This is my detailed review of the Asus Zenbook UX305 series (UX305FA model), one of the few available ultraportables built on Intel’s Core M platform that you can buy at the time of this article
There are several reasons why this laptop should spark your interest: it has a slim, light and sexy metallic body, a matte high resolution display, fanless hardware inside and an attractive price. But it does have its share of quirks as well, as you’ll find from the post.
There is one thing I must stress from the beginning though, which should majorly impact your decision of buying a Zenbook UX305 or not. This is not as powerful as a regular ultrabook, but it can cope well with everyday activities. It can handle videos, browsing, Office use, music. On the other hand, it won’t play well with demanding software and chores and it’s not going to be as responsive as a Broadwell U or a Haswell U machine. If you’re fine with these particular aspects, then the UX305 could be what you’re looking for. Otherwise, look elsewhere.
Update: Asus just announced that the UX305FA model with the Core M-5Y10 processor, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD and a FHD matte panel is available for only $699 in the United States, which makes it much more affordable than any other similar devices. For that kind of money, if you only need a computer for light daily tasks, you’ll hardly find something better than this Zenbook UX305 right now.
Update2: An updated version of the UX305FA is in the works right now, called the Zenbook UX305CA, which bundles a Skylake Core M hardware platform and promises to improve performance and battery life.
Disclaimer: This review is based on my experience with a pre-production version of the Zenbook UX305 and a follow-up with a final-retail model, identical to the ones in stores. I’ve used both for a total of about 10 days. I’ve received both of them from Asus for the purpose of this review and were sent back afterwards.
Asus Zenbook UX305 video review
The specs sheet for the Asus Zenbook UX305
||Asus Zenbook UX305FA
||13.3 inch, 3200 x 1800 px resolution, IPS, matte, non-touch
||Intel Broadwell Y Core M-5Y10 CPU
||integrated Intel 5300 HD
||8 GB LPDDR3
||256 GB M.2 NGFF SSD
||Wireless N, Bluetooth, LAN (with adapter)
||3xUSB 3.0, micro-HDMI, SD card reader, headphone jack
||324 x 226 x 12.3 mm (12.7” x 8.9” x 0.48”)
||1.23 (2.7 lbs)
||the keyboard is not backlit, available in two colors: Obsidian Stone or Ceramic Alloy
Design and exterior
This Zenbook UX305 is one of the most slender laptops you can buy right now, with its 12.3 mm body. It only weighs around 1.23 kilos (but to be fair, it is actually heavier than you’d expect at first sight) and is fairly compact as well, nearly as compact as the Dell XPS 13 (the 2014 model), as you can see from the narrow lateral bezel around the display.
But despite these, the build quality is spectacular and the laptop feels strong as a brick. Metal is used for the entire case, even for the underbelly. The hood sports the shiny Asus logo and the characteristic ripple pattern we’ve seen on all the other Zenbooks, while the interior is made from a simpler, smoother material. Our version comes in the darker Obsidian Stone color, but Asus will also offer a lighter model in Ceramic Alloy, which should look spectacular, but might scratch and dent easier than this one that’s closer to the natural color of brushed aluminum.
Metal is used for the screen’s hinge as well and in fact the only plastic you’ll find on this thing is the bezel around the display. And even that part looks and feels premium. As a side note, I did notice that the plastic bezel was a bit too tight on the screen on one of the models I’ve tested, which caused a bit of light bleeding on the panel’s lower edge.
Anyway, there’s very little anyone could complain about when it comes to the UX305’s looks and build quality. Except for those stickers on the interior, which I for one would peel off the moment I’d take this out of the box.
But this laptop is not just beautiful, it’s practical as well. Four large rubber feet are placed on the belly, making sure it sits firmly on your desk. The palm-rest is spacious and allows for a comfortable typing position, enhanced by the laptop’s low front profile, the chamfered edges and the fact that the whole body elevates on the two small feet placed on the lid cover’s lower end, as you can see in the video.
On the sides you’ll find a decent selection of ports, with 3 USB 3.0 slots, an SD card-reader, micro-HDMI video output, a headphone/microphone jack and some status LEDs. Asus includes an USB to LAN adapter in the pack, but it would have been nice if they included a micro-HDMI to HDMI adapter as well. They don’t, so you’ll just have to buy it yourselves. There is however a protective sleeve included.
As a side note, there’s no USB 2.0 slot on this machine, which might be problematic if you have some older accessories that are not compatible with the newer standard. There’s also no DP port, thus driving a high-resolution external monitor at 60 Hz could be problematic.
Keyboard and trackpad
You probably noticed already that the keyboard and the trackpad occupy most of the laptop’s interior.
The typing experience is fairly good, although not spectacular. As expected on such a thin laptop, Asus had to sacrifice key travel to some extent, but even so the stroke seems deeper to me than on some of the other ultraportables I’ve tested lately, including the XPS 13 2015. The layout is standard, except for the tiny Arrow keys and the Power button integrated as the top-right key, which I ended up hitting from time to time when actually aiming for delete. That’s annoying, since it puts the computer to sleep.
However, what will probably bother you most when it comes to this keyboard is the lack of backlighting, which should be a must on higher end laptops these days.
Decent keyboard and clickpad
Moving on, the trackpad is spacious, smooth and nicely separated from the palm-rest by a chamfered contour. It’s a clickpad, a bit stiff to press and quite noisy. The latter is especially annoying, since even the gentlest of taps cause the whole ensemble to rattle.
The sample I initially reviewed had a flawed trackpad, with a jumpy cursor and difficulties in registering gentle taps. The retail version provided a far better experience though, and that’s what you should expect from the UX305s you’ll be able to find in stores.
Swipes and taps worked fine, even when requiring extreme precision, I no longer encountered fake or palm-clicks and gestures were handled properly as well (Back and Forward are not supported). On top of these, the surface worked fine when keeping one finger down on the click area and swiping around with another, something other trackpads available on Windows machines struggle with.
However, this is an Asus Touchpad, thus you’ll be stuck with Asus’s drivers and their Smart Gesture app, which from what I can tell, does not allow fine tuning. Cursor velocity and tap speed were the ones I would have wanted to tweak a bit more. In fact, these and the surface’s overall feel left me with mixed feeling about this implementation. It’s definitely not bad, but it’s not very good either.
The UX305 is only bundled with matte non-touch displays, which is actually a huge thing, especially since the vast majority of portable laptops available these days pack glossy touchscreens. As a result, the Zenbook can be comfortably actually used outside in bright light and doesn’t have to deal with reflections and glare.
On top of that, the panel’s overall quality is solid, as you can conclude from the numbers below.
- Panel HardwareID: Samsung SDC374A;
- Coverage: 99% sRGB, 73% NTSC, 77% AdobeRGB;
- measured gamma: 2.2;
- max brightness in the middle of the screen: 338 cd/m2 on power;
- contrast at max brightness: 330:1;
- white point: 7000 K;
- black on max brightness: 1.03 cd/m2;
- average DeltaE: 1.76 uncalibrated, 1.69 calibrated .
Our versions came with the higher end 3200 x 1800 px IPS panel, and Asus also offers a 1080p option on the lower end models. Regardless, I appreciated the brightness, the sharpness and the excellent viewing angles, the gamma and the White Point. The contrast is rather poor though, mostly because blacks are not deep enough. But the colors are accurate according to my tools, although Yellows and Blues still seem a bit muddy, but are definitely not as skewed as on the Asus UX303LN or the other devices that rely on QHD+ Samsung made panels (like the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro).
Of course, not all apps scale properly on a high-resolution display, as you can see in the video, but that’s something I can live with. If you don’t, you can go for the lower res panel instead, which should help boost battery life and to some point, performance as well, since the laptop will have less pixels to push.
I should also mention that out of the box, you’ll notice some annoying brightness adjustments when switching between Dark and Light content. You’ll definitely want to switch that OFF from the Intel HD Graphics Control Panel >> Power >> On Battery and Disable the Display Power Saving Technology (and in fact the other options in here as well).
I can’t share anything about the FHD panel’s quality, since I’ve yet to test it. I’d expect it to be at least decent though. If any of you happen to own an UX305 with a FHD panel and a colorimeter, please get in touch with your results, I’d love to feature them here.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
Speaking of performance, you should know that our test unit comes with an Intel Core M 5Y10 processor (stepping E0 according to HWInfo, not F0 as some forums were rumoring), 8 GB of RAM and a fast 256 GB M.2 SSD (Sandisk SD7SN3Q256G1002), which is the beefiest configuration Asus will offer for this series.
The memory is soldered on the motherboard, so you’ll be stuck with what you’re choosing from the beginning (either 4 or 8 GB), but you can upgrade the storage if you want to, with compatible M.2 NGFF 80 mm sticks. For that you’ll need to pry open the back panel, hold in place by a dozen of Torx and Philips screws. It’s not complicated, just be aware there are two extra screws hidden behind the laptop’s rear rubber feet.
As I said in the beginning and as we’ve seen in our other reviews, the Core M platform is generally not very fast, which was to be expected, since it is a Broadwell Y architecture with a low TDP. The Core M 5Y10 processor is a base model in this line, with a 4.5W TDP, so we shouldn’t expect much from it. And it can’t deliver much either.
As long as you’ll stick to basic activities like browsing with only several tabs opened, watching video content (both streamed or from the computer), editing documents, listening to music, chatting with your friends, etc, you’re going to be fine. However, you might still encounter hiccups when switching between the apps, so try to keep multitasking at bare minimum.
On top of that, there’s still a general impression of sluggishness, a lack of instant response, even when performing the most basic of chores, like launching a browser or opening a new Explorer window. I’m probably biased here, since I’m used to much faster computers and my tolerance for delays is basically NILL, but I still had to mention this, so you don’t build up false expectations.
I’d also have to note that the overall browsing experience in Chrome is still not as smooth as in Firefox, and especially in IE. Watching Youtube clips in CHrome and even loading normal websites still pushes the CPU to higher loads than in those other two browsers, which also translates in poorer efficiency. My initial Chrome experience with the pre-production UX305 was appalling. That was no longer the case with the final retail unit, which still struggled here and there though, so I’d say Core M is still not properly optimized for Chrome and sticking with Internet Explorer or even Firefox leads to a more enjoyable experience.
I also ran a couple on benchmarks and put the UX305 to stress with Prime 95 and Furmark. The results are listed below, and then you can read some of my conclusions after using these devices.
- 3DMark 11: P672;
- 3DMark 13: Ice Storm – 26714, Cloud Gate – 2889, Sky Diver – 1432, Fire Strike – 390;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 1734;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 15.04 fps, CPU 1.69 pts, CPU Single Core 0.96 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 18.24 fps, CPU 151 pts, CPU Single Core 82 pts.
- x264 Benchmark 4.0: Pass 1 – 69.98 fps, Pass 2 – 12.59 fps.
As long as you keep the computer on the Balanced Mode, it tends to run at the maximum Turbo Boost frequency of 2.0 GHz in everyday use, when required of course. On PowerSaver the frequency is more frequently capped and the laptop becomes slower, so I ended up not using this mode much, plus I haven’t noticed any massive boost in energy efficiency that would justify the diminished speed.
That aside, the processor tends to run at its core 4.5 W TDP most of the time, but HWInfo records spikes of up to 6 W in some tests and situations. Under continuous heavy load and under stress, the package keeps its Core wattage of 4.5 W.
I initially put the pre-production model to stress with Prime95 and Furmark.
- Stressing the CPU only with Prime 95 makes it stabilize at about 1.150 GHz and reach average temperatures of about 75 C;
- Stressing the GPU only with Furmark leads to an average clock speed of about 300 Mhz;
- Stressing both leads makes the CPU stabilize at around 580 MHz and the graphics at about 225 Mhz, with CPU temperatures of 75 C as well.
In other words, under intense heavy load that UX305 model overheated and throttled. That was however visible only in benchmarks, both when stress testing the computer, but also when running some tests several times in a row. In everyday use though, I could barely see any signs of throttling.
The retail model no longer displayed any diminished performance in benchmarks, not even when running Cinebench R15 for between 5 to 10 times in a row. I didn’t get to run Prime95 and Furmark on this version, but I did not notice any signs of throttling in actual use, even when trying more demanding tasks, like games.
The Core M 5Y10 processor is bundled with Intel’s HD 5300 graphics, a mid to low-end integrated solution. As a result, it’s not capable of handling the latest titles, but it can cope well with some older games. I’ve tried a few, and Intel also compiled a list of games that are playable on this chip, available over here.
||13 x 7 Low
|NFS Most Wanted
I also tried Age of Empire 2 HD and got around 30-35 fps at the screen’s native QHD+ res. In conclusion, this is clearly not a computer for games, but it can still handle well-enough some older titles.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
Ok, so far we only know that the UX305 is not very powerful, which was in fact expected from a base Core M configuration. We also know that it’s fanless, thus absolutely quiet in every situation, which I for one really appreciate, as I tend to work long hours into the night. BTW, for a detailed list of all the available fanless laptops, follow this link.
On the other hand, having no fans leads to a rather limited passive-cooling solution, and that’s why the laptop’s back tends to get warm easily, even when performing the lightest of activities. Run some videos and a heavier browsing session and the back (but also the area above the keyboard, on the interior) will jump to 35 degrees Celsius or more, which is barely comfortable anymore for lap use.
But while somewhat annoying, that’s just something you’ll have to live with in a fanless computer that’s as slim as this one, and on top of that, has a metallic body (which spreads the heat easier than a plastic shell). As a good news though, the palm-rest and the lower-part of the keyboard only get warm even under heavy load, so unless you actually use the laptop on your lap, the UX305’s case temperatures should not affect you that much in everyday use.
In fact, it’s worth noting that the UX305, with it’s fanless cooling, is more or less on par when it comes to case temperatures with some of the Broadwell U fan cooled laptops, like the Dell XPS 13 2015 and the Acer Aspire S7 393.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in IE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing Need for Speed Most Wanted for 30 minutes
Connectivity wise, there’s Wireless N and Bluetooth on the Zenbook UX305, plus Fast Ethernet with the USB to LAN dongle included in the pack. Not much to comment on the latter two, but I will say Asus went with the Intel 7265 NGW wireless chip on this thing and it’s a decent performer. However, the Intel chip is not very fast. The UX305 was able to reach speeds of around 100 Mbps right next to my router, which is close to the other laptops I’ve tested lately. At 30 feet with 3 walls in between though, the speed drops under 30 Mbps, despite the fact that the signal strength remains at 5 bars.
Now, truth be told, this hasn’t drag me down during my tests and the laptop handled well even tasks like streaming a 4K Youtube clip, with no buffering at all. But if you want to download stuff of the Internet and have a fast connection in your house, the UX305’s Wi-Fi might not deliver the speeds you might expect.
That aside, the speakers on this mini laptop are decent. They are placed on the belly, like on all the Zenbooks launched in the last years and aren’t spectacularly loud or capable of pushing great quality sound. In fact, they are rather muted and lack the volume to fill up a larger room. But they don’t distort, cause no vibrations in the body and overall sound well enough for a laptop as thin as this one.
Last but not least there’s the webcam, placed on top of the display (with a microphone pin positioned just above the F1 key, on the main frame). It’s decent, grainy in most conditions, but will do fine for occasional Skype or Hangout calls.
Asus put a fairly large battery on the UX305. In fact, having a look at the internals, you’ll notice that the 45 Wh battery occupies most of space inside the case. Even so, the Core M platform is not as efficient I was hoping.
Asus advertises up to 10 hours of use on this laptop, and you’ll get them if it sits idle. In everyday use though, expect between 5 to 8 hours on a charge. Check out the numbers below (screen at 40% = ~120 nits).
- 3.5 W (~13 h of use) – idle, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 6.5 W (~7 h of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7.5 W (~6 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 9 W (~5 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in VLC Player, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 9 W (~5 h of use) – medium browsing in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 10 W (~4 h 15 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Chrome, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON.
Expect 5 to 8 hours of battery life from the Zenbook UX305
The laptop is bundled with a compact 20W power brick with a long enough cable. It charges with a maximum rate of 20 W per hour, so a full recharge will take around 2 hours and 30 minutes, as it trickles at the end.
Price and availability
Update: As of Mid-February the base version of the UX305FA is available in the US. It sells for only $699 and includes the Core M-5Y10 processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 256 GB SSD and the FHD matte non-touch display, which makes it a darn good deal if you ask me. Follow this link for more details. You’ll find there both a version sold by Asus and also a Signature Edition without any bloatware, available from Microsoft Store.
The higher resolution screen models will be available later this year, for $999 and up.
The Asus Zenbook UX305FA is also available in Europe, starting at roughly 700 euro for a configuration that includes the Core M 5Y10 processor, 4 GB of RAM, a 128 GB SSD and a 1920 x 1080 px matte non-touch display. Remember, the RAM is soldered on the motherboard, so if you choose this version, you’ll be stuck with only 4 GB of memory for good.
The version we tested here sells for closer to 1000 euro, with the same processor, but 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD storage space and the 3200 x 1800 px IPS screen, while the 8 GB RAM/ 256 GB SSD / FHD screen models sell for around 900 euro.
I’ve also seen mentions of some Core M 5Y71 configurations available in Asia, but I can’t tell whether those will make their way to Europe and America anytime soon.
Expect to pay between $700 and $1000 for a Zenbook UX305 at launch
Ok, so at the end of the day, if you want a compact and light 13-inch laptop that runs completely quiet, offers a nice display and enough horsepower for daily chores, the Zenbook UX305 could be the right device for you, especially since it retails for a lot less than anything similar.
The major selling points are the fanless experience, the slim body, the solid craftsmanship and the matte screen. On the other hand, the overall performance, the non-backlit keyboard and the only average battery life might be enough to steer you towards something else. Still, $699 won’t buy you another modern configuration with 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD and an IPS display in such a sleek body and that’s why this package is a great deal, if you’re fine with the laptop’s and the hardware platform’s limitations.
That’s why the above mentioned Zenbook UX305 configuration scores a 4 out of 5 from us and a Recommended Buy Award.
Whether the more premium-priced options are worth your hard earned buck or not, that’s up to you to decide. On one hand those are a lot closer in price to some of the Haswell and Broadwell U ultrabooks, but at the same time keep the same core strengths, and especially the fanless platform.
If you’re after a thin and light ultraportable and only plan to use it lightly, the Zenbook UX305FA could be the right pick for you
Overall, I believe the UX305 is a better deal than the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro or the New Apple MacBook, as it sells for a lot less than those and is only marginally slower. However, make sure you understand exactly what this thing is, what it can and it cannot accomplish. As I stressed in the beginning, it can be a good everyday laptop for the average user that does not need blistering fast performance or incredibly advanced features, but the border between such a Core M laptop and the other ULV powered ultrabooks available these days is so blurred that it’s hard to say for sure whether you, as the buyer, will be happier with something like this Zenbook, or some of the faster, but fan-cooled options.
If you do need the speed though, or some of the other things you’re not going to get with the UX305, like a touchscreen, longer battery life or maybe a backlit keyboard, check out my selection of recommended 13 inch ultra-portables, or better yet, my full list of Broadwell U machines. You could also consider the Asus Transformer Book Chi T300, the detachable kin of this Zenbook.
Anyway, that wraps it up for now. Let me know what you think about the Asus Zenbook UX305FA in the comment sections below and if you have any questions or things to add to the post, do it, I’m around to reply and help out if needed.
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