on October 15, 2012
UPDATES: SO, I just sent my 3rd (my THIRD!) Zenbook Prime back to Amazon. I've sent back enough by now that Amazon will no longer permit me to just send it back and overnight a replacement. They actually just told me they're going to refund my money because they figure future replacements would probably also be faulty too. That's how bad it is with this thing. Not sure what I'm going to do next, but I may give the Thinkpad X1 Carbon a whirl. It's really a shame, because for the brief window that my Zenbook did work, it was basically the perfect computer. This is, hands down, a 5-star product - IF it worked. But apparently, it just straight-up doesn't. I really, really want to just order another one, because I'd be so happy if I actually got one that f$*@ing worked, but I honestly believe that I might have to order ten of these things to have a shot at one working product.
Doesn't that make this whole line a lemon? Right? I mean, I've never seen anything like this - a laptop that you can potentially go through a half dozen of without ever getting one that functions properly. I've also never had Amazon tell me that, in effect, the product is so hopeless they're just going to give my money back without even attempting another replacement. I wanted to love this laptop. I really did. I still do. But I just can't keep ordering it over and over again when I have so little faith that I'll ever find one that works. This whole thing is a travesty. I never imagined Asus would allow such across-the-board hardware failure in one of their products. My god.
ORIGINAL REVIEW (written during the brief time that the original item actually worked):
I did a great deal of research when I was shopping for my new computer. I knew I wanted an ultrabook and wanted a Windows machine. That, right there, narrowed it down to the Asus Zenbook Prime, the Samsung Series 9, and the forthcoming Thinkpad X1 Carbon. Even though the shortcomings of the Zenbook Prime are very thoroughly documented and, some say, crippling to the user experience, I took the plunge. I am here to tell you I adore this computer and have zero regrets.
First, a very general overview of performance: The thing is fast. Very fast. I am not going to split hairs by comparing it directly in measurables to its primary competitor, the better-respected Series 9, but suffice to say that they're comparable. The 9 is faster booting and faster recovering from sleep, and not by a small margin, percentage-wise, but the Zenbook is so fast to boot and recover I frankly couldn't care less. You are into Windows almost instantly upon pressing the power button.
The main selling point of this particular machine is its 1920x1080 screen. It does not disappoint. I am not a fan of LCD technology, even the most advanced IPS offerings: my TV is a Pioneer plasma and my phone has a Super AMOLED+ display. Needless to say, I am spoiled in that regard. However, I can say with confidence that the Zenbook Prime's FHD IPS LCD display is not only gorgeous in its own right, it's probably the best LCD computer monitor I've ever SEEN. Black levels are excellent, colors are shockingly accurate and vibrant, and the level of detail it's capable of presenting is genuinely stunning. The only display on the market superior to this one is Apple's Retina, which, at an even higher resolution and with even better black levels and color gamut, is superior in all regards on paper. But I should note that I've used both and, frankly, the differences are imperceptible in real-world use. My only complaint is that the resolution on this screen is so high, it's impossible to comfortably view most content at 100% size levels. The computer comes pre-loaded with Windows already set to 125%, which works. After that, you'll want to set your preferences in Chrome, IE9, or Firefox, do default all Web pages also to 125%, otherwise you'll find yourself zooming in on literally everything you see. Be aware that some programs don't support different zoom levels right now: like Google Talk, which I ultimately just had to replace with Trillian, because the text was so impossible to read in Google Talk and Trillian would let me make the whole thing bigger.
In terms of general real-world performance, this computer leaves nothing wanting. The Core i7 processor is more than adept to do basically anything, you can expand the RAM from 4 GB to 10 GB by inserting a new SODIMM, leaving you with more ram than you'll probably need at any point in this laptop's life. The SSD is adequately sized but comes preloaded with, no joke, probably 60 gigabytes of bloatware. I wasn't able to get rid of much of it just by removing programs; not sure what's eating up all the space. However, when Windows 8 officially launches, I plan to do a fresh install and hopefully reclaim a chunk of that space. The SSD is, itself, a standard size - so you can swap it out with a bigger, faster one if you're so inclined. I stuck with the 128 GB model with the intention of eventually buying a 512 GB aftermarket drive.
Finally, I'd like to clear up some bad misconceptions about this computer:
1) THE TRACKPAD IS NOT A PROBLEM. Seriously. This is not a bad trackpad. Don't get me wrong - it's not GOOD, either. But if you look around online you'll see plenty of user reviews and professional reviews basically declaring this unit an unusable paperweight because of the horrifyingly dysfunctional trackpad. Yes, when you open the box, the trackpad is horrible. But then all you do is go to ASUS's website, download the updated driver, and download the Beta of ASUS Gesture, and the trackpad is 80% better right there. If you're still not happy with how it works, nothing is stopping you from poopping over to Samsung's website, downloading the Synaptics drivers and installing them to your Zenbook. This will cause the trackpad to behave like any other Synaptics device, which, for the record, is not without its own flaws. I'm happy enough with ASUS's new drivers that I have stuck with them and, actually, the gesture controls are robust and slick. It supports two- and three-finger touch for cycling up and down windows, between programs and pages, and rotating images. Very slick. I will complain that sometimes the amount of pressure and movement required to get the cursor to go where you expect it to is unpredictable, and that the reaction on-screen is not always what you want, but I have never met a trackpad that didn't present you with similar issues from time to time. The point is, this trackpad is by no means precise and helpful, but it is not worse than par for the course, either. It should not prevent you from buying this laptop, that's for sure.
2) The other main criticism I've heard of this device is that it's killed by a bargain-basement SSD drive. I can't claim to be an expert on SSD performance, but there is nothing about the user experience here that would suggest that the OEM SSD is holding this thing back significantly. I may change my opinion when I eventually upgrade it to an after-market model that meets beefy performance benchmarks, if that creates a noticeable improvement. But for now - it's an SSD. It blows away any 7200 RPM drive ever, of course, and that's what we're all pretty much used to. Again, like with the trackpad, people have made this sound like a deal-breaker, ad it just flat-out is not. It's fine. Maybe you find yourself wanting to replace it with something faster; that's fine. It's replaceable. But nothing about it has suggested to me that I'll want to.
3) Finally, there IS light-bleed at the bottom and side edges of the screen. There's quite a bit of it, actually, and it's eminently noticeable when you start Windows and see the black Windows-logo splash screen. However, it is literally totally unnoticeable in basically every other usage scenario. It only comes out when the outside edges of the screen are completely black and there is very little picture information populating the rest of the screen. Even watching letterboxed movies, it's there, but it's barely noticeable against the backdrop of this panel's gorgeous reproduction of HD video.
Some people inevitably come back to the thinking: you know, it's so expensive, and it does have some problems - why wouldn't I just buy a MacBook Air? That is a perfectly valid choice. Indeed, the MacBook Air has NONE of the shortcomings that this laptop does, and the prices are very comparable. But can you get a MacBook Air with a Core i7 for this price? No. Can you get a MacBook Air with the Retina display at all? No. Here, you can have an i7 and a borderline indistinguishable equivalent to a Retina display in a 13.3" ultrabook for very close to the base MacBook Air price. For someone like me, who prefers Windows, that is a no-brainer.