Asus ZenBook UX305CA
The Asus ZenBook UX305CA is a laptop that takes up the slack left by the MacBook Air series, whose design and hardware is now a little out-of-date in certain areas. What you get is a slim and light laptop that’s perfect for portable work.
It’s not overly expensive either, particularly for a machine with a 3K-resolution screen. Such a high resolution display has a mild hit on battery life compared with the 1080p version and its Core M CPU isn’t suited to really taxing tasks, but in most respects this is one of the very best affordable Ultrabooks.
The UX305CA is a mass market laptop. It’s not out to court people who are going to spend hours poring over benchmark results, and worrying about whether it’ll run their favourite game. It’s not terribly powerful, but that does mean it’s able to offer an impressive-looking and feeling machine for £649.
Our first reaction on receiving our review unit was that it looks a lot like a MacBook Air. The tinted silver version is made of anodised aluminium throughout, and its lines and ultra-skinny frame are clearly out to appeal to the sort of buyer who might otherwise end up with a MacBook Air.
Asus does offer a version with more of its own identity, though. The black UX305CA has a spun brushed finish on its lid, which is the ‘family crest’ of the ZenBook series. If you don’t want your laptop to be confused for a MacBook, consider that version as it’s the same price.
Whichever model you choose this is a good-looking laptop. The aluminium construction and a thin, light body make it feel like a premium product, while also being thoroughly practical as a portable machine. There’s no obvious flex to the panels either. This is a cheaper Ultrabook, but the build doesn’t give that away too obviously. Weighing 1.2kg and measuring 12mm thick, you would have to switch to a smaller screen to get anything significantly thinner and lighter.
Asus has been a big supporter of the rise of the USB-C standard in its devices, but the ZenBook UX305CA misses out on this. Instead, you get three USB 3.0 ports, a full-size SD card slot and a Micro-HDMI port.
One of the big selling points of the UX305CA is that it has a highresolution 3200x1800-pixel screen. Most laptops with one of these are significantly more expensive. It’s also the key difference between this model and the UX305 we looked at last year, which had a 1080p screen.
Images are very sharp, though as with a lot of the current 3200x1800 LCD panels there’s still a tiny bit of fizziness up close. Windows 10’s scaling options let you choose between packing more information on-screen and just having a sharper but otherwise normal-looking UI.
The screen has a matt finish, and its solid 398cd/m2 brightness means this is a laptop you can use in virtually all conditions. Indeed, during testing, we used it with bright sunlight streaming right on to the display and were still able to read the document we were working on.
It’s an IPS panel, so looks fine from any angle. Colours are good too, hitting 91 percent of the sRGB colour gamut and 63 percent of
Images are very sharp, though as with a lot of the current 3200x1800 LCD panels there’s still a tiny bit of fizziness up close
Adobe RGB. Ideally, you’d want a laptop to hit 100 percent of sRGB but it’s forgivable given the price, and it isn’t all that evident in use. Plus, it’s in a different league from a TN-panel MacBook Air. Calibration is good too, with an average Delta E of 0.2, making colours look natural.
Where the screen is let down is its contrast – we measured 500:1, which is fine but nothing special. During testing we found that this meant blacks lost some of their depth when we ramped up the brightness or when we were in a darker room. The unremarkable contrast wasn’t, however, as apparent when we used the UX305CA as a work computer.
The UX305CA doesn’t offer any fancy screen tricks either. The hinge only bends back to around 130 degrees, it’s not a touch display and has a classic raised bezel rather than a totally flat screen.
It may be super-slim and have a very modern CPU, but this is otherwise a traditional laptop.
Keyboard and trackpad
It’s a good job, then, that the trackpad and keyboard are both solid. The keys are shallow, but their action is pleasant and there are no nasty surprises: no weirdly positioned or oddly-shaped keys beyond the left-most column.
It is comfortable to type away on: we’ve written out thousands of words at a time, with no discomfort or cramped sensation. If you’re on a sensible budget, a 13in machine like this is the best in class to start in if portability is important.
Like last year’s model, though, the UX305CA doesn’t have a keyboard backlight, which is one of the few omissions that tips you off that this is a cheaper laptop.
The trackpad is similarly solid, with just a slight niggle or two. It’s of a good size, and the embedded mouse buttons are well-designed, so you can just slide into using it without having to reteach your fingers exactly where you need to press for a ‘right’ button press. Its surface is smooth and non-tacky, because it uses the same sort of textured glass covering you get in more expensive ultraportables.
One area where the UX305CA could be improved is the feel of the pad’s click. It’s fine, but a little loud.
Unlike most Atom systems, there’s no interface lag and thanks to the 8GB of RAM and 128GB all-SSD storage, the UX305CA is very quick to boot
While the UX305CA has a widereaching appeal, its hardware is intended for a specific use. It’s all down to the kind of processor used, a third-generation Intel Core M, the 6Y30. Its standard clock speed is just 900MHz, which can be boosted by over 100 percent to 2.2GHz.
These Core M chipsets are tiny SoC processors that use a small amount of power but are very efficient. This is a ‘premium’ chipset like the Intel Core series, as opposed to the budget Celeron and Atom series CPUs seen in cheaper slim machines. However, its power is relatively humble.
Its aim is to offer day-to-day performance similar to that of an Intel Core i5, and it’s pretty successful on this front. Unlike most Atom systems, there’s no basic interface lag and thanks to the 8GB of RAM and 128GB all-SSD storage, the UX305CA is very quick to boot and snappy to come out of sleep.
If you’re moving between locations, just put it in your bag and you can take it out later and be back to what you were doing within a few seconds. If the laptop does fall into a deeper sleep it’ll take a bit longer, but that’s the norm.
During testing, the UX305CA recorded a decent PCMark 8 Home score of 1985. While lower than the Core i5 you could find in a chunkier laptop of this price, the difference is less than you might expect. The HP Envy 13 scores 2657 points, for example, but it has an Intel Core i7.
Its Geekbench 3 score of 4837 (2403 single core) is very solid, too. If you’re looking for a laptop for light duties, a Core M CPU is a good pick.
It’s with more challenging work that the UX305CA starts to show its limits. Its gaming performance is poor, for example. Whereas a dualcore Intel Core i5/i7 processor can generally handle recent games if you strip the settings down to the bone, this machine continues to struggle.
With settings minimised and the resolution set at 720p, the UX305CA still manages only 22fps in Alien: Isolation. Some might consider this playable, but only just. An Intel Core i5/i7 dual-core CPU will add another (up to) 10fps to this result.
At 1080p, that performance drops down to 10fps. And the results were even worse with Thief, which managed 15fps at 720p settings. As you’d want to play the game, at 1080p and with the visual turned up, the UX305CA managed just 3.9fps.
It’ll handle old games, but not the latest graphics-intensive titles. It also means the extra resolution on offer here is only useful for making the desktop and general interface look sharp, and for playing high-resolution video.
Finding the Intel Core M’s limits isn’t hard. However, one benefit is that this is a silent laptop (bar any touchpad or key noise you make). It uses full passive cooling: no fans at all. In normal day-to-day use as a Word, email and browsing machine it stays very cool, too.
The other big benefit of the Core M 6Y30 CPU is that it uses very little power. It lets the UX305CA balance the high screen resolution with good battery life. Windows laptops continue to struggle to match that of MacBooks, but the ZenBook UX305CA lasts a respectable nine hours when playing back a 720p video at 120cd/m2 brightness.
We’ve also been using it in our daily work routine, and if you’re in a location that’ll let you keep the brightness low, it’ll last a decent eight hours off a charge. That includes plenty of Wi-Fi use, too. Crucially this is better than a lot of the rival Core i7/i5 ultraportables we’ve reviewed recently.
The one area we’ve not covered yet is speaker quality. Like many Asus laptops, the UX305CA uses Bang and Olufsen IcePower speakers, one at each end of the underside. The sound is fairly thin and light, and is not hugely loud, however, the tone is natural, making even music perfectly listenable once your ears bed into the lack of lowerend body. There’s also no obvious distortion at max volume. They may be fairly ‘standard’ laptop speakers, but the low price and that 12mm thickness will make you think about them more favourably.
The Asus ZenBook UX305CA is a sensible upgrade to the UX305 we looked at last year. It has a newer CPU and a much higher-resolution screen, butt remains a seriously portable, premium-feeling laptop. That you can get this grade of machine for £649 shows that while Apple’s pricing has improved, companies like Asus still have the edge. The UX305CA’s Core M CPU limits this laptop’s target audience, but it still feels fast for everyday tasks and will last all day, making it ideal for those who find themselves hopping between meetings or cafes as part of their daily grind. If you’re looking for something to use mostly at home, you might want look for something with a little more power and a screen with slightly higher contrast, though.
Alien Isolation 1080p
Alien Isolation 720p
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