If you’re looking for a sleek and light 13-inch laptop with Broadwell U hardware and a matte IPS display, the Asus Zenbook UX305LA should definitely be on your list.
It’s available in stores around the world and I’ve got to spend some time with a test-sample, enough to put together a few impressions on this machine and run a set of standard tests. I’ll be sharing them with you in this post.
The Zenbook UX305LA is similar in many ways to the Zenbook UX305FA, with whom it shares most of its design lines, the keyboard, the trackpad, the IO and the screen. It is however slightly thicker and heavier, and that’s because it houses a larger battery and 5th Gen Intel Core i processors.
The UX305FA on the other hand is motorized by Intel’s Core M hardware, which has the great benefit of being a fanless platform, but at the same time might not be fast enough for some of you. And here’s where the UX305LA comes to play, as a beefier configuration capable o tackling those chores the UX305FA cannot.
Update: Asus released an updated version of this model, called the UX305CA, which is pretty much the same device, but with Skylake hardware inside.
Update2: As of the second half of 2016, the Zenbook UX305UA was also replaced with a newer and improved Zenbook UX306UA. You can read all about it here.
The specs sheet for the Asus Zenbook UX305LA
|Asus Zenbook UX305LA
|Screen||13.3 inch, 1920 x 1080 px resolution, IPS, matte, non-touch|
|Processor||Intel Broadwell U Core i5-5200U|
|Graphics||Integrated Intel 5500 HD|
|Memory||8 GB LPDDR3|
|Storage||128 GB M.2 SATA3 SSD (Micron M600)|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC (Intel 7265 Dual Band), Bluetooth, LAN (with adapter)|
|Ports||3xUSB 3.0, micro-HDMI, SD card reader, headphone jack|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1|
|Size||324 x 226 x 14.9 mm (12.7” x 8.9” x 0.58”)|
|Weight||1.3 (2.85 lbs)|
|Extras||non-backlit keyboard, available in two colors: Aurora Metallic or Obsidian Stone|
Asus will offer the UX305LA in a bunch of different configurations, with Core i3, i5 or i7 Broadwell U processors, 4 or 8 GB of RAM, 128 to 512 GB SSDs and either a FHD or a QHD+ matte display.
Design and exterior
Aesthetically, the UX305LA is simpler than all the Asus ultrabooks before. Previous Zenbooks sported a pattern of concentric circles on the hood in one way or another and that particular detail is gone here, leaving a smooth, plain metallic lid cover that feels a lot like the ones on the Apple Macbook Air or the Dell XPS 13. The only element breaking the spartan design is the shiny logo. We do have what Asus calls the Aurora Metallic version here, but they’ll also offer a darker color scheme called Obsidian Stone, which will feature the rippled pattern.
The entire body is made out of aluminum, which covers the hood, the interior and the belly. In fact, the only plastic element is the bezel around the screen, flanked by a thin layer or protective rubber, meant to ensure that the display won’t get in contact with the laptop’s body when the screen is closed.
The inner chassis is partially cast out of metal as well, so when it comes to durability and build quality, the UX303LA is tough. Yes, there’s still some flex on the lid and especially in the keyboard area, but nothing that could be of any concern in daily use or could jeopardize the components inside.
The screen is hold in place by a long hinge stretching across the laptop’s length, an approach borrowed from previous Zenbooks. One thing is different though: I could effortlessly lift the screen with a single hand, while the lower-body remained still on the table, something Macbook users are for sure familiar with, but at the same time is a rarity on Windows ultrabooks.
The hinge is also firm enough to keep the display in any position you might set it up, which shows someone at Asus actually took note and improved the entire mechanism. Hopefully they made it more reliable as well, as many buyers complained about the hinge breaking easily on the previous Zenbook UX303 series.
I have one more thing to add here: there are two tiny plastic feet on the laptop’s back edge and the device is actually lifted on those feet when you open the display past 90 degrees. That makes it rather difficult to keep in place on a desk, especially if it’s a shinny one, since the plastic feet provide very little friction, unlike the actual rubber feet on the belly. But at the same time this trait creates extra room below the laptop which will help with airflow.
Speaking of airflow, since there’s a Broadwell U platform inside the UX305LA a fan and better ventilation were needed. As a result, Asus added some intake vents on the belly, to complement those under the hinge. The exhaust is still behind the hinge, but there’s a bigger gap between the actual hinge and the cooling grills on this design than on previous Zenbooks, which creates more space for the heat to go out or the fresh air to get in. And that actually helps, as you’ll see below, in the temperatures section.
That aside, the UX305LA gets the interior design and the IO from the UX305FA. There’s a fairly large palm-rest with blunt tapered edges around, and while this model does not get the very low profile of the UX305FA, is still slim enough so the edges won’t cut into your wrists in any way while using it on a desk.
As for the IO, you’ll be getting 3x USB 3.0 slots, a card-reader (an SD card will only go in half-way though) and a micro-HDMI connector. It’s a pity Asus could not make room for a full-sized HDMI port on this thing. Some adapters will be included in the pack, but not a micro-HDMI to HDMI dongle. The DCIN is placed on the right edge and personally I prefer to have it on the left and leave the right side as uncluttered as possible.
The screen on the UX305LA is splendid, except for one aspect that Asus could actually address on the final release models: color calibration. Greens, Blues and especially the White Point were completely skewed out of the box on this unit that I got to play with, but a calibration run with my Spyder4 turned the panel in one of the most color-accurate I’ve seen in a while on 13 inch laptops. This sort of calibration should be included by default, cause the panel is really good and Asus needs to take advantage of it.
That aside, you’ll enjoy the brightness, contrast and viewing angles of this display. Since it’s matte and fairly bright, it can also be used in well illuminated rooms and even outside. It does not support touch though and a model with a touchscreen will not be available, from what I know right now. But if you do want a Zenbook with modern hardware and a touchscreen, you should check out the UX303LA.
- Panel HardwareID: AU Optronics AUO212D (B133HAN02.1);
- Coverage: 98% sRGB, 69% NTSC, 74% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.1;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 305 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 750:1;
- White point: 8100 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.40 cd/m2;
- Average DeltaE: 5.63 uncalibrated, 0.83 calibrated .
I do have to complain about the screen’s rather limited opening angle, as it only leans back to about 130 degrees, which is an inconvenience when using the laptop anywhere but on a desk.
Also, keep in mind that this screen comes with a Brightness sensor as well as a bunch of Intel Power Saving technologies. All of them are active by default and can cause brief brightness and contrast changes from time to time. Personally, I like to turn them OFF and control the brightness manually, but if you don’t do it properly this could affect your battery life and even cause eye fatigue (if you’ll keep the panel brighter than required).
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard on the UX305LA feels identical to the one on the Zenbook UX305FA.
I’ve typed about 5000 words on it the last weekend, including this review, and I can conclude that it’s pretty good for a thin and light computer. The keys travel fairly deep into the chassis, deeper than on my Dell XPS 13 for instance, and feel mostly firm and responsive.
However, they lack a precise click response which means you can’t intuitively tell whether a hit has been registered properly or not, at least with my style of typing. That lead to a fair amount of missed strokes in the first hours of using this keyboard. I kind of got used to having to hit each key a bit harder after a while, but that had a negative impact on my typing speed.
I also found that typing on this keyboard is rather noisy, with the Space key being especially loud, which could be an inconvenience for those you working in quiet environments.
The layout on the other hand is standard for a Zenbook and mostly alright. You do have to live with the tiny arrow keys and the Power button integrated as the top-right key.
However, you need to be aware the keyboard is not backlit on the Zenbook UX305LA and that can be a major deal-breaker. The black keys on the silver background are fairly visible and use contrast to their benefit, but in poor light that’s not going to help much and it’s truly a pity Asus decided not to add illumination on this series. Many complained about the lack of it on the UX305FA and that one is a niche product. I expect far more will complain about it here and even be steered away from the UX305LA by this omission.
Then there’s the trackpad. It’s proper sized, smooth and properly separated from the palm-rest. It’s also fairly accurate and registers taps and gestures well, even those very gentle taps and swipes. The surface is click-able, but at the same time stiff and clunky. I’m a tap user so that did not bother me that much, but of you’re used to actually pressing for clicks, the UX305LA might not provide the experience you’d expect.
Unfortunately there’s no way to actually adjust the cursor’s speed or response, since this is an Asus TouchPad and the drivers offer almost no room for customization. That for me has been an issue with all the Asus laptops tested in the last years and there’s no sign something is going to change in the near future.
In conclusion, everyday users should find the keyboard and clickpad on this laptop good enough. Those who type for a living though might want to look somewhere else.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
As mentioned earlier, the Zenbook UX305LA bundles Intel Broadwell U hardware inside. We have a mid-level configuration here with an Intel Core i5-5200U processor, 8 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD and I believe this would be the ideal configuration for the average buyer.
Asus will offer Core i3 and i7 processors for this series, as well as options with only 4 GB of RAM and more SSD storage. However, the Core i5 processor will suffice for most of you. The Core i7 would only be recommended if you need a more powerful machine, as the i7-5500U is a fair bit faster than the i5-5200U as you can see from this post, but will take its toll on temperatures and battery life.
On the other hand, I’d stay away from the version with only 4 GB of RAM, because the memory is soldered on the motherboard and cannot be later upgraded, so you’ll have to stick with what you get from the beginning. The storage is upgradeable though and the laptop uses standard M.2 SATA3 80mm sticks (a pretty good Micro M600 unit was installed on this test unit, although not the fastest option out there). You can opt to buy a larger SSD from Asus if the price is going to be correct, but it will probably be cheaper to get the version with the 128 GB SSD and then stick a 512 Gigs or maybe a 1 TB stick in its place. Your call.
You’ll have to pry open the back panel in order to get to the hardware and for that Torx and Philips screwdrivers will be required. The Torx T00 screws are laid around the belly, while the Philips screws are hidden behind the two rear rubber feet. Careful how you peel them of so you don’t scratch the aluminum surface and keep in mind you’ll have to put them back, so try not to ruin the glue.
All these aside, the Zenbook UX305LA is fast. This particular configuration got the best benchmark results of any Core i5-5200U configuration tested so far, but since it isn’t a final production unit, I’m not going to include them here.
The laptops flies in everyday use, boots up quickly, resumes from sleep in about one second and handled well all the basic tasks I threw at it, including browsing, watching all sorts of video content and playing some PC games like Starcraft 2, Dota 2 or Dirt 3. The Intel HD 5500 graphics can only offer that much though, so don’t expect it to be spectacular for gaming. I’m not going to get in depth here, but you should check out my review of the Dell XPS 13 for what exactly you can expect from this Intel platform in games.
Software wise, the UX305LA comes with Windows 8.1 of course and a few preinstalled programs, both a bunch of Asus apps (including one called GiftBox which is basically a doorway for various other Asus software) and a few trials (Office, antivirus, etc). You should get rid of them all or better yet, if the Microsoft Store is going to sell this laptop in your country, try to get one of their Signature Edition versions with no bloatware at all.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
There’s a fan inside the UX305LA, but it remains mostly inactive with everyday use, when watching movies, browsing or editing texts. It does kick on from time to time, but even then it’s barely audible. When it does become active though it emits a low-frequency hum unlike the resonance of other laptops I’ve tested in the past and I for one find it somewhat annoying in perfectly quiet rooms. You will also feel the back panel gently vibrating when the fan is spinning, which could amplify the noise in certain conditions.
Putting the hardware to serious work or running games will ramp up the temperatures though and cause the fan to spin faster and louder. Even so, the noise level remains fairly low and it’s nothing the speakers can’t cover in daily use.
Compared to my Dell XPS 13 2015, I’d say the fan kicks on a faster on the Zenbook, but is also quieter under load and far quicker to turn off when you finish with the demanding tasks.
As for temperatures, the hottest part on this laptop is the area on the interior, on top of the keyboard. It gets close to 35 degrees in daily use and around 45 degrees when playing games, which is on par with the other metallic 13-inchers tested in the last months. The belly on the other side remains cooler than on the XPS 13, the Acer Aspire S7 or the fanless Zenbook UX305FA, which makes this machine appropriate for lap use. *Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in IE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing Need for Speed Most Wanted for 30 minutes
The speakers on this Zenbook are quite good. There are two of them, placed on the belly, towards the left and right edges. They don’t push out spectacular sound, but are loud and don’t distort at high volume, so I’d say most of your should be happy with what they’re capable of. From what I remember, those on the UX305FA tested a while ago weren’t as loud and punchy, so I was a bit surprised by the LA model here.
Connectivity wise, there’s Bluetooth, Lan (with the included USB adapter) and Wi-Fi AC. Asus use the Intel 7265 Dual-Band Wireless AC module here and it’s a pretty good one, capable of reaching fast speeds if you’re in close proximity of the router. The speeds and signal strength drop rather quickly though once you get a bit further away with obstacles in between. At 30 feet with 2 walls the laptop was still capable of streaming 4K content of Youtube smoothly, but once you get even further it start to struggle and bring up buffering periods. That’s something to be aware of in case you have dodgy signal in your room/house/office.
There’s also a webcam on the UX305LA, on top of the screen, like with most other laptops. It’s decent for occasional Skype calls, but using it at night or in poor light results in very noisy images.
Asus put a 56 Wh battery inside this laptop, bigger than what they have on the UX305FA or the UX303LA models. That, paired with the FHD screen and the Core i5-5200U processor, translates in about 6 to 10 hours of daily use on a charge, which is not bad at all.
Here’s what you should expect (the screen’s brightness is manually set at around 120 nits):
- 5 W (~11 h of use) – idle, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 5.5 W (~10 h of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.5 W (~10 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 6.5 W (~8 h 30 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in VLC Player, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 9 W (~6 h of use) – heavy browsing in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7 W (~8 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Chrome, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON.
Keep in mind that I am talking about a pre-production model here, but the platform has been around for a few months now and the numbers above look just about right to me, so I don’t think you should expect any major changes on the final production models.
Asus claim on their site the laptop will last for 12 hours of “daily working”, but there are no details on what they mean by that. And given my previous experience with many other Broadwell U notebooks, I really doubt a 13 incher with similar specs would be able to squeeze that much out of a 56 Wh battery in actual use. Dell claims 15h on the XPS 13 and it only lasts 7-8 in real life. This Zenbook actually outlasts it.
That aside, you should know that the laptop is paired with a 45W power adapter and filling-up the battery from 10 to 99% takes around 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Price and availability
The UX305LA was initially launched here in Europe in July, but only reached the US in late August.
A mid-level configuration of the UX305LA, with a Core i5-5200U processor, 4 GB of RAM, 128 GB SSD and the FHD display sells for around 700 EUR here in Europe. Beefier configurations with Core i7 processors, 8 GB of RAM, 256 or 512 GB SSDs or a 3200 x 1800 px matte display are also be available, with price tags between 800 and 1200 EUR.
In the US the Zenbook UX305LA is only available with a Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD at the time of this update (late October) and can be found in several stores for around $750. Follow this link for up-to-date info on the available configurations, prices and availability at the time you’re reading this post.
At the end of the day, the Zenbook UX305LA is a really good laptop. In fact, it’s a great buy if you consider the price you’ll be paying for the specs.
It’s nicely built and beautiful, like most of its predecessors were. It’s also powerful and fast, for what it is of course, like all the other ultraportables built on Intel’s Broadwell U hardware, and last for up to 10 hours of daily use on a single charge. The keyboard and the screen are the ones setting it apart from most competitors though and could turn some of you towards something else.
Many users will appreciate the display’s matte finishing, especially since the options for premium ultrabooks with matte screens is limited (mostly to the Dell XPS 13 2015), but at the same time plenty of users actually appreciate touchscreens, and the UX305LA does not offer one. Still, I think Asus made the right call here, since they already offered the UX303LA series with Broadwell U hardware and a touch panel.
On the other hand, the lack of a non-backlit keyboard on a premium option launched in 2015 makes absolutely no sense to me and it’s my major gripe with this machine. Not the only one though. For instance, I still believe there’s room for improvement in the typing experience and I would have appreciated full-size HDMI or perhaps a miniDP slot on this laptop, instead of the same IO as on the thinner UX305FA.
Now, Dell XPS 13 2015 is the overall superior alternative for this Zenbook, with a more compact and slightly lighter body, more advanced IO and a better keyboard with backlit keys. However, a basic Core i5 XPS config sells for around $900 right now, while the options with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of SSD storage sell for over 1G. Asus nailed it with competitive prices for this series, selling the UX305LA for $250-$350 less than Dell’s model, as mentioned above.
Long story short, the Zenbook UX305LA has many of the right ingredients required to become a popular ultrabook in the months to come and is one of the better mid-level Zenbooks I’ve got my hands on in the last years.
With that in mind we’ll bring this post to a halt. Let me know what you think about the Asus UX305LA in the comments section below and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or anything to add, I’m around to help out if possible.