The ASUS ZenBook series is a line of elegant, all-purpose laptops that promise to be the best in class in terms of both design and performance. That’s quite a bar to reach for. Does the ASUS ZenBook UX303UB manage to reach that bar or does it fall flat on its face?
Build and Design: 7/10
It’s hard to find a laptop these days that’s not a clone of Apple’s MacBook line-up and sadly, the ZenBook is no exception here. The lid and the cover are signature ASUS, featuring a silver ASUS logo embedded in brushed aluminium. Open up lid however, and you’ll be hard-pressed to tell it apart from a MacBook. The design language is very similar indeed. There are differences of course, but none worth mentioning.
The entire body seems to be made from Aluminium but inexplicably, the actual hinge mechanism seems to be made of plastic. In the two weeks we spent with the device, the plastic hinge wasn’t much of an issue and the it’s not like the screen wobbled any more or less than any laptop that we’re used to. We do wonder at the longevity of the design however.
The right-side of the device features an HDMI port, USB 2.0 port, mini-display port, 3.5mm combo jack and a socket for power. The left-side features two USB 3.0 ports and a card reader. The rear of the bottom panel is vented to allow for exhaust flow and the bottom seems to be vented as an intake.
Speakers are mounted on the bottom of the device, along the left and right edges. The placement, we felt, was a bit odd, but in practice, we found that audio quality and volume wasn’t too much of an issue.
Keyboard and trackpad: 6.5/10
The keyboard on the trackpad was quite decent, no complaints on that front. Key travel, backlight, etc. were exactly as one would expect from a laptop. Coming to the trackpad however, we have a complaint. While perfectly suitable for tracking the mouse, the trackpad was sorely lacking in performance when it came to scrolling and other gestures. Scrolling was just not as smooth as we've seen on other Windows laptops, which is why we're cutting a few points here.
In terms of specifications, the laptop has been adequately kitted out. You get an Intel Core i5-6200U, 8GB RAM and an Nvidia 940M GPU. We were hoping to see an SSD instead of an HDD, but this was not to be as the device comes with a 500GB HDD. As you well know, an SSD gives a significant boost to the response time of a system.
The display boasts of a resolution of 1920 x 1080, which might seem a bit low compared to the steady influx of 2K and 4K ready laptops, but the 13-inch screen means a DPI of 144, which is more than enough for a laptop. It runs Windows 10 Home OS.
Input / Output ports are also adequate. Two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, HDMI, mini-display port and a card reader are pretty much standard on most devices these days anyway. Thunderbolt would have been an interesting addition but honestly, would you ever use it? Thunderbolt drives are exceedingly rare and also expensive at the moment.
The laptop gets a 13.3-inch, 1080p IPS panel with a matte finish and we must say, the display was amazing. The display managed great contrast and black levels were spot on. The monitor did lose out in the white levels and sharpness department, but only slightly. Banding and response time seemed to be under control. Colour rendition and viewing angles were also very good, especially in movies.
The presence of an Nvidia GeForce 940M certainly gives the laptop some gaming chops, but this is no gaming powerhouse. All our gaming tests were conducted at 720p and here are the results:
As you can see from the scores, you can certainly game on the machine and lighter games like GRID: Autosport and Bioshock Infinite are crossing the magical 60FPS mark. Heavy games such a Metro: Last Light (this is not the Redux version) can manage playable frame-rates at low settings. We’d like to add that the games look surprisingly nice even at low settings and to be frank, will still look better than on an Xbox One or PS4.
In the synthetic tests, we saw scores of 40,349 in 3DMark's Ice Storm Extreme, 5,145 in Sky Diver, 2,572 in PCMark 8 and 274 in Cinebench R15. These are slightly above average scores and perfectly normal for a laptop of this type.
Idle and load temperatures were 53 and 74 degrees Celsius respectively. Those figures are indeed a little high, but considering that we could feel none of it on the palm rest and at the base, we're not complaining. One spot at the bottom did cross the 40 degree mark on the surface, but it was a small one and we couldn't really feel it under normal usage.
The laptop is very fast for daily use and we didn't notice any slowdown anywhere.
Coming to the speakers, we would classify them as adequate. Apple's iPad Pro line-up has shown what can be done with speakers when you really set your mind to it and the ZenBook doesn't even come close. The speakers are loud enough to be audible in an office environment and adequate for personal entertainment. Expecting more than that is asking for too much from this device.
Battery Life: 6/10
At well under 4 hours, battery life is quite low. We use PCMark 8's in-built battery benchmark for our battery tests and the test makes use of both the CPU and GPU for various tasks.
The battery life figure is not very good, but the results are understandable considering that the laptop is running an Nvidia 940M discrete GPU. The Lenovo Yoga 900, a device with an Intel Core i7-6500U processor, managed almost 5 hours without a GPU while offering lower performance on the gaming front. Obviously, if you're not keen on gaming, a laptop without a GPU will net you better battery life.
Verdict and Price in India
The ASUS ZenBook UX303UB is not a very remarkable laptop in most respects. It looks nice, has a lovely screen, adequate specs and performance to match. It's not quite as cutting edge as one would expect, but it's definitely not bad.
That said, the price of Rs 71,490 is very high for what's on offer. The HP Pavilion 15-ab214TX for example, offers a larger screen, an i7 CPU and the same graphics chip. Other laptops offer the same specs for a much lower price.
You might argue that you're paying for a slimmer device with a better design, and you would be right. Your ultimate decision depends on your needs and on whether you're willing to spend on design and aesthetics.
However, if you really want a slimmer, lighter device, the MacBook Air is cheaper and fits the bill perfectly. A more powerful device can be had for 70 percent of the price.
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