Monday, October 1, 2012

The Zenbook Prime (UX31A): A stunning product with a few significant flaws

(Note: I have also posted this review here).
This UX31A is a beautiful machine. Note that the R7202F is a UX31A-1AR4. It is roughly akin to a DB71, but it lacks a TPM, and has Windows Home Premium. It has an i7 1.9 GHx, dual core, quad-thread processor.
It looks far sharper than any Apple (in my view), and its construction is solid. It is light, sturdy, and it runs cool (the CPU runs at around 40 Celsius under normal conditions, and all the warmth is centre, above the keyboard). The IPS display is beautiful, and is perfectly visible in direct sunlight. Its brightness vastly exceeds other machines in its class. It is simply the best display in its class, bar none. The colours are incredible. The audio quality seemed quite good to me, though I'm no audio expert.
This machine has DDR3-1600, not 1333, as posted in many descriptions (I confirmed that it is dual channel @ 800 MHz). The one I received came with a Sandisk SSD (more on this later).
The battery life ranged from 5 hours (full bright, wifi on, backlit keyboard on) to 9-10 hours (low bright, wifi off, backlight off).
On the negative side:
1. The screen has some backlight bleeding. This is common on IPS screens, but if you need perfect blacks and watch a lot of movies on it, you might notice it. It isn't visible in normal use. Mine bled on the bottom right rather noticeably on a full black screen. This isn't a big deal for me. It is a shame, though.
2. The keyboard seems to miss keystrokes now and then. I don't think this was just me; other ASUS users encountered this on their machines. It occurs when typing very quickly. However, the keyboard is otherwise nice to use.
[Note that my second UX31A was much better on this point.]
3. The touchpad is unusable out of the box. The latest beta driver on the ASUS site gets it working well enough. You may need to disable tap to click as well; this is commonly an irritation on touchpads, because you can 'click' with your palm while typing. Note that if you need more configuration of your touchpad, Samsung has a driver which will run on the Zenbook Prime's touchpad, which also corrects the issues.

[Edit: Do not install the 1.0.32 driver, as it is about as bad as it gets -- it doesn't correctly reject palm contact, and it does reject normal finger contact. It is next to unusable. ASUS ought to try out their software before the ship it. The 1.0.26 beta driver works well enough.]

4. The unit I received would randomly shut down a few minutes out of sleep, every once in a while. This wasn't a bluescreen. There is no data in the Windows logs about the shutdown. Odds are, the machine lost power somehow. It happens whether the notebook is plugged in or not. This is a serious problem.
[See here.]
5. The Sandisk SSD is slow in small reads and writes. As in, it is terrible (4 MB/sec in some cases). I confirmed this myself. The alternative AData drive that comes in this laptop when there is stock is reportedly much better. That said, the computer ran fast. Most would probably not notice this.
6. There is too much Junkware on it. I removed the Trendmicro trial, the ASUS cloud stuff, and a few other trials. Just install Microsoft Security Essentials and be done with. When the antivirus makers can produce software that doesn't act like the malware they try to stop, we can use it.
Overall, this was a really nice machine. Some of those flaws are bad, but hopefully ASUS works them out soon.
I would have given this full marks for quality, except for the keyboard, mouse, and shutdown issue.


Pablo Mansilla said...

Can you give more information about this samsung driver please!

Mike Jones said...

I have not tried this myself. But here's the source:

3) The biggest showstopper is the touchpad out of the box. Yes, i'm referring to the touchpad on ux31, not the older ux31e. Multi touch etc. etc. works well. (have two macs at home for comparison). The thing that just about ruins this little gem is the horrendous behavior of the touchpad when your palm brushes it during typing. There is no way you can really avoid this, and it is impossible to do any typing without the cursor moving and the tap to touch causing irritating behavior. (like prematurely sending an email, closing the email, clicking a background app into focus). How this went past anyone in any QA dept. is beyond me. It's that bad, just typing a 2 line sentence is near impossible. This was entirely preventable with just a bit more diligence by ASUS. This one problem is bad enough to warrant a return if it weren't the fix that later became available.

I upgraded the drivers to the THEN latest on the ux31a page on asus support. They didn't work any better. Update: ASUS has finally put an updated version that addresses the issue much better.

Initially i was concerned that I was out of luck and that this could be a trackpad hardware limitation. Thankfully a bit of investigation digging through the registry in the HKLM\CurrentControlSet\Services\ElanTech revealed a plethora of values that seeemed promising.

Further investigation led to a rather huge thread on this topic on the laptop support forums for the elan trackpads on Samsung laptops. A bit of spelunking revealed an updated driver ( This one proved to be a winner. Not sure if it was the actual driver update, or the very significantly different configuration settings in the registry that made the difference, but at the end of the day the problem is mitigated nearly completely (and without disabling the trackpad while you are typing).

I think there is still some fine tuning to do with the relatively sensitive trackpad, but am a bit more at ease as I think it's just a matter of tweaking the settings just right. I think the elan folks will get it right with just a bit more time. I wish the control panel utility gave you more tuning options without having to figure it out on a trial and error approach with the registry variables. The newer version samsung is using has an 'advanced' tab which seems to be heading in this direction

This is my first ever review and I am only writing it because I really dig this laptop. I'd hate to have this not succeed due to the egregious trackpad palm detection issue. Asus's strength is clearly not software QA.

A few other observations that I haven't seen mentioned before.

Also, I believe that there is an Acer driver which can help as well. I can't point you to it specifically. Consult Dr. Google.