It is an awfully bad keyboard. This is the bare, unobjectionable truth; and you can really stop reading here, because what follows is only a digression about it.
As a professional, I’ve used many computers in my life, last generation ultrabooks included; and–in terms of typing experience–I’ve never come across any worse than the Zenbook’s keyboard. Honestly.
Its physical layout feels a bit odd, keys are too “spread out”, and often your fingers don’t “find” them (particularly the left shift). Also, the arrow keys are excessively small, uncomfortable to handle (I guess you can get used to this,; but it adds to the odd feeling). Then, about the keys themselves, I don’t know the stuff they’re made of, but they don’t have a nice touch, and feel crappy quality. Also, they’re not “steady”: they react differently depending on which part of the key your fingers are pressing; and, particularly the rectangular ones (enter or right shift), don’t generate a key event when pressed on the corners, despite giving you the keypress feedback. But the main issue is that, in general, you need to hit them hard to get a keypress: they remind of those little buttons in the first electronic calculctors in the 70’s. It’s almost impossible to not miss many keystrokes. Definitely you have to be more focused in the keyboard itself, than in the text you’re trying to write, which is very inefficient.
So, because all the aforementioned details, the typing experience is disgusting: the antithesis of “smooth”.
On the other hand, the touchpad is a bit too wide and misplaced, and levelled with the palmrests, which makes it extremely easy to inadvertently touch it, with all its negative consequences: more often than not, you’ll delete the last two paragraphs you had been writing.
But mark!: we’re not talking here about a “learning curve”, as some reviewers say. Of course you can always get used to the Zenbook’s keyboard, same as you can get used to sleeping onto a barbed-wire mattress or to riding Russian trains. But when you pay 1,000 for a top-notch ultrabook, you want a keyboard that feels comfortable from the beginning. At the very least, not worse than the cheapest laptops in the market. In any case, you expect something much better than the Zenbook’s keyboard.
Before purchasing this computer, I read endless professional reviews (who, I’m afraid, are paid to be as nice and ambiguous as possible) and user opinions: some of them saying the keyboard is excellent, some of them saying it’s “not so good”. Well… for the professional, I honestly don’t understand how on earth a good reviewer can state such a falsehood unless he’s paid for it: the UX series keyboard (to be precise, I tried the UX31) can be anything except “excellent”. And, for the user opinions, even a “not so good” would be an overestimation for its quality. If you normally do more than one hundred keystrokes a day, you get very frustrated with this keyboard.
For the rest, I don’t mind so much that the keyboard is not backlighted nor spill-proof. For sure those are nice extras, but if you buy –for instance– a car, what would be the importance of an extra-modern infra-red view-mirror if then the car engine doesn’t start? So, when a keyboard doesn’t work, the rest of its features are totally irrelevant.
[EDIT] There’s a comment by “MacGuiver” on this article explaining a good “macguiverish” fix for the keyboard. If you’re a handyman, give it a try!
So far the keyboard. Now, there are some other issues in the UX31, that I’m writing here in order of relevance.
First, many models ship the low-performant Sandisk U100 SSD (in both 128 and 256 Gb versions), which, according to most reviews and opinions, is between 10 and 30 times slower than the Adata! Mine had the 128 Gb Sandisk, and it certinly felt as slow as my old laptop’s 5,400 rpm HDD (though I can’t confirm numbers because I didn’t perform any benchmark test).
Second, the trackpad is not very responsive, even after updating the driver. My unit shipped the (presumably better) Elan trackpad, but, even after updating the driver, still it wasn’t very usable. Tap-to-click randomly didn’t work: sometimes a slight tap would generate a click, sometimes a heavy tap wouldn’t. Two finger scrolling has an annoying kind of delay and, when the text actually starts scrolling, your fingers have already run out of trackpad; it’s not responsive. And three finger gestures are definitely the worst of all: most of the times, I had to swipe twice or thrice for getting the desired effect (to show the desktop or to swap pages). And it has no edge scrolling!, without which I can’t live.
Third: the fan kicks in unnecessarily often. Even under very light use (only IE with one tab opened to a non-flash content website), having the processor run at its lowest speed, being on battery saving mode and CPU temperature perfectly cool (38ºC), still the fan obstinately kicks in for around 20 secs every two minutes or so, which, in silent environments, is extremely distracting; even more distracting than if the sound was constant, because when the fan knocks on your ear’s doors every two minutes to remind you it’s there, it finally gets into your nerves. I updated to the latest BIOS version, but nothing changed.
Fourth: it happened to me only once, but when booting Linux off a well tested live pendrive, the Zenbook suddenly switched off, and the system log registered “hardware failure” error types.
Fifth: there is an issue with the wifi (which can be solved with a driver update) that makes the data transfer very slow, and I’ve read some users reporting that the wireless connection switches off randomly. After the driver update, I didn’t experience this slowness any more.
Sixth, a design flaw: the Zenbook’s weight is so unwisely balanced that, when opened, it “wants to fall back”. So, if you put it on top of your lap, it tends to tilt backwards, lifting its sharp, cutting front end that bruises your wrists; which (added to the bad quality of the keyboard) makes for a very uncomfortable and unnatural position of the hands.
Seventh: the european power adapter doesn’t have the collapsible pins that you can see in the photos of the USAn reviews, making it more bulky than you were expecting.
And all this is a pity, because the Asus Zenbook could have been a competitors’ killer. Its 1600×900 screen is, to my taste, the best one in the ultrabook “one thousand” market: so bright and sharp, and giving the user so much “screen real state” that, despite the rest of the flaws, it was painful to resign the laptop. But the keyboard killed me. No matter how terrific a screen is, any user that needs to type several paragraphs a day can’t cope up with such an unusable keyboard. So, with tears in my eyes, I had no option but to pack the thing again and take it back to the shop for a money refund.
Notice: I’ve written this review on your behalf and for Asus’ shame. You’re welcome to contribute to this thread, but please no community manager comments here saying that your unit works flawlessly, that some issue has been presumedly solved in the newest model, etc. If Asus cares for his customers, they not only have to solve the issues in future models: they also should offer free fix, or full refund, to the “guinea pig” buyers.