Today we’re taking a detailed look at the Asus Zenbook UX32A. This is Asus’s most affordable ultrabook available right now, starting at around $700, and while it looks pretty much like the Zenbook Prime UX31A on the outside, there are some corners Asus had to cut in order to meet the lower price point.
But that was for sure expected, since the UX31A sells for $1100 and up, while the UX32A is 400 bucks cheaper (and if you’re looking for discounts on the UX32A, this article should come in handy).
However, what’s really important is how much will those cut corners affect your everyday experience with this laptop.
And that you’ll find by reading this review.
Spoiler alert: the Asus Zenbook UX32A is one of the best budget ultrabooks out there and definitely the sleekest looking. However, if you’re looking for the best performances for the buck, there’s at least a better alternative. Read along for in depth details.
Asus Zenbook UX32A video review
Design and exterior
We’re going to start of course by taking a look at the exterior. Like I already mentioned, the UX32A looks a lot like the premium Asus Zenbook Prime, bundling pretty much the same design and overall shape. But appearances are misleading and in reality there are some slight differences between the two.
First of all, the UX32A no longer sports a unibody design, but offers an aluminum outershell with a plastic-aluminum composite inner frame. As a result, the laptop does not feel just as sturdy as the Prime and bends a bit when squeezed harder, but it’s still fairly solid overall. Also, the overall coating feels a bit more prone to scratches, so you should treat this one with baby gloves.
Besides that, the UX32A is also a tad thicker and heavier then the UX31A, weighing about 3.2 pounds and measuring just over 0.7 inches in thickness, but the differences are so small you’ll barely see them even when having the two laptops side by side.
Having the slightly beefier body helped Asus fit more ports on the Asus Zenbook UX32A. On the left, there’s an USB connector and a card-reader, that still can’t properly fit an entire SD card. On the right you now find the DC-IN, two more USB ports, a full-size HDMI, a mini-VGA port, the headphone/microphone jack and a tiny status LED. There’s still no Ethernet and full-size VGA, but Asus offers adapters for those and the extra USB and proper HDMI connectors are definitely appreciated.
Flipping the laptop upside-down you’ll notice a clean underbelly, with some cooling grills on top and two speakers carved on the sides. You can’t easily access the internals but it’s not really that complicated either. You’ll have to get rid of about a dozen Torx T5 screws and then you’ll be able to access the memory and the storage drive and you’ll be able to upgrade them, but more about those a bit later.
Lifting the lid-cover, you’ll notice a rather familiar interior. In fact, the only difference between this laptop and the UX301 Prime is the activity LED indicator on the top-right side, which is missing here. This aside tough, the two laptops share a similar palm-rest, keyboard and trackpad design.
Keyboard and trackpad
We’re not going to focus on those that much, but they are fairly good overall. Not as good as you can find on the HP or Lenovo ultrabooks, but still alright. The chiclet styled keyboard is accurate and the keys offer good feedback, although they feel just a bit wobbly. The keyboard is also backlit and you can adjust the intensity using the f3/f4 keys.
Of course, the Power button is still integrated withing the keyboard, so you’ll have to get used to that when looking for that Delete, and the arrow keys are still tiny, but I think you’ll be fine with these in time.
As for the trackpad, it’s large, smooth and most of the time accurate. It can get all crazy and jumpy from time to time and it can sometimes miss a couple of gestures, but it’s better than what we’ve seen on older Zenbooks or even on many other ultraportable laptops.
As for the screen, you won’t find that gorgeous IPS Full HD panel that comes with the Zenbook Prime on the UX32A, but it’s not a bad one either. Yes, this is a 1366 x 768 px display, but it’s fairly bright and offers good contrast.
However, like all TN panels, the viewing angles are quite narrow and the colors are a bit dull, with a slight blueish tint in this case. Still, this screen is for sure better than what you get on other cheap ultrabooks and comes with a matt coating, another rare commodity in this price range.
Hardware and performances
With those aside, let’s have a look at what you’ll get inside the UX32A Zenbook. Our test unit is the base config, the cheapest one you’ll be able to find in stores. It packs an Intel Core i3-2367M processor, 4 GB of RAM and hybrid storage, plus Windows 7 Home Premium as the OS.
Now, this configuration is not as powerful as you usually get on the premium ultrabooks these days. The CPU is part of the older Intel Sandy Bridge architecture and only comes bundled with Intel’s HD 3000 graphics chip, while most other ultrabooks are built on Intel’s newer Ivy Bridge platforms.
In practice, the Asus UX32A will perform alright as long as you don’t expect much out of it. Especially after you’ll remove most of the bloatware that comes preinstalled on this one, and there’s a fair amount of that.
The Core i3 processor will quickly show its limits when dealing with heavy multitasking or complex programs and the hybrid storage, with a 24 GB SSD and a 500 GB HDD, adds it share of sluggishness as well.
For everyday tasks though, like browsing, watching movies, editing texts and photos, chatting with your friends, the UX32A will do just fine. It will even deal with games, as long as they’re not the latest titles and you’ll trim the details and the resolution. In fact, I’ve tried both Dirt 3 and COD:Modern Warfare 3 on 13 x 7 resolution with Medium details and both ran alright on this one, with only some occasional hiccups.
Below you’ll also find the results of the tests I ran on the Asus UX32A. The numbers are low, when compared to the IvyBridge ultrabooks, but they are still better than what I got on the Vaio T13 I tested, which was built on the same platform. So overall, Asus’s implementation looks better.
- PCMark Vantage: 4335 pts;
- PCMark 07: 1993 marks;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 8.46 fps, CPU 1.34 pts;
And if this config is too slow for your needs, you can always buy the more powerful version of the Asus UX32A, built on an Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge platform. And you can upgrade the memory (2GBs are soldered and there’s another usable module; the Core i3 config only takes 4 GB of memory, but the Core I5 one will take up to 8) and the storage, as there’s a standard 2.5 inch 7 mm drive inside this unit and compatible SSDs are not that expensive.
Heat, Noise, Speakers and others
The UX32A we have here might not be the fastest ultrabook out there, but it certainly runs cool and quiet. Yes, you’ll hear the cooling fans when working in a quiet room, but they were never annoying.
As for the heat, the laptop gets only warm on its back even when running some HD movies or games for hours, so extreme heat is never going to be a massive issue with it.
Talking about the other tiny details that can make or break a laptop, the UX32A packs good speakers, loud and I’d say punchier than the ones on the UX31A Prime.
The Webcam on top of the screen is alright as well, just make sure you’re using it in a properly lit environment, otherwise the images will get excessively noisy.
As for the connectivity options, the Intel Centrino N6235 module integrated on the UX32A works great and also adds Bluetooth 4.0 and WiDi to the mix.
There’s a 45 Wh battery inside the Asus UX32A and our unit managed to run for a bit over 5 hours on a charge, while performing basic daily tasks, with Power4Gear Entertainment mode ON, the screen at 60% and Wi-Fi ON.
Same scenario, while looping a 720p movie, will get you going for just a bit under 5 hours.
And that’s actually quite good, especially since the laptop can be pushed towards 6+ hours while used lightly, with the screen dimmed and the keyboard’s back-lightning turned OFF.
Prices and availability
With all those in mind, it’s now time to mention the prices. The Asus Zenbook UX32A config we tested here goes right now for around $750 and I expect that to drop a bit in the near future. See this link for up to date prices and some discounts.
If you’re looking for the Core i5 config, you’re going to have to add about $150 – $200 extra for it.
Having a look at some of other budget ultrabooks on the market, you’ll notice that you can get better equipped laptops for around $700. In fact, the Lenovo IdeaPad U310 and the Sony Vaio T13 offer a Core i5 Ivy Bridge CPU for that kind of money. But those are slightly bulkier and heavier, plus don’t look as good as this Zenbook.
So in the end, it’s up to you. If you like the Asus Zenbooks but don’t feel like dropping more than one grand for the UX31A Zenbook Prime, the UX32A is an interesting offer, although it lacks the IPS screen and packs slower hardware. But it is good looking, overall solid built, packs a decent keyboard and trackpad, a not so bad screen and offers above average battery life.
Still, I for one would stay away from the cheaper Core i3 configuration and hope that Asus will make the IvyBridge option more affordable in the next months.
However, if you’re after a bargain laptop and only expect to use it for casual tasks, the cheaper Asus UX32A will do. Just know that there are options out there, other budget prices ultrabooks that could be better suited for your needs. And there are also some powerful ultrabook alternatives going for similar prices.