Asus ZenBook UX305CA

Tech Advisor - - CONTENTS - An­drew Wil­liams

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is a lap­top that takes up the slack left by the MacBook Air se­ries, whose de­sign and hard­ware is now a lit­tle out-of-date in cer­tain ar­eas.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.

Dis­play

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.

Per­for­mance

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.

Bat­tery life

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.

Ver­dict

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.

Geek­bench 3

Alien Iso­la­tion 1080p

Thief 1080p

Thief 720p

Alien Iso­la­tion 720p

PCMark 8 Home

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