Review: Asus ZenBook UX305
Ever since Apple rolled out the MacBook Air, companies have been trying to do their best at making something close, and in the UX305, Asus might finally have nailed it.
A new take on the ZenBook, the UX305 is a slimmer and updated look as to how an ultra-light Windows machine can be built.
In this machine, you’ll find a 13.3 inch Full HD (1920×1080) In-Plane Switching (IPS) display, reliant on Intel’s HD 5300 graphics.
Under the hood, Asus has provided a 256GB solid-state drive, 4GB RAM, and an Intel Core M 5Y71 processor clocked at 1.2GHz.
Connections are fairly catered for in this laptop, with three USB 3.0 ports, one microHDMI, an SD card slot, and a combined 3.5mm headset jack (combined for headphone and microphone).
Wireless is also offered in this laptop, and you’ll find an 802.11ac component, offering backwards compatibility for 802.11a/b/g/n, with Bluetooth included in the package, too.
Multimedia is catered for, too, with a 720p HD camera found above the screen and speakers against the hinge for the screen.
Windows 8 was preinstalled on our review unit since it arrived before Windows 10, though all subsequent models sold will likely have Windows 10 on them.
As an aside, the UX305 we’re reviewing is the Full HD model, but it can be found with a higher resolution Quad HD+ (3200×1800) display, with increases to the storage (up to 512GB) also available.
These days, you don’t have to suffer with a super thick computer, not like back in the 90s and early 2000s when you had to carry a proper lunchbox style system around with you, or a textbook-thick machine just to get your work done.
No, these days you have lots of choice when it comes to the sort of machine you want to lug around, and it can still be thick, but it can also be very thin.
Unfortunately, a thin laptop also tends to come with a couple of caveats, usually on the side of the battery and power, with each of these just lacking the necessary grunt to be useful, unless of course you buy a Mac.
In fact, the Apple camp has predominantly been the one area where a thin computer was tolerable for both areas, and Windows PC makers have never really caught up.
Asus has been trying though, and with its latest iteration of the ZenBook, it might even be onto something, churning out a darker equivalent with Windows inside.
Remove it from the box and you’ll find a metal bodied machine with a soft top and a circular brushed steel, and a general feeling that this is a well built machine.
Thickness is also missing from the package, and that’s a good thing, with a this part of thew machine measuring in at around 12mm. That makes it super thin, and only marginally slimmer than say that of the MacBook Air, which measures at around 17mm.
We’re not talking big units for either, though. All up, it’s a sexy little metal machine, and one that will appeal to anyone who has ever said “I wish someone would make a MacBook that ran Windows” and who wasn’t a fan of Apple’s Bootcamp.
Just going on looks alone, that is what it feels like Asus is going for, with a very Air-inspired machine, albeit without the sharp slant edges Apple throws into its computer. Rather, this is a softer machine with a darker colour, at least on our review unit, though we suspect Asus makes this in less dark colours.
In fact, you get a bit of that feeling looking at the power supply with one that is a step away from the brick and plug mentality we’re used to seeing on Windows laptops.
Few computer companies outside of Apple have cared enough to shrink this element down, but Asus has tried, providing a little box of a thing with a cable. While the plug for the laptop isn’t all that different from where it’s been in the past and certainly lacks the grace of a magnetic dock cable, at least the plug pack is something small and easy to take with you, so that’s positive.
When it comes to what you can do on the UX305, you’ll find an assortment of activities, because while it’s not a high-end machine, Intel’s fifth-generation Core chip codenamed “Broadwell” does its job quite well, with a Core M variant for light computing in a small box.
We won’t recommend gaming on this, but even Windows 8 handled itself well in this computer, allowing us to jump from app to app without any real lag, working away on reviews, surfing the web, checking email, and so on.
It’s a light work computer, that’s for sure, and its diminutive size and profile certainly help to give that away, with a darker shade of the MacBook Air brought to the fore and tempted over to a different dark side with Windows installed.
Battery life is also similar to the Air, which is a rarity when you’re talking about machines running a Microsoft operating system, especially thin and light ones.
As such, we saw a little over eight hours when we were using and reviewing the ZenBook UX305, which is a pretty admirable score for a machine not built by Apple. We’re often struggling to get that sort of performance from competitor machines, and Asus has nailed long life on this machine, provided you’re not using it to get a lot of grunt work done, in which case you’ll likely see the processor and the battery life drop a little.
The keyboard does need a little bit of improvement, however, offering a decent amount of travel and good solid click every time your finger strikes down, though it can miss out on the odd letter here and there.
Overall, we found one character for every 200 went walkabout, especially if you consider yourself to be a quick typist. That might mean your sentence has a missing “t” or “h” every so often, and the space bar doesn’t activate every so often for another sentence.
Outside of this occasional hiccup, the keyboard is excellent, and is a nice change from the usual dull and flat keyboards we’ve seen from Asus in the past few years, telling us that its engineers are gradually getting the hang of keyboard excellence.
Next stop, to take on the likes of Apple and Lenovo, but first they need to iron out the hiccups presented by the odd missing letter!
Let’s talk about the screen, though, because this is one area companies don’t often pay too much attention to when they definitely should.
Not all displays are created equal, and just because it’s attached to a keyboard, computer, and battery section doesn’t mean it’s going to be made for that setup, and you only have to glance at the many disastrous screens we’ve seen in the past to see how companies continue to fail at that (Toshiba, we’re looking squarely at you).
Fortunately, the screen on offer here is a clear Full HD 1920×1080 panel, boasting excellent viewing angles, strong colour, and for the first time in what must be ages, a matt screen.
“Hooray!” we exclaimed when we saw the UX305 screen, realising it wasn’t going to send reflections back our way. “Finally, a screen that could be used in well-lit areas without fear that you’d be straining to find the right angle.”
And that’s exactly what we found from this Full HD panel, which was a nice change from the frequently glossy and hard to see displays the average laptop arrives with.
It would have been nice to see a little more brightness, as that is the main let down of this screen, though it’s not a huge issue, and doesn’t kill the experience altogether.
What does impact it, however, is the lack of a touchscreen, because that is one part of the feature list that does feel like it needs to be here, even though it sits under where premium price machines normally hit the dollars at.
We suspect a touchscreen would have dented the battery life, though, and given that there is a version of the UX305 with a higher end display boasting a Quad HD+ resolution of 3200×1800, we might just be missing out on seeing what that model has to offer.
Still, the option would have been nice, and its lack of a touch display tells us that Asus is targeting the ZenBook at Windows people who want the MacBook Air, but with Windows instead.
At least the touchpad is a solid provision, providing fairly quick gestures an some speedy movements when you’re moving your fingers over the large surface area, which also provides clicks on each side.
By the time you read this review, an aspect of it will already be out of date, because we reviewed it with Windows 8 on-board, an operating system that worked fine without touch, but which was skewed better for machines with it.
Unfortunately, the UX305 doesn’t have touch, at least not the version we’ve been able to check out, and while that would be a bit of a concern for Windows 8, Windows 10 should have no problems with it whatsoever.
That means the only real concerns for this laptop stem from the screen, which could be brighter and would have been nice for touch to be included. Being a matt screen, we can’t imagine the latter would have been a possibility, and so it becomes a question of which do you like more: a display that doesn’t pick up on glare, or one you can touch?
With Windows 8, we’d take the touch, but on Windows 10 — where the Start button has returned and the mouse reigns supreme — we’ll take the matt screen, as it’s just a higher quality across the board and better for a portable computer experience.
So, back to that “by the time you read this review” point, by the time you read this review, the only real quibble with the Asus UX305 will be that the screen needs to be brighter. That’s not a huge complaint to be made, and with a solid albeit loud keyboard, a thin profile, a pretty solid performance, and a design made mostly out of metal, the Asus ZenBook UX305 is an ultra-light worth checking out and picking up.