This 15.6" thin-and-light notebook features an IPS display, Core i7 quad-core processor, dedicated graphics and makes for a great multimedia experience. Does lack of a touch screen kill the deal? We decide in our review.
The UX51VZ is a 15.6" notebook packing a quad-core processor, dedicated Nvidia graphics and a pair of 128GB SSDs. It's well built and has many high-end features including an IPS display with unlimited viewing angles, great speakers, nice-feeling backlit keyboard and very respectable battery life. It's ultimately a bit too expensive for what it offers (and what it doesn't offer, namely a touch-enabled display).
Build and Design
The UX51VZ packs a thin profile for a 15.6-inch laptop at about one inch tall and just 4.6 pounds; in other words it's a little thicker but about a pound lighter than the newest Apple MacBook Pro. The UX51VZ's design is relatively plain with a silver brushed aluminum chassis and gunmetal aluminum lid. Aluminum is considered a high-end material and it's good to see ASUS using it on the entire chassis, not just the top. The chassis is composed of two pieces, a top and a bottom, so it's not a "unibody" design.
The build quality is good if not exceptional. The chassis has just a small amount of flex but is very strong overall. The display lid is also strong and provides good protection for the display; no ripples appear on the display surface when pressure is applied to the back of the lid. The attention to detail is also good with no unfinished or rough edges. I like the slight rubber border around the display lid which keeps it from rubbing against the surface of the chassis when closed.
The UX51VZ's upgrade capabilities are limited; you'll need a fancy star screwdriver to remove the bottom of the chassis and access components. The UX51VZ is unique in that it has two drive bays (populated in our test unit by a pair of 128GB SSDs); it also has one open RAM slot. The upgradeability is there; the accessibility to do so isn't.
Input and Output Ports
The UX51VZ packs a solid array of ports including three USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and mini-DisplayPort. This notebook lacks an internal optical drive. All picture descriptions are left to right.
Left: AC power jack, Ethernet, HDMI, two USB 3.0
Right: Headphone/microphone combo port, media card reader, USB 3.0, mini-DisplayPort, audio jack for included external speaker
Keyboard and Touchpad
The full-size keyboard has Chiclet-style keys and white LED backlighting with variable brightness. The backlighting is just right and works well in the dark. This keyboard has a separate numeric keypad; it's an asset for office productivity though takes getting used to since the keys are about 2/3 full size.
The keys themselves have a very good feel with plenty of key travel to enhance the feedback. The key action is slightly rubbery but quite precise. This keyboard is quiet and could easily be used in a classroom or meeting without disturbing others. I like the slightly rubberized key surfaces; they don't show fingerprints and should wear well over time.
The touchpad lacks physical buttons; press down on the surface to click or just lightly tap. It's appropriately sized for a 15.6-inch screen. The smooth anti-glare surface is easy to track across. The clicking action is mostly uniform though takes a bit more effort towards the edges. The clicks are audible but subdued enough not to disturb others; generally I found myself tapping to click as it's faster.
Screen and Speakers
The UX51VZ comes with a beautiful IPS (In-Plane Switching) panel that has unlimited viewing angles; the picture looks the same regardless where you're looking in from. It has excellent brightness and saturation; colors almost pop off the screen. The anti-glare surface is a welcome relief from the glossy surfaces prevalent in consumer notebooks; there's no glare or mirror-like reflections.
Then there's the full HD resolution - 1920x1080 pixels. This is perfect for productivity, allowing you to easily position two windows side by side. Having this much vertical resolution means less scrolling in web pages and text documents. This high of a resolution is also great for multimedia and photo editing since there are so many pixels (double the amount on a normal 1366x768 display); a lot of detail is displayed on the screen at the same time without zooming.
Unfortunately what the display lacks is touch capability; I wouldn't think to mention it with Windows 7, but Microsoft (for better or worse) ingrained touch input into Windows 8 so much that buying a notebook without touch takes consideration.
The Bang & Olufsen ICEpower audio is exceptional for a notebook. The UX51VZ comes with a separate external speaker that connects on the right side of the notebook; it provides bass the notebook otherwise lacks. The sound produced by this solution is quite remarkable given the size of the speakers; it would easily entertain a few people watching a movie. Consider me impressed.
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