In other words, we’ll have side by side the two most powerful Asus Zenbooks available right now.
The UX301LA, or the so called Zenbook Infinity, is the sleekest of the two, comes with a higher resolution screen and a 28W Intel Core i7-4558U processor, with Intel Iris Graphics. On the other hand, the UX302LG is a bit thicker, heavier and fragile, but offers more ports and a dedicated Nvidia graphics chip.
On a first look, the two are in many ways similar. Gorilla Glass 3 covers the lids in both cases and we do have the Navi Blue versions of these two laptops here (a white UX301 is also available). However, while the UX301 is entirely dressed in blue, as the interior, the underbelly, the keyboard and the trackpad are painted in this color, the UX302 uses Blue only for the lid cover (and it’s a slightly darker blue), while the body gets a dark-gray look and the keys are black.
|Asus Zenbook UX301LA||Asus Zenbook UX302LG|
|Screen||13.3 inch, 2560 x 1440 px, IPS IGZO, touchscreen||13.3 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, IPS, touchscreen|
|Processor||Intel Haswell Core i7-4558U||Intel Haswell Core i7-4500U|
|Video||Intel 5100 HD||Intel 4400 HD + Nvidia 730M 2GB|
|Memory||8 GB DDR3||6 GB DDR3|
|Storage||512 GB SSD RAID 0||256 GB SSD|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC, Bluetooth, LAN (adapter)||Wireless AC, Bluetooth, LAN (adapter)|
|Ports||2xUSB 3.0, SD card reader, micro HDMI, miniDP||3xUSB 3.0, SD card reader, HDMI, miniDP/Thunderbolt (?)|
|Battery||6 Cell 50 Wh||3 Cell 50 Wh|
|OS||Windows 8||Windows 8|
|Size||18 mm thick, including the rubber feet||21 mm thick, including the rubber feet|
|Weight||about 1.43 kg (3.1 pounds)||about 1.5 kg (3.3 pounds)|
|Prices||this version – $2200; starts at $1399||this version: $1600; starts at $1299|
In fact, there’s a different choice in materials used for the body. On the UX301, the bottom and the edges are made from some sort of ceramic coated metal, while most of the interior is covered in a matte layer of glass. The UX302 settles for the more common aluminum shell, with a nice feel and texture, similar to what we’ve seen on last year’s Zenbooks.
Regardless, all these design details might not matter that much to you, as at the end of the day, both machines are beautiful. The fact that the Zenbook UX301 is slightly slimmer and lighter than its close relative might matter more though, despite the fact that the differences are small: the UX302 is about 2 mm thicker and weighs around 60 grams more.
On the other hand, the UX301 feels sturdier, tougher, as on the UX302, both the lid and the sheet of metal covering the underbelly tend to flex when grabbing the laptop. On the UX301, the bottom is solid, while the lid covers still bends when pressed.
With the larger body, the UX302 can accommodate more ports on the sides, that’s why you do get 3 USB slots on this one, a Full-size HDMI connector and what looks like a potential Thunderbolt port, based on the logo next to it. That’s not confirmed though (don’t have any Thunderbolt device around and I did not find anything about Thunderbolt in Device Manager) and it could be just a regular mini-DisplayPort (the connectors are identical) .
On the UX301 there’s only room for two USB slots, plus one micro-HDMI and one mini-DisplayPort connector. Besides that, you do get card-readers on these two, but none can fit an entire SD card (more than half remains on the outside). And in order to boost the connectivity options even further, there are USB to LAN and mini-displayport to VGA adapters included in the pack with both of these. As for the PSU, on the UX301 it is placed on the left edge, while on the UX302 is placed on the right, and personally I like this last approach better, as it leaves more spare room towards the right, where I tend to have my mouse.
Anyway, let’s move on and have a look at the interiors. Except for the choice in materials, there’s a similar layout on both of these, with the same keyboard arrangement and the trackpad in the middle. On the UX302 you do get a small status LED in the top right corner, while on the UX301 you don’t.
Speaking about similarities though, the screen frames and hinges are also identical on the two laptops, which are quite well balanced and you can easily lift up the screen with just a single hand, while the body stays nicely in place. The two hinges found one on each side of the laptops are narrow, but sturdy and firm, and the the two Zenbooks both lift on the small feet on the bottom of the lid-covers when leaning the displays towards the back, which allows a better airflow towards the cooling grills on the bottom. The cooling systems are in fact similar as well, with the air being sucked from the bottom and then pushed through the metallic mesh between the two hinges, towards the user and towards the screen.
Regardless, let’s turn our attention on those two screens. We have 13 inch touchscreens covered by Gorilla Glass 3 on both of these. However, most UX301 versions are equipped with a 2560 x 1440 px IPS IGZO panel, while on the UX302 we have the more common 1920 x 1080 px IPS panel, which is also available on the UX301, but only for the cheapest models.
The latter is clearly not bad, offering good brightness levels and contrast, plus rich and saturated colors. The IGZO panel though is sharper and brighter. The colors are not as saturated as on the IPS panel found on the UX302 (richer yellows and oranges on this one), at least in my opinion. On top of that, there’s none of that light bleeding with this panel, something still present on the UX302’s display and something I’ve encountered on all past Zenbooks I’ve ever tested.
All in all, both laptops offer high-quality displays and you’ll be more than happy with either of them, but the UX301 does have an edge over the UX302 here. On the other hand, the higher density panel can be problematic, given Windows 8’s inability to scale up fonts and content properly, which means that occasionally, you’ll struggle with tiny interface elements.
But how about the keyboards? They are identical on the two laptops, with minimal differences in terms of colors and the coating on top of each keys, which is slightly softer on the UX301. That aside, you get the same feedback, backlighting system and layout, with the small arrow keys and the Power Button integrated in the top right corner. Overall though, I was satisfied with these keyboards, despite the rather shallow travel and the fact that the space key is annoyingly squeeky on both of them. Hear for yourselves.
The clickpads are good enough as well, large and with a smooth and accurate glass surface. The two pads are similar, with only minor aesthetic differences between them.
Hardware wise, the UX301 packs the 28 W Intel Core i7 processor, with Iris graphics, 8 GB of RAM and two SSDs in Raid 0. It uses NGFF SSDs and the memory is soldered on the motherboard, thus non-upgradeable.
The UX302 is more upgrade friendly. Our version comes with an Intel Core i7-4500U processor, Nivida 730M dedicatded graphics, 6 GB of RAM and a 2.5” 7mm SSD. The storage unit can be removed and replaced, and there’s also one accessible half-sized mSATA connector that leaves more room for upgrades. As for the memory, the laptop can take a total of up to 10 GB of RAM, as you do get 2 GBs soldered on the motherboard and a free slot that can take an up to 8 GB module.
Of course, both units are available in a bunch of different configurations, with Intel Core i5-4200U and Core i7-4500U processors, 4 to 8 GB of RAM, etc. The UX302 can either be configured with a HDD + a small caching SSD combo, on an SSD, and is available with or without dedicated graphics, as you can see from the Prices and Configurations section of the review.
But back to our two units. Performance wise, the UX301 is speedier than the UX302 when it comes to RAW CPU power, both in benchmarks and in everyday use. Details are available in the tables below.
|Asus Zenbook UX301LA||Asus Zenbook UX302LG|
|3DMark 11 Performance||P1294||P1789|
|3DMark Cloud Gate||5670||5125|
|3DMark Fire Strike
|Cinebench R11.5||OpenGL 22.34 fps, CPU 3.45 pts||OpenGL 38.36 fps, CPU 2.92 pts|
|Cinebench R15||OpenGL 27.02 fps, CPU 310 cb||OpenGL 47.88 fps, CPU 271 cb|
|AS SSD Benchmark Score||1328||724|
|Video Encoding *||111 sec||132 sec|
|Archiving **||10 sec||12 sec|
* a 2.30 minutes 1080 MOV imported in Movie maker, with the Edge Detection visual effect applied and then exported as “For High resolution displays”
** 220 MB worth of pictures archived using Windows 8 Send to Compressed Folder option
The two SSDs combined in RAID 0 also help it achieve much faster speeds when moving files from one place to another. In my example, I’m moving 2 GB of multimedia content between partitions. But that’s something that can be addressed with further upgrades on the UX302.
All in all, both laptops can easily deal with everyday activities, including browsing, multitaksing between several apps or running movies. However, when it comes to gaming, the dedicated graphics chip on the UX302 shows its strength. I’ve tested titles like BioShock Infinite, Skyrim, DIrt 3, Grid 2 or Starcraft 2 on both of these, and while the UX301 can run them fairly well on 13 x 7 resolution with low details, the UX302 runs them even smoother on 19 x 10 resolution.
You’ll find some fps scores in the table below, so you’ll know what to expect with each of them.
|1366 x 768 px low details
||Asus Zenbook UX301LA||Asus Zenbook UX302LG|
|Dirt 3||48 fps||78 fps|
|Grid 2||48 fps||81 fps|
|Skyrim||36 fps||60 fps|
|NFS Most Wanted||28 fps||44 fps|
|Bioshock Infinite||28 fps||42 fps|
|Metro Last Light*||17 fps||25 fps|
|Crysis 3||19 fps||22 fps|
* MetroLLBenchmark, scene D6
So overall, both these laptops are pretty fast for their classes, we’ve established that so far. But how about temperatures and sound. For starters, you should know that there are two fans inside each of these ultrabooks and you’ll hear them when pushing the laptops. However, the UX301 is slightly louder than the UX302 under load, at least based on what my non-professional iPhone app is telling me, as you can see here.
At the same time, HW Monitor and similar pieces of software show higher temperatures recorded for the internals on the UX301, with the CPU going over 90 degrees Celsius, while on the UX302, in similar conditions, it barely passes past 70. Those numbers are reflected on the outside as well, as both laptops tend to get hot on the bottom and on the area on top of the keyboard, but the palm rest and the actual keyboard remain fairly cool.
When used lightly though, the UX301 is mostly passively cooled, with the two fans turning completely OFF. That happens on the UX302 as well, although they do kick off from time to time, more often than those of the UX301 do.
There are a few others thing sworth mentioning. Both laptops offer a fast and reliable Intel 7260 wireless module, Wi-Fi 802.11AC compatible, and Bluetooth 4.0. There’s also Ethernet support with the included cable.
Besides that, you do get a set of stereo speakers on both of them, carved on the sides and pushing loud and good-quality sound, as long as you make sure to tweaks the output with the included AuzioWizard app.
OK, with these out of the way, there are two other important aspects to consider. The battery life is one. Both laptops pack 50 Wh batteries, although in slightly different versions. Even so, with everyday use (browsing, texts, some movies, screen at 50%, Power Saver Mode, Wi-Fi On), you can expect between 5 to 7 hours of life with both of these. That of course can get closer to 9, maybe 10 hours, when using them lightly with the screens dimmed down (Idle, screen at 0%, Wi-Fi OFF), or can barely get to 90 minutes on a charge, when playing games. In fact, under load, the UX301 eats through the battery about 10-15% faster than the UX302.
Here are a few results, recorded with Battery Bar after performing each task for 15 minutes. It’s not the best way to test batteries, but that’s what I could do right now, given the limited time I had with these units.
|Asus Zenbook UX301LA||Asus Zenbook UX302LG|
|idle, min screen brightness, Energy Saving, Wi-fi OFF||~5 mWh||~5 mWh|
|idle, 50% screen brightness, Power Saving, Wi-fi OFF||~6 mWh||~6.5 mWh|
|daily use, 50% screen brightness, Power Saving, Wi-fi ON||~8-9 mWh||~8 mWh|
|Cinebench R11.5, screen 100%, High Performance, CPU test||~32 mWh||~27 mWh|
|Cinebench R11.5, screen 100%, High Performance, openGL test||~42 mWh||~38 mWh|
OK, so we’ve finally reached the end of this comparison. But we’re not drawing the line before mentioning the prices.
The top UX301LA configuration that we have here is going to sell for somewhere around $2200, while the UX302LG, also the top configuration available, is going to sell for around $1600.
At the same time, the base versions of these two laptops, with the same Intel Core i5 processor and Intel HD 4400 graphicss, 4 GB of RAM, 128 GB SSD and similar Full HD screens start at about $1400 for the UX301, and close to $1200 for the UX302. You’ll find more details about prices and all the available configurations for each case in the reviews.
Long story short, no matter how you’re looking at this, the Zenbook UX301 is significantly more expensive than the UX302. For that, you’re getting a marginally slimmer and lighter device, the sturdier and more carefully polished body and the higher resolution screen (not on the cheapest option though). The 28 W hardware platform is only available for the top configuration. On the other hand, with the UX302 you get more ports and the dedicated graphics. The extra 2 mms and less than 100 grams don’t really make a difference in my opinion, but the more solid build quality of the UX301 does, to some extent.
In the end, it’s up to you to choose between these two. On a first look, there aren’t as many differences between them, but when getting in depth, you’ll find plenty of details that could steer you towards one or the other. I for one am torn between the two, but I’m leaning more towards the UX302, which runs cooler, offers the superior graphics and is much more affordable. It’s still powerful enough for everyday use and can run games, which can be nice.
On the other hand, the Core i7-4558U on the UX301 comes in handy when editing videos, working with large photos or multitasking between many apps. But at $2200… I don’t know; I’m not saying it’s overpriced, but for sure is EXPENSIVE. However, the UX301 is right now the only 13 inch ultrabook that offers this configuration, so if power is what you’re after, you don’t have a lot of options here. For now…
When it comes to lower end configurations, the UX302 becomes and even more attractive solution. For around $1400 you can get the Core i7 option with 8 GB of RAM and the dedicated graphics, plus a HDD+ SSD combo that can be latter upgraded to an SSD of your own liking. For the same kind of money, you’re only getting the Core i5-4200U with 4 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD on the UX301.
Still, like I said, the choice is yours. Both Zenbooks are good enough, have some minor quirks, but no deal-breaker. At the same time, you do get the competitors to consider as well, like the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro, the Sony Vaio Fit or Pro 13, the Acer Aspire S7 and last but not least, the MacBook Airs. But more about those in future posts.