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The display and controls
As we noted earlier, the UX31's display is 1600 by 900 pixels—a welcome departure from the unfortunately ubiquitous 1366x768 resolution that has become the norm on everything from 11.6" ultraportables to 15.6" desktop replacements. The higher resolution endows the Zenbook UX31's display with an uncanny crispness, which is only enhanced by the surprisingly powerful LED backlight. (More on that in a moment.)

The bright, high-res panel and the brushed aluminum surfaces surrounding it give this notebook a decidedly premium feel. However, despite its sharpness, the display exhibits a kind of screen-door effect, where thin vertical lines between pixel columns can be seen if you look closely.

We started our battery of scientific display tests by taking a series of photos of the screen at different angles, all using the same camera settings, in order to gauge color and contrast shift. We photographed the display facing the camera at a 90° angle, then leaning forward at 70°, leaning back at 110°, and rotated to the side by 30°.

 
 

The fairly poor viewing angles betray the presence of a TN panel—high-resolution as it may be.

Next, we used X-Rite's Eye-One Match v3.6.2 software to calibrate the display. While we don't expect folks will go around using professional calibration tools on consumer laptops, this little exercise does tell us a few important things about how accurate the default colors are. In the screenshot below, the graph on the left shows the correction curves required to achieve "correct" colors per the specified gamma and color temperature settings (2.2 and 6500K, respectively). The diagram on the right shows the panel's color gamut. Although the display can be set to higher brightness levels, we specified a luminosity target of 120 cd/m² and attempted to match it as closely as possible using the laptop's brightness controls.

The graph on the left tells us the UX31's color temperature is too high out of the box, which gives images on the screen a sort of blue-ish tinge. Our calibrator reported a somewhat constricted color gamut that's smaller than what it detected on the display of the Asus A53T Llano notebook we reviewed not too long ago.

Next, we cranked up the display's backlight to its maximum setting and measured luminance at nine points along the panel's surface. Luminance readings are presented both as cd/m² figures, which were produced by the calibration software, and as percentages of the most luminous point we measured. Note that luminance and perceived brightness follow different scales, so the display appears more uniform than the chart below might suggest.

329 cd/m²
(80%)
402 cd/m²
(98%)
345 cd/m²
(84%)
317 cd/m²
(77%)
411 cd/m²
(100%)
327 cd/m²
(80%)
339 cd/m²
(82%)
328 cd/m²
(80%)
314 cd/m²
(76%)

On the one hand, the UX31's display is bright enough to put some desktop monitors to shame. On the other, its backlighting is awfully inconsistent. The contrast ratio at the center of the panel isn't anything to write home about, either: just 164:1, based on the maximum and minimum luminance readings we took.

We could go on, er, picking nits all day, but let's put things in perspective: the Zenbook's display is crisp and bright, and that's going to be enough to make most folks happy. Sure, you might want to look elsewhere for serious professional work, but Asus deserves praise for what it has managed to offer in such a thin enclosure.

Now that we're done with the display, let's take a look at the Zenbook UX31's keyboard. This is a pretty conventional chiclet design with a metallic paint finish on the keys:

  Total keyboard area Alpha keys
  Width Height Area Width Height Rough area
Size 275 mm 100 mm 27,504 mm² 169 mm 50 mm 8,450 mm²
Versus full size 96% 91% 87% 98% 88% 86%

In terms of size, the Zenbook's keys are shorter than those on our reference, non-chiclet keyboard, but they're plenty wide. Folks familiar with other chiclet keyboards should feel right at home.

All in all, this keyboard has lovely tactile response and feels great to type on. We didn't detect much flex in the center of the keyboard, either. Considering how many ultra-slim laptops we've seen with awful, rubbery keyboards (Apple's MacBooks excepted), typing on the Zenbook made for a pleasant surprise.

Speaking of MacBooks, Asus has taken a page from Apple's playbook by outfitting the Zenbook UX31 with a large, multi-touch touchpad devoid of physical buttons. As on Apple's laptops, pushing down the lower half of the touchpad's surface will register a click. The touchpad figures out if you meant to left- or right-click depending on the position of your finger.

Unfortunately, this touchpad suffers from a couple of shortcomings. Its surface is too tacky, so your finger meets a little too much resistance when sliding across. Also, drag-and-drop functionality is frustratingly temperamental.

See that separator line at the bottom? To drag and drop, you're supposed to push down left of the separator with your thumb, thereby triggering a left click, then perform the dragging with your index or middle finger. Synaptic's ClickPads and Apple's trackpads work in a similar fashion. On the Zenbook, keeping your thumb left of the line is easy enough, but it seems you can't let your thumb protrude forward past where the line ends—if you do that, the touchpad will detect a right click as soon as you attempt dragging with your index or middle finger, even if the remainder of your thumb lies along the same latitude as the separator. This behavior persisted after we went into the touchpad's control panel and disabled the option to right-click by tapping with two fingers.

I'm sure you could train your thumb to stay in the right position with a little practice, but I've been dragging and dropping things on an Apple trackpad for years without needing to worry about the exact position of my thumb. I don't recall witnessing anything like this on a Synaptics ClickPad, either. Asus sourced this touchpad from a firm called Sentelic, and it seems like the drivers could use a little work. Incidentally, this isn't the first time a great Asus laptop has been let down by a buggy touchpad from a company we've never heard of. Here's hoping a future driver update will help alleviate the problem.