Asus ZenBook Flip UX360CA
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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