If you’ve read some of my other articles here on the site, you probably know I’m a big fan of compact laptops with matte screens, that’s why my main-driver in the last months has been the Dell XPS 13 with the matte FHD display.
In this post we’re going to talk about the Asus Zenbook UX305UA though, a more affordable alternative for the XPS 13 and overall a solid bundle for what you’ll have to pay for. The laptop is not available in the US at the time of this article (mid February 2016), but expect to find it in stores for $799 and up in the future.
The Zenbook UX305UA is not a new design, but an updated version of the UX305LA launched in 2015. The hardware was bumped to the latest Intel Skylake platform, but everything else remains the same. That means the UX305UA is still the same sleek laptop with an excellent display and a large battery, but at the same time buyers will have to settle for a non-backlit keyboard or limited IO.
We’ll talk about all these in the post, so stick around if you’re interested in getting one of these Zenbooks. Also, there will be a lot of references and comparisons with the XPS 13, since the two laptops share similar traits and I’m already very familiar with that one.
Disclaimer: We tested a retail version of the Zenbook UX305UA, identical to what you can find it stores, provided by Asus for the purpose of this review. We used it for about a week before gathering our impressions here, and then we sent it back.
Update: Asus replaced the Zenbook UX305UA with the Zenbook UX306UA as of the second part of 2016. You can find our impressions on the new model here, as well as details on what’s changed. There’s also a slightly fancier successor, the Zenbook UX330, that you might want to read about.
The specs sheet
|Asus Zenbook UX305UA |
|Screen||13.3 inch, 3200 x 1800 px, IPS, matte, non-touch|
|Processor||Intel Skylake Core i7-6500U CPU|
|Video||Integrated Intel HD 520|
|Memory||8 GB DDR3L (soldered)|
|Storage||512 GB M.2 SATA 80 mm SSD|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC (Intel 7265 AC), Bluetooth 4.0, LAN (with adapter)|
|Ports||2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, micro-HDMI, mic/headphone, SD card reader|
|Operating system||Windows 10|
|Size||324 mm or 12.75” (w) x 226 mm or 8.89” (d) x 16.0 mm or .62” (h)|
|Weight||1.3 kg or 2.86 lb|
|Extras||non-backlit keyboard, HD camera, available in Obsidian Stone or Aurora Metallic|
Design and first look
This laptop is thin and light. Not the thinnest or the lightest in its class, but up there with the most portable options. It weighs 2.86 lbs and is just 0.6 of an inch thick, which corroborated with the sturdy build and compact size make it a pleasure to grab along when traveling or in the daily comute.
The Zenbook UX305UA is available in two colors. Our test model comes in the darker one (Obsidian Stone), while the other choice is lighter (Aurora Metallic). If you get to choose between them, pick the latter, because the dark variant is a serious magnet for smudges and fingerprints, both on the lid and on the interior.
Get the Aurora Metallic version if possible, it won’t show smudges as easily as the darker variant
This aside though, this laptop is a real looker and it feels very nice in daily use, pretty much on par with the Macbook Air, the XPS 13 and some of the other premium 13-inchers available these days. It’s sturdy built, with little flex in the hood and in the keyboard-frame, and it’s entirely made out of metal. Well, at least on the outside, as this notebook doesn’t get a unibody construction, thus the inner frame is made from plastic and only covered in metal.
The lid gets a textured finishing, with the ripple pattern around a shiny Asus logo that has been a trademark for Zenbooks since their inception. I dig the looks, but it will scratch and dent easily, so make sure you treat the laptop well. Asus includes a pretty good protection sleeve in the pack, so you’ll probably want to use it all the time.
The interior is made from a rougher type of matte aluminum, which handles scratches a lot better, but is at the same time more difficult to wipe clean. The underbelly is metallic as well, and down here you’ll notice the two rubber feet which offer decent grip, an air intake grill and the speaker cuts on the sides. Air is sucked from the bottom, so make sure not to cover the grills, and pushed through a grills placed just behind the hinge. Most of the hot air is blown towards the back, but some reaches the screen as well.
Back to that interior, you’ll notice there’s enough room for a full-size keyboard and a large trackpad, but also a roomy palm-rest that provides proper support when typing. The design is clean and simple, albeit there are some stickers on the left side which you’ll probably want to peel off.
The laptop is friendly in daily use, mainly thanks to its low profile and rounded corners, cause otherwise the edges are rather harsh. Overall though, it’s a pleasure to use this machine.
Now, I’d like to to turn our attention onto the screen’s hinge. The UX305UA is not a convertible, thus the screen can only open to around 130-135 degrees. That’s enough for desk use, but limiting if you lean the notebook on your thighs, while laying in bed, which I for one do quite often.
My issue is with the hinge’s feel though, and perhaps I’m nitpicking here, but it’s a bit too weak for my liking. It’s true that it allows to lift the screen extremely easily with a single hand, that’s great, but at the same time it doesn’t toughen up once it goes past 90 degrees, so in certain situations the screen just won’t stay as you set it up, which can get annoying.
Another aspect to discuss is the IO on the sides. You’ll get three full-size USB slots on this laptop, a card-reader, the headphone/microphone jack, the PSU on the right and a micro-HDMI port as the only video-output option. Asus includes an USB to LAN adapter in the pack, but no mini-HDMI to HDMI adapter, so you’ll have to buy one yourself if you want to output content onto a bigger screen.
Overall, this laptop is pretty impressive. It’s thin, light, fairly compact and well built. The hinge feels somewhat weak, the edges are sharp and some surfaces are prone to scratches and smudges, but if you’ll treat it well, it should prove reliable. I’ve also looked through the impressions posted online on the previous UX305LA, and there are very few complains on the build quality and reliability, which is great news if you’re aiming for this updated model, which is identical to the UX305LA on the outside.
Let’s talk about the screen. The UX305UA is only available with matte panels and does not come with a touchscreen. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, look at the UX303UA or somewhere else. For me, however, this is one of the main selling points, as the option for good 13-inchers with matte displays is rather limited these days.
Asus offers the laptop with either 1920 x 1080 px (FHD) or 3200 x 1800 px (QHD+) IPS panels. Both are solid options, with the latter being sharper and brighter.
Our review unit comes with the QHD+ display, and you can find all the technical details and our test results listed below.
- Panel HardwareID: Samsung SDC3724A (133YL04-A02);
- Coverage: 97% sRGB, 74% NTSC, 74% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.2;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 332 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 600:1;
- White point: 6300 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.56 cd/m2;
- Average DeltaE: 1.84 uncalibrated, 1.66 calibrated.
You can see that the colors are fairly well calibrated out of the box and both the gamma and the White point are very close to ideal values, but you can still find our calibrated color profile here.
I do have to mention there’s some light bleeding around the edges on this unit. It is caused by poor craftsmanship of the plastic bezel around the screen, which presses on the panel in several different points. It was only visible on dark backgrounds when the screen’s brightness was set high (above 200 nits), so it wasn’t something I noticed in daily use. Light bleeding has been reported on the older UX305LA as well, but it’s pretty common on matte IPS builds and not something you should worry about, unless you get really unlucky and get an unit with really bad bleeding, in which case you should just return it.
Besides this, keep in mind that you won’t be able to utilize a 13-inch 3200 x 1800 px panel with 100% scaling, as everything is going to look minuscule. That means you’ll have to use the scaling options in Windows and most interfaces and modern pieces of software scale well. However, third party programs and older software does not, which results in either blurriness or again, tiny elements and fonts. If you plan to use such older software on your computer, you should consider the FHD panel instead.
In some markets the screen options might be conditioned by the other specs. Asus usually bundles the FHD panel with the lower-end versions of this laptop, while the higher-end specs are paired with the QHD+ screen. So if you want a Core i7 processor for instance, you might be forced to get the high-resolution display anyway.
Keyboard and trackpad
Where your hands go you’ll find a decent keyboard, with properly sized and spaced keys and an overall decent layout, except for two details: the tiny arrow keys and the Power Button integrated as the top-right key. It’s a bit stiffer than the other keys, but you’ll still want to turn it off from Windows’s settings ( search for “Change what closing the lid does” and select the “Do Nothing” option).
These aside, you must know that this keyboard is not backlit, which again can be a deal-breaker for many of you, especially if you’re already coming from a laptop with illuminated keys. Otherwise, you might not miss it much.
But how about the typing experience? Well, like I said earlier, this keyboard types well once you get a hold of it, but the keys are shallow and just too soft for my liking. I’m actually used to short-stroke keys, as the keyboard on my XPS 13 is even shallower than on this Zenbook, but even so I never got to feel comfortable with the feedback provided by this one, not even after typing several thousands of words on it.
It’s a bit difficult to explain this, but besides what I mentioned above, the click response is not very precise, which meant that I had to adjust my style and hit each key harder, which had a negative impact on both accuracy and typing speed.
On the other hand, the keyboard felt really quiet, even the Space key, unlike on the UX305LA tested a while ago.
Now, do keep in mind that I type for a living and I have high requirements and expectations from a keyboard. That being said, the keyboard on the Zenbook is not bad at all and most of you will be happy with it, but if you plan to do a lot of typing on it, you might want to look elsewhere.
As for the trackpad, is spacious, has a nice beveled ridge around it and a smoother texture than the palm-rest around. It’s also responsive and accurate most of the time, even when having one finger on the surface and sliding with the other. Gestures work really well, from the standard two-finger scrolling and zooming, to the three finger Windows 10 gestures. I don’t usually use these, but I’ve tried them out for the purpose of this review and there’s really nothing to complain about.
Now, I do have a few minor nits with the trackpad though. It’s an Asus TouchPad and that means the software offers very little customization options. You can adjust the cursor’s speed, but you’ll have to fiddle with it to find the right balance between speed and precision. However, there’s no way to adjust the tap response, and as a result light taps aren’t always recognized. That means you’ll have to use physical clicks quite often, which are stiff and clunky.
Overall though, the trackpad on my test unit performed quite well. A lot of people complained about the trackpad on the Zenbook UX305LA and to be frank, my experience with it has been good on both the UX305LA and the UA models, so I can’t tell if other users just have higher expectations or Asus has some quality control issues and some units get crappy trackpads.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
All these aside, let’s see how this laptop performs in daily use. Our test unit is powered by an Intel Core i7-6500U processor, 8 GB of DDR3 RAM and a 512 GB SSD. Some of the other versions can be paired with a Core i5-6200U processor for the base-level configuration and can get between 128 and 512 GB of SSD storage, but otherwise are all identical.
The storage can be upgraded, and for that you’ll have to take-out the back panel, which is hold in place by a few Torx screws and two extra Philips screws placed under the rear rubber feet. It’s an easy task, but it will probably void warranty, so do it on your own risk. The laptop uses M.2 SATA 80 mm SSDs and PCIe sticks won’t work from what I know right now (let me know if you’ve seen evidence that PCIe SSDs are supported).
The Wi-Fi chip should be upgradeable as well, but it’s placed behind the motherboard, so it’s more difficult to get to. The RAM and the CPU are soldered on the PCB and cannot be upgraded, so you’ll have to settle for what you pick in the beginning.
Specs aside, this laptop feels snappy in daily use, but you should take care of the software preinstalled out-of-the-box if you want to speed up the experience even more. There’s not a lot of crapware, but you should still get rid of McAfee, the Office and Evernote trials and even some of the Asus programs.
Also, keep in mind that while the SSD included is miles faster than a regular HDD, it’s not as fast as some of the more modern SSD solutions available these days, with rather limited write speeds, but I doubt that’s going to bother most of you.
Regardless, browsing with multiple tabs open, Office tasks and any sorts of multimedia content are a breeze for this laptop. In fact, if you plan to get it for such activities, I suggest picking a Core i5-6200U configuration, which is going to be fast enough and more affordable.
If you plan to push the computer a bit more and perhaps run some programming software, or maybe Photoshop or Premiere for some light video edits, the Core i7-6500U is the option to get, as long as you’re aware of what this dual-core low-voltage CPU can and cannot do. I’ve added some benchmark results below, in case you’re interested:
- 3DMark 11: P1582;
- 3DMark 13: Ice Storm – 52580, Cloud Gate –5576, Sky Driver – 3433, Fire Strike – 832;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 2457;
- Cinebench 3 32-bit: Single-Core: 3115, Multi-core: 6493;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 31.37 fps, CPU 3.56 pts, CPU Single Core 1.26 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 37.19 fps, CPU 317 cb, CPU Single Core 126 cb;
- x264 Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 110.58 fps, Pass 2 – 20.94 fps.
The Cinebench OpenGL and CPU-Single Core are a bit lower than what the Core i7-6500U processor usually scores, but everything else is just as expected.
The Intel HD 520 graphics integrated within the Skylake processor are fairly capable as well, so you should be able to occasionally play older games on this computer. If that’s something you’re interested in, I once again suggest getting the FHD screen over the QHD+ variant. You’ll find some gaming scores below.
|Need for Speed: Most Wanted||22 fps|
|Grid Autosport||35 fps|
|Tomb Raider||33 fps|
|Bioshock Infinite||20 fps|
Overall, our test unit performed very well. The Skylake dual-core platforms are more than capable of providing a buttery daily experience right now, when paired with 8 GB of RAM and SSD storage.
I did ran into Display Driver crashes quite often, once or twice an hour, mostly when browsing and watching video, but not when running games. It causes the screen to freeze and go black for a few seconds, and then you might have to reload the tab you were in or restart the video. This can get annoying, but it didn’t have a major impact on my experience. Still, I noticed many people complained about similar crashes on the older UX305LA and it looks like this issue hasn’t been addressed on this newer version. Not a deal breaker, at least not for me, but something to keep in mind.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
I like my laptop cool and quiet, and the Zenbook UX305UA checks one of these boxes: it runs very cool, both in daily use and under serious load. It’s not as quiet as it could be though.
There’s a fan inside, which tends to kick in quite aggressively, even when performing casual activities like watching a Youtube clip or browsing between a few different tabs. It’s not always on and once it starts spinning, it won’t run for long if you’re using the computer lightly, but I’d prefer it won’t kick in at all with these casual activities. Especially since then fan’s lowest speed is fairly audible in a quiet room (38-39 dB at head level).
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in EDGE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing Need for Speed Most Wanted for 30 minutes
Under load, it actually gets noisy, around 45 dB at head level, but both the inner and outer temperatures remain low. I don’t really mind the high-load noise, but I do in daily use, when I don’t have sounds coming out of the speakers, that could cover that noise.
In comparison, the Dell XPS 13 does run hotter, but I only get to hear the fan once or twice a month with how I use the computer, and that’s what I’d expect to be the norm. Even when the fan kicks in, it’s barely audible at low speeds. With the Zenbook, the fan kicks in several times every hour, and when it does, it’s noisy enough to become annoying. That for me is a real issue, because I know that it doesn’t have to be this way. Most tasks don’t require much in terms of processing power, so it’s up to the OEMs to implement a cooling solution that remains silent as much as possible. Asus failed at it here.
Let’s move on and talk about the speakers, which are pretty good. They’re loud enough to fill a mid-sized room, topping at about 85-86 dB at head level, yet not as loud as the speakers on the XPS 13, which actually packs some of the better audio in the class. The sound coming out of them is on the tiny side, but can be improved with the AudioWizard presets. Connecting a pair of headphones helps a bit as well, but the audio exit lacks the volume and especially the clarity delivered by the XPS 13.
When it comes to connectivity, this laptop offers Bluetooth, Wi-Fi AC and a wired connection via the included USB to LAN adapter. Asus went with an Intel 7265 AC Dual-Band module, the same one as on the previous UX305LA.
In the 7 days I’ve used this laptop i haven’t ran into any problems with it, any drops or disconnects. I’ve only used it on a 2.4 GHz network during this time though. The chip is also a good performer when in close proximity of my router, reaching speeds of 100 Mbps, but they drop to only 30 Mbps at 30 feet with two walls in between and even further after that. So if you have poor Wi-Fi signal in your home or office, this laptop might not deliver for you.
I have to add that I’ve read countless complaints about the Wi-Fi issues people had on the UX305LA: the chip disappears from Control Panel and a restart is required, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth don’t work well at the same time, etc. I haven’t encounter them in my experience with this UX305UA, so Asus either fixed the drivers with the upgrade to Windows 10, or perhaps I was one of the lucky ones and the issues are still there on some units. Hard to tell right now.
Asus puts a 56 Wh battery on this laptop, larger than what you’ll find on most high-end 13-inchers. As a result, the Zenbook UX305UA lasts for a long time in most conditions. For our tests, we’ve set the screen’s brightness at 40%, which equals about 120 nits:
- 5.2 W (~10 h 30 min of use) – idle, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 7.3 W (~7 h 40 min of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7 W (~8 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in EDGE, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.8 W (~9 h 40 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in Movie App, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 15.5 W (~3 h 40 min of use) – heavy browsing in EDGE, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
The high-resolution screen takes it toll on the battery life results, and I’d expect the FHD configurations to last quite a low more.
The laptop is bundled with a compact 45 Wh power brick and a full recharge takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes.
The Zenbook UX305UA gets a 56 Wh battery, and as a result is one of the longer lasting 13-inchers out there, especially if you go for a configuration with the FHD screen
Price and availability
The Zenbook UX305UA is available in Europe, Asia and some other regions at the time of this post,
but not in the US or Canada.
Update: The Zenbook UX305UA is available right now in the US and sells for between $750 and $800. Follow this link for more details and up-to-date prices at the time you’re reading this post.
In Germany, the base model with the Core i5-6200U processor, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD and the FHD screen retails for 999 EUR. Higher specked versions get a Core i7-6500U processor, 512 GB of storage and the QHD+ screen and sell for up to 1399 EUR.
In the US you can find the Zenbook UX303UA at the time of this post, for as little as $850 , a Skylake laptop with a touchscreen and a backlit keyboard, but in a slightly larger and heavier body. The UX305 model is usually affordable than the UX303 version, hence we can assume that Asus will have the UX305UA starting at around $799.
Till that happens, there’s that UX303UA as the alternative, but also the older UX305LA, which sells for around $750 these days (more details in here) and is identical to the UA variant, except for the fact that it’s built on Broadwell hardware.
Now, I can’t tell you when or even if the Zenbook UX305UA will be available in stores in North America, but I’ll update this section when I’ll have news.
Update: The Zenbook UX305UA is available right now in the US and sells for between $750 and $800. Follow this link for more details and up-to-date prices at the time you’re reading this post.
The Zenbook UX305UA gets a great price, but it’s not available worldwide at the time of this post
At the end of the day, the Zenbook UX305UA is a solid 13-incher with one serious ace down its sleeve: its affordable price. It’s also a very nice looking and well built machine, gets an excellent screen, performs just as it’s expected from a Skylake-powered device and goes on and on each charge, thanks to its large battery.
It’s not going to be the ideal pick for everyone though. It doesn’t get a touchscreen and lacks a backlit keyboard, so you should only get one if you can live with these two aspects. There’s also room for improvement in the keyboard department, you’ll have to spend extra for some adapters, as the IO is limited, and it doesn’t run as quiet as some of the other ultraportables built on Skylake Core U platforms available these days.
But it’s more affordable than the competition, which is pretty much represented by Dell’s XPS 13 series (our review is here). This one is more compact and even lighter, is overall a little sturdier built, runs quieter and gets a backlit keyboard. It’s also much quieter, albeit hotter.
However, in Europe a Core i5-6200U config with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB SSD retails for 1299 EUR, 300 EUR more than the Zenbook. In the US it sells for $1199, while the Zenbook goes for as low as $749.
In the meantime, you can still consider the Zenbook UX305LA, the UX303UA or you can check out some of the other solid 13-inch ultraportables available in stores these days. The Zenbook UX306UA is another unit you should have on your list, as it is the upgraded version of the UX305, meant to replace it starting with the second half of 2016, and the Zenbook UX330UA is another successor worthy of attention, as a more premium option with fancier looks and improved build quality.
If you’re not in a hurry though, wait for the UX305UA update. If any of you know anything about its release date in North America, let me know in the comments section below, where you can also post your questions and opinions of this product, I’m around and will reply if I can.