After spending a week using the Acer Aspire S3’s overly plasticy keyboard, the panel on the Asus is a breath of fresh air. A cold glass of water on a hot day. A bed after a 16-hour flight. Well, you get the point – it is a heck of a lot better. The silver-colored keys, which are coated in a smooth finish, are comfortable and there’s no bend to the panel itself. Unfortunately, the plastic keys have less travel or height than the ones on the Air, which at first resulted in missed keystrokes, but about midway through writing this review I had gotten the hang of it. The arrow keys aren’t quite as small as the ones on the Acer, but oddly, they’re smaller than the usual directional buttons. My biggest issue with the keyboard? The lack of a backlight. Even though I’m a strong touch typist, I’ve been incredibly spoiled by the glowing keys on my MacBook Pro and find it to be very useful on dark flights or when working before going to bed.

However, it all goes downhill — and I mean straight down — at the trackpad. The glass-covered pad itself is very wide and feels smooth under a finger, but hardware doesn’t seem to be the issue — software does. And it’s here that it only seems right that I recount my experience with the original UX21 Asus sent me. Right off the bat, I found the pad to be not only finicky but in some ways unusable; the cursor would intermittently jump across the screen and somehow it would then select random things, causing at one point it to open 10 blank windows of Internet Explorer and some other Asus software to launch. For some reason or another, I decided to resist the urge to attach an external mouse, and I’ve regretted it ever since. As I was working on writing this review in Google Docs, the cursor somehow decided to open an Asus utility called WinFlash, which then began to reformat the BIOS. (I’m really not even sure why this is included!) Oddly, I couldn’t stop the process and before I knew it, I had a totally dead system. Yes, the trackpad actually killed the UX21.

Now, I realize this was a total fluke; however, to say the pad makes it incredibly hard to precisely control the software would be an understatement. And while the UX21 incident may be extreme, it doesn’t change the fact that Asus is shipping laptops that end users cannot easily control. Asus immediately sent me the UX31 with updated drivers, and while the experience has been markedly better, the trackpad is still a serious issue. Accurately pointing and clicking requires more effort than it should, even after tweaking a number of the settings in the software. I was able to make it through writing the rest of the review on the UX31, but I resorted to tapping on the pad rather than clicking and then attaching a wireless mouse. Ironically, the two-finger scrolling implementation is one of the best I’ve seen on a Windows PC, but when you’re forced to change your regular mousing behavior, I’m not sure it really matters. Asus is working on another set of drivers right now for the Sentelic-made pad, but is also qualifying an Elantech touchpad for the unit, which would mean a totally different hardware and software setup. I promise to update this review when I get the new drivers.

Bottom line, this touchpad is still in need of work and I truly do wonder if it was thoroughly tested before it left the lab. It has to be said: Apple’s touchpad mastery — in both Windows and OS X — continues to be light years ahead of the competition, and it makes all the difference in terms of usability.