“A worthy and inexpensive competitor to the MacBook Air”
Most people assume that low-priced Ultrabooks are just chunky devices with low-end components and are called “Ultrabooks” just to make sub-par laptops sound better than they actually are – and for the most part, these people are not wrong. There are plenty of so-called “Ultrabooks” out there which have nothing ultra about them.
But, with the ZenBook UX305, ASUS is shunning the popular notion that cheap laptops have to be …well, cheap. With prices starting at $699, this 13-inch device competes with some of the big boys like the Dell XPS 13 and the MacBook Air at a much lower price.
ASUS hasn’t compromised on connectivity with the ZenBook UX305. It has three USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, a microHDMI port and a headphone jack. Even though there is no Ethernet port for wired LAN connections on the chassis, a USB adapter for it is provided. Wireless connectivity includes 801.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, which ensures fast internet speeds.
The ZenBook has all the trappings of a good device, considering its price. Obviously, it needs closer scrutiny to figure out how good (or bad) it really is.
The ASUS ZenBook looks and feels like a premium device. The outer shell is made entirely of aluminum which is just 0.5mm thick. This helps make it one of the thinnest 13.3 inch laptops around at 13mm. By comparison, the Dell XPS 15 2015 is 18mm thick while the first gen MacBook Air was 16.8mm. It also weighs a comparatively paltry 1.2kg (the 13-in MacBook Air weighs 1.36kg).
Unlike many other laptops, ASUS has given the metal a matte finish. The lid contains the brand’s signature style of having etched concentric circles. Like a more up-market device, the corners have been rounded off. Although the dark color doesn’t scream ‘premium’ when viewed from a distance, overall, the design looks great. But, the surface does tend to pick up smudges and fingerprints easily.
Overall, the display on the ZenBook can be considered a triumph. The 1080p IPS panel is sharp and has excellent viewing angles. It has a matte finish which makes the screen easy to read even in sunlight. It has a maximum brightness of 313 nits and a contrast ratio of 1351:1 – impressive numbers. Colors are reproduced well as shown by the Delta-E score of 1.07 but, the sRGB color range is only covered 83%. The screen will good enough for watching movies and some casual video and photo editing.
But, things are not all rosy. There is a bit of backlight bleed along the bottom edge. While this isn’t noticeable in normal use, the bleeding becomes more obvious when the screen is dark – like when watching a video. The display is a bit grainier than we would like too. Moreover, the review unit had a bit of a problem with the auto-brightness setting. It reacts to ambient lighting in a very random fashion and there is no way of predicting what the brightness would be.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The keyboard is well laid out and has enough travel to make for a comfortable typing experience. The keys are large enough to allow touch typing at a brisk pace. Overall, there is nothing exceptionally good or bad about the keyboard. The biggest compromise ASUS has made is the lack of backlighting. While this improves battery life and keeps costs down, the dark keys are a bit hard to see in low light.
On the other hand, the trackpad does have a few issues. It is large and sensitive but has a weird etched surface which doesn’t facilitate smooth gliding. Swiping long distances is not as easy as many other laptops. Moreover, its driver is limited and doesn’t have a lot of settings for adjusting responsiveness. The touchpad isn’t the worst in the world, but it is strictly below average.
The UX305 runs on an Intel Broadwell Core M 5Y10C processor which uses very little power and doesn’t dissipate a lot of heat. It is coupled with 8GB RAM and a 128GB SSD. The CPU runs at 998MHz (TurboBoost up to 1.9GHz) and the low power output shows in our performance tests. The GeekBench 3 score of 4,098 shows how modest the performance actually is.
In real-world tests, the machine was prone to slowing down or freezing every time CPU usage went up. Processor intensive tasks like video editing are noticeably slower in the ZenBook than many similar laptops. The integrated Intel HD 5300 GPU will struggle to play most modern games even at low settings. But, you can play older titles like GTA: Vice City at maximum resolution without a problem.
From the performance it is obvious that the ZenBook UX305 is built for general productivity tasks, video watching and web browsing. Users who need more power will be unsatisfied.
We were willing to forgive numerous performance compromises if the ZenBook managed decent battery life and, boy, did it deliver! In our standard test, the 45Whr power unit lasted just under 12 hours. In the 13-inch category, this is second only to the MacBook Air which lasted for about an hour longer (with a 54Whr cell). It charges up quickly too with the battery filling up 30% in 30mins. This should easily last you for three hours.
- Brilliant design and build-quality
- Good display
- Exceptional battery life
- Excellent value for money
- Keyboard not backlit
- Trackpad can be inaccurate
- Average performance
In the affordable ultra-portable segment, you will be hard pressed to find a laptop better than the ASUS ZenBook UX305. Sure, it does compromise on performance a bit and the trackpad isn’t the best around. But, the ZenBook looks and feels great, has brilliant battery life and a great screen in a package that is really light-weight.