on January 21, 2012
I have purchased a UX31E and UX21E for my office with high hopes. If they were good enough, I was going to purchase several more for my staff. I very much wanted to like these ultrabooks. They look nice, the shell has a very solid feel and they were very light (which was very important to me, since I am usually out of my office a lot). The screen is very crisp and bright. I love the fast start-up times from boot and hibernate. I have read many reviews talking about how bad the touchpads were, but I figured it would eventually be fixed with driver updates, so I purchased these laptops anyway. There are two types of touchpads out their for these ultrabooks. Luckily both of the ones I ordered came with Elantech, which everyone seems to say is the better of the two. The first thing I did was go to Asus's web site and download the latest drivers. I had no problems with the touchpad or network connectivity that some have reported - but that is probably because I updated the drivers first thing, which is supposed to solve those problems.
The performance of both machines were better than I expected, but I will say the UX21E had the faster hard drive. It came with 128GB SSD and after running some benchmarks, it showed it was much faster than the 256GB SSD in the UX31E. They probably were made by different manufactures, but I did not try to verify that. Battery life wasn't as good as I hoped, but certainly seemed to do a respectable 4-6 hours under constant use and much longer on standby. The variance in how long the battery lasted just dependied on how much of a workload I put on it. For instance, if I was just checking email and editing Office, Powerpoint & Excel files, then it would be closer to 6. But if used it for more intense workloads, then it would last closer to 4 hours.
After my initial testing, I wiped windows off of one of the machines and re-installed it from scratch to get rid of all the bloatware (extra programs that just take up space and slow performance of you machine. You probably don't even want to use most of those programs anyway). By doing so, I certainly saved a lot of hard drive space, which I needed on the 128GB SSD, but did not need on the 256GB SSD. The newly installed Windows 7 also seemed to run faster than the factory install, which I expected from what I said above. If you do reinstall windows, please go to Asus web site and download all the drivers for these laptops first and put them on some type of USB drive or memory stick for later install. Your ultrabook will not work well without installing a few of these Asus drivers (such as touchpad drivers, chipset drivers, USB drivers, wireless and USB ethernet drivers)
With all of that you are probably thinking this is a great laptop. I wish that were the case - I wanted it to be so. But it has one major flaw that can not be fixed with a driver update. The keyboard is very sub-par. A keyboard is such a key part of any computer, it just has to work and work well, but this one doesn't - which is unacceptable. While typing, I kept noticing that keys that I pressed were not registering. I kept having to back up and re-press the appropriate key. I am a fast typist and this was slowing me down tremendously. I found it very frustrating.
I then started testing to figure out why this was happening. I quickly noticed that if you hit the keys dead center, they all work. But if you press them on the corners, some work all the time and some work some of the time and some hardly ever work. I have never used a keyboard that would not work if you pressed the key off center - except for keyboards that were years and years old and were starting to fail. I had this experience on both ultrabooks I bought (UX21E and UX31E). It was more pronounced on the 21E, but that was probably because it isn't a full size keyboard, so I would be more prone to not hitting the exact center on a smaller keyboard.
If you have this laptop, you can test this yourself. Just open up notepad or some other editor; press every key in the center and then in the corners. You will find many don't register the key presses very well in the corners, with some worse than others. When I did this test, I found each of the ultrabooks I bought had a different set of keys that were worse than the others, but both had the problem. Now if you are not a typist and only finger peck, you will probably hit dead center on all of the keys the majority of the time, so this won't effect you as much. If you are a slow typist to where you the exact center of the key 99% of the time or just pound the heck out of the keys when you type, then it will work more often for you than for me. But if you are a moderately fast to very fast typist and your key presses are average in pressure to light, then the keyboard on these laptops are going to be very frustrating to you. Most of the fast typists I know, including myself, press moderate to light on the keys, which helps them move their fingers to the next key faster - and hence type faster. Everyone will sometimes not hit the direct center of the keys - especially when typing very fast and we shouldn't have to!
I have NEVER typed on any keyboard that so poorly registered keystrokes. And as I said previously, since a keyboard is such a vital part of any computer it just must work and work flawlessly. Unfortunately the keyboards on the UX21 and UX31 are not good, so it is a showstopper for me. It is really disappointing. I really liked these laptops otherwise.
For Linux users, new laptops sometimes take a while to get fully supported under Linux to where they work well and it seems that is the case with these laptops as well. Besides Windows 7, I did also install Linux on these laptops. I installed Linux Mint 12, with kernel 188.8.131.52. The touchpad worked fine for me - even two finger scrolling. I know most of the Ubuntu posts I read, said two finger scrolling doesn't work for them, which surprised me, since Mint uses Ubuntu repositories. But I am having no problem with the touchpad on Linux Mint. The only issues I have run into is that battery life is nowhere near as good on Linux Mint as it is on Windows 7 (with the Asus drivers installed) and I have had one sudden and unexplained shutdown on Linux Mint. When I installed the latest Ubuntu kernel, which is supposed to solve the poor battery life issue on Linux, the touchpad stopped working properly. So I decided to deal with the worse battery life and keep using the 184.108.40.206 kernel that came with Linux Mint, because a usable touchpad was more important to me that longer battery life. I know eventually (I expect this year) a new kernel will be released that enables both good touchpad use and long battery life, so I know my 2-3 hour battery life on Linux would improve later this year. I was willing to live with it until then.
Unfortunately, since the keyboard issue is not a driver issue, but just a poorly constructed keyboard, I also had a lot of missed key presses under Linux too. Because of the keyboard issue, I won't be using this laptop as my main laptop. It will go into the pool of laptops my office uses as floaters (a temporary use laptop that staff may borrow - usually when they forget their regular one at home or it breaks).