considering it and would like some hands-on information about the overall experience.

In my previous article, I spent some time detailing my search for new a new laptop. That was a fairly comprehensive accounting of what ended up being important to me. I’ll touch on many of those features here also, but to really understand my mindset when I made the purchase, please refer back to that article.

At just under three pounds, Asus has managed to deliver an impressive looking machine that not only looks great, but also packs quite an impressive punch in the performance category. I’ve owned a number of laptops, but I’ve always felt the need to have a desktop that I can remote into to do the heavy duty work. The Asus Zenbook is the first machine that I believe will be able to replace my desktop for almost everything I need to do. The only thing I can’t do is to utilize optical discs as there is no on board drive. I hardly ever do that anyway, so I don’t feel like I’m missing anything here.

Asus Zenbook PackagingWhen I picked it up from Best Buy, opening the shipping box was a delight. I’ve owned laptops in the past that weighed more than the entire shipping box. Beyond the boring shipping container, the Asus Zenbook arrives in a well designed piece of packaging. In addition to the machine itself, a number of extras are included. There is a nice brown lightweight sleeve that fits the Asus Zenbook perfectly. It won’t offer too much protection if it’s dropped, but it definitely will prevent scratching during transit. Additionally there are two provided dongles, as USB to Ethernet adapter and a Displayport to VGA adapter.

There are two Ivy Bridge processor options available for the Asus Zenbook UX31A, the Core i5 and the Core i7. I weighed the options and decided to opt for the i5 as I couldn’t justify the price increase to move to the i7 processor. I also have a sneaking, unconfirmed suspicion that I’ll get additional life on the battery with very little performance loss, even for larger tasks like software development and video transcoding. As for memory, it comes with 4GB of memory soldered on. Unfortunately this means that it isn’t expandable, but I decided that wasn’t enough to deter me from purchasing the device. The 128GB solid state drive (SSD) is amazingly quick and really pulls it all together.

Streaming Sons of Anarchy via Amazon’s 720p Prime Instant Video service. The display itself is brilliant, with a full 13.3? 1080P IPS panel. It’s quite crisp, bright, and extremely easy on the eyes. What’s even more impressive is that it’s also a touchscreen, which really makes the touch portions of Windows 8 (like the improved Start menu tiles and apps) work well.

The backlit keyboard is very responsive and feels great to use for the most part. The only time I’ve felt discomfort comes when I’ve tried using it at an awkward angle, like lying in bed. When that happens, my hands sometimes rest on the deck, and I can feel the shape of the unit puts some rounded but still somewhat sharp edges right under where the wrist lands. This isn’t the normal location for your wrist to rest, and is ergonomically incorrect, but might cause discomfort to some. The trackpad is fairly large and easy to use. Asus provides their Smart Gesture software, allowing for gesture controls with multiple fingers a la the Apple Magic Trackpad. Some have reported that the trackpad on the Asus Zenbook can a bit tricky to use. I didn’t have any problems, but I’ve updated to the latest drivers just in case.

The machine arrived with about 70GB free on the SSD. I loaded a number of software packages on to the machine, including Chrome, Visual Studio 2012, SQL Server Management Studio, Dropbox, Trello, WebMatrix, Icenium, GitHub, BitBucket, etc. and still have about 50GB available. However, this doesn’t take into account things like photos, software projects, and the like. I assume that I’ll have to do some juggling, but I believe will be worth it. Besides, that’s a great use of an external drive: to store information that is infrequently used. Plus they’re small enough nowadays that tossing an external into the case or sleeve along with the Asus Zenbook shouldn’t add so much weight that the total is unbearable. From a day-to-day usage standpoint, the Asus Zenbook continues to excel. I’ve been able to switch to using it as my primary machine, and so far it’s been a great machine. I’ve performed a variety of tasks ranging from article editing to software development to streaming movies, and I’ve never seen a hiccup on the machine. Any performance loss that I’ve seen from selecting the Core i5 appears to be more than made up by the improvements of moving to the SSD.

Overall, I believe it’s safe to say that the Asus Zenbook really does a good job of fulfilling the expectations set forth by Intel for machines that carry their Ultrabook marketing designation. Unless something comes up that I’m not expecting, I’m looking forward to using this machine on a regular basis.