Asus ZenBook Flip UX360CA

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Asus was among the first com­pa­nies to pop­u­larise hy­brid lap­tops/tablets. Its ZenBook Flip UX360CA is the re­sult of ex­pe­ri­ence ap­plied to the fan­tas­tic af­ford­able ul­tra­books the com­pany has made re­cently, such as the ZenBook UX305.

This isn’t as much of a smash though, suf­fer­ing from some build qual­ity is­sues and a prob­lem­atic screen. At £699, it’s a qual­i­fied suc­cess that’ll still suit many peo­ple, but is harder to rec­om­mend than some of Asus’s su­perb non-hy­brid UX-se­ries lap­tops.

De­sign

Although the UX360CA is a hy­brid lap­top, it’s the sort of de­vice that looks and feels ex­actly like a nor­mal com­puter. Its screen doesn’t de­tach: the hinge sim­ply ro­tates all the way around, like a Len­ovo Yoga lap­top.

As such you’re not go­ing to get an en­tirely sat­is­fac­tory tablet ex­pe­ri­ence, but with a 13.3in screen this is more lap­top than tablet any­way. This de­sign also lets Asus keep all the main com­po­nents in the base rather than the dis­play, an im­por­tant part of help­ing a lap­top keep its bal­ance.

De­spite not look­ing at all bulkedup, the UX360CA’s hinge has the strength to hold the screen at any an­gle. Un­less you’re ac­tu­ally think­ing of us­ing this like a tablet, its ben­e­fit is be­ing able to rest the lap­top in very cramped spots, whether that’s propped-up on a bed to let you watch Net­flix be­fore you go to sleep or on the lit­tle tray table of a plane or train.

With this size dis­play in tow, it’s go­ing to be more use­ful than a full-on de­tach­able hy­brid de­sign.

The flex-hinge comes with some build qual­ity com­pro­mises else­where, though. Like other UX-se­ries lap­tops, the UX360CA is made of alu­minium, so feels fan­tas­tic. How­ever, the qual­ity of some parts is sur­pris­ingly poor. Com­pared to the highly-re­garded UX305CA, for ex­am­ple, there’s an aw­ful lot of key­board flex – sim­ply press­ing down on a key in its cen­tre causes the en­tire sur­round to bend in­wards. Plus, de­spite hav­ing an alu­minium lid, the Asus does not feel well made.

This is a shame be­cause it looks great. All sul­try dark bronze alu­minium, and with the ZenBook sta­ple con­cen­tric cir­cles tex­ture on the lid, it comes across as a real ri­val for Ap­ple’s MacBook range.

The UX360CA is also slim and light: it’s 13.9mm thick, thin­ner than a (17mm) 13in MacBook Air and weighs 1.3kg.

Con­nec­tiv­ity

Con­nec­tiv­ity is good for an ultra-slim lap­top, too. It tries to cater for all

by of­fer­ing a range of full-size and minia­ture con­nec­tiv­ity stan­dards.

On the full-size side we get two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot and a com­bined head­phone/ mic 3.5mm in­put. There’s also a Mi­cro-HDMI port and a USB-C socket. The USB-C is 3.1 ‘Gen 1’ com­pli­ant, mean­ing its band­width is 5Gb/s. That’s the same stan­dard as the 12in MacBook.

If you want to hook up the UX360CA to a tele­vi­sion, you may need to buy a new cable to fit the Mi­cro-HDMI socket, but this is still a de­cent ar­ray for a hy­brid. Cam­era own­ers in par­tic­u­lar should be happy that Asus has opted to use a full-size SD slot rather than a phone-style mi­croSD one.

Dis­play

There’s a lotl tt to lik like aboutb tA Asus’s’ sen­si­bly-priced ZenBooks. Where the UX360CA runs into trou­ble are ar­eas a lit­tle more spe­cific to this model. The 13.3in screen, for ex­am­ple, is a top of­fender. While fine from sev­eral per­spec­tives, the LCD dis­play ap­pears grey rather than black. This is not be­cause the black level of the panel is par­tic­u­larly poor, but be­cause the screen is not fully lam­i­nated, a process that re­moves air gaps be­tween the dis­play and touch lay­ers of a screen.

Even when the lap­top is off, in a well-lit room the screen looks grey against the black sur­round. The more ex­pen­sive UX501 suf­fered from there same is­sue, caused by a small amount of light re­flect­ing off these dis­play lay­ers.

Us­ing our test col­orime­ter, the UX360CA’s re­sults are re­spectable, with na­tive con­trast of 700:1 and colours that cover a de­cent 89 per­cent of the sRGB colour gamut (and 61.5 per­cent of Adobe RGB). Colour cal­i­bra­tion is also fine for a mid-range model, with an av­er­age Delta E of 0.2 (max 0.97).

The air gap is­sue robs the Asus of al­most all of its punch and im­me­di­acy, though. The panel is fine, but in situ looks dis­ap­point­ingly weak. This lap­top is also less handy for out­side work than matt al­ter­na­tives such as the Asus UX305C. It’s much too re­flec­tive for com­fort, far­ing much worse than a nor­mal glossy screen thanks to the grey­ing ef­fect.

Key­board

Un­for­tu­nately, our prob­lems with the UX360CA con­tinue when we talk about the key­board. For starters, the sur­round flexes, and this af­fects the feel when you type. In­deed, only a mod­er­ate touch is needed to cause the whole key­board to bow, which makes typ­ing feel spongier and less crisp and dis­tinct than it oth­er­wise would. It’s worse than the feel of the other ZenBooks we’ve seen.

It’s not that it’s ter­ri­ble to type on as the keys are well-po­si­tioned and of a good size. It’s just far from the best Asus is ca­pa­ble of.

Like other mid-range ZenBooks, there’s no key­board back­light, though few ul­tra­porta­bles at the price pro­vide one. If you’re keen on a key­board light, check out the HP Envy 13 (note: it’s not a hy­brid).

Asus has also made sig­nif­i­cant changes to the track­pad to ad­dress some crit­i­cisms of the pre­vi­ous ZenBooks. Older mod­els have a noisy, track­pad click, which has been tamed in the UX360CA.

If you use the lap­top on a flat sur­face it feels great, but if it’s not flat the flex of the shell can cause the track­pad click to dis­ap­pear al­to­gether, mak­ing it a lit­tle dis­con­cert­ing to use.

Per­for­mance

The UX360CA does have the right hard­ware for por­ta­ble pur­poses though, and has an In­tel Core M3-6Y30 CPU with 8GB RAM.

This kind of chipset is not overly pow­er­ful, but of­fers great per­for­mance up to a cer­tain point. If you buy the Asus for roving of­fices­tyle work, movie-watch­ing and idle brows­ing, it’ll feel about as fast as any­thing out there. Just don’t buy it for gam­ing or any­thing par­tic­u­larly de­mand­ing such as edit­ing videos.

In PCMark 8, it scored 2063 points, which is less than an In­tel Core i5, but the pro­ces­sor uses less power to get com­pa­ra­ble real-world re­sults for the sort of tasks for which an ul­tra­portable like this is built. It’s also a bet­ter re­sult than some other mod­els with the same CPU.

Our nor­mal gam­ing tests showed up just how much it floun­ders when put to graph­i­cally-in­ten­sive work. Set­ting Thief (2013) to its ultra-low pre­set and 720p res­o­lu­tion, the game ran at 13.7fps, which is far too slow to be con­sid­ered playable.

The less de­mand­ing Alien: Iso­la­tion per­formed slightly bet­ter, at 19.7fps, but it’s way off how the game should be ex­pe­ri­enced. If you’re a gamer, you’ll have to stick to low-de­mand ti­tles such as FTL: Faster Than Light or golden oldies.

Other than a high-ef­fi­ciency CPU, what keeps the UX360CA feel­ing fast for ba­sic tasks and Win­dows 10 nav­i­ga­tion is the SSD. It has a 128GB drive. That’s not much room if you need to store lots of me­dia, but the speed is far bet­ter than that of the HDD you’d get in a low-end gam­ing or pro­duc­tiv­ity PC at the price.

Bat­tery life

If you need a lot of raw power, we’d rec­om­mend get­ting a lap­top with an In­tel Core i5 or i7 in­stead. How­ever, one of the ben­e­fits of a Core M-based sys­tem is that you tend to get more pre­dictable and longer bat­tery life be­cause the power draw is that much lower.

The UX360CA lasts for just un­der nine and a half hours when play­ing a lo­cally-stored video, and has the juice to plough through a full day’s work of web brows­ing, typ­ing doc­u­ments, and so on.

Ver­dict

Asus has been in a rich vein of form with the ZenBook range. It has been the go-to place to find an ul­tra­portable lap­top that won’t break the bank. How­ever, this new 360-de­gree hinge ver­sion dis­ap­points. Is­sues in­clude a drop in build qual­ity, a prob­lem­atic track­pad and a dis­play that, while good in sev­eral re­spects, has a highly re­flec­tive screen. Hav­ing liked and loved sev­eral pre­vi­ous midrange ZenBooks, we were hop­ing to have sim­i­lar feel­ings about the UX360CA. Its con­cept is sound, and so is the hinge. How­ever, the new ben­e­fits are out­weighed by the prob­lems. An­drew Wil­liams

If you buy the Asus for of­fice-style work, moviewatch­ing and idle brows­ing, it’ll feel about as fast as any­thing out there. Just don’t buy it for gam­ing

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