ASUS ZenBook UX303UB

Price: from 1284$ to 1314$
  • Article: ASUS ZenBook UX303UB 13.3-Inch QHD+ Touchscreen Laptop, Intel Core i7, 12 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, Discrete GPU Nvidia GT940M, Windows 10 (64 bit) laptop
  • Type: Gaming laptop
  • Operating system: Windows 10
  • RAM: 12 GB
  • CPU: Intel Core i7
  • CPU frequency: 2.50 Ghz
  • Diagonal display: 13.3 Inch
  • Display Resolution: 3840 x 2160 pixels
  • Type of hard disk: SSD
  • Hard disk size: 500 GB
  • Bluetooth: Yes
  • Touchscreen: Yes

With better quality screens than ever before and the new Intel processors, the latest ultraportable Windows laptops are seriously tempting. Here's our Asus ZenBook UX303U review

ASUS ZENBOOK UX303U REVIEW

The ZenBook has proved an enduring ultraportable laptop from Asus, just like the MacBook Air from which it was copied wholesale. The last ZenBook we saw earlier this year, the UX305F, reviewed, was pared back in price and performance with the help of a low-power Core M processor; for the UX303UA, Asus has returned to a full-speed processor and is a great Windows alternative to the Apple 13-inch Air. It's also a rival to the Dell XPS 13, reviewed. See also: Best ultraportable laptops you can buy right now

ASUS ZENBOOK UX303U REVIEW: PRICE

You can buy the UX303U from Amazon for £899.99, but we've seen it for up to £20 cheaper if you hunt around.

ASUS ZENBOOK UX303U REVIEW: FEATURES AND DESIGN

The processor in the latest ZenBook is fresh out the fabs, a Core i7-6500U from Intel’s new Skylake collection. This can accept DDR4 memory although here receives a liberal 12GB of DDR3. For storage there’s a usefully sized 256GB M.2 SSD, connected by traditional SATA.

While the 19mm all-metal casework is here given a champagne bronze coat with contrasting dark lid back. The trackpad is another large buttonless multi-touch type, thankfully more precise and usable previous ZenBooks. The keyboard is not backlit but perfectly serviceable, the stiff chassis underpinning an assured key action.

There are three USB 3.0 ports, plus HDMI and Mini DisplayPort but no Thunderbolt option.

The display is a full-HD IPS-like panel with a matt anti-glare finish which we much prefer over the glossy, reflective screens we often see. It provides decent off-axis viewing - colours don't change hugely as you tilt the screen - and near-full (97 percent) sRGB coverage, plus 680:1 contrast ratio. Only the budget PWM backlight spoils a near-ideal appointment and some people may notice flicker from this type of backlight.

Wi-Fi is up-to-date with two-stream 11ac. For wired networking there’s a USB 2.0 adaptor in the box, but only good for 10/100 ethernet operation. That should be enough for the odd occasion when you need a wired connection, though.

ASUS ZENBOOK UX303U REVIEW: PERFORMANCE

The fast CPU, speedy flash drive and large dollop of memory meant this ZenBook was unlikely to be found wanting in real-world performance. Returning scores of 3270 points single-core and 6912 multi-core, Geekbench revealed the raw speed available. PCMark 8 Home scored the ZenBook with an impressive 2765 points, rising to a remarkable 3448 points using GPU acceleration.

The main chip has a new graphics chip baked in, Intel HD Graphics 520, with a 100MHz clock advantage over the former ’6000 graphics in the previous generation. In tests this enabled assured gaming at 1280 x 720 pixels, and potential to just reach into native full-HD resolution at playable framerates. Batman: Arkham City averaged 43fps at the former size and Medium detail; but 27fps at 1080p and Low detail. Tomb Raider recorded 38fps and 30fps respectively at comparable settings.

Battery life from the sealed 50Wh lithium-ion pack was far from the best we've seen, although the 7 hr 48 min we measured in our wireless video streaming test still represents a good run in the category of Windows ultrabook.

OUR VERDICT

At around £900 the ZenBook UX303U approaches the build finesse but lacks the unbeaten battery of the similarly priced MacBook Air, although it can claim faster processor performance and a superior full-HD matt display. This latest ZenBook is a well-balanced, smart and powerful Windows notebook.

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It can be hard to keep up with the obscure naming conventions of laptops and Asus is certainly guilty of causing confusion with its range of Ultrabooks. The Zenbook series has more abstruse conventions than most, covering a multitude of models that vary in both mild and huge ways beneath their similar shells and identikit names, and the UX models are even more bewildering.

So the UX305 prefix seems to mean that the Ultrabook has a matte non-touch display, a few mini-ports, less thickness, less weight, and a better battery life than the UX303 range. Though that sounds like a lot of difference, it doesn't look that much in the flesh – or rather the aluminium. Differentiating the UX303s further, some of them come with touchscreens (UX303LA), though this test model (UX303UA) doesn't.

What this model has over the UX305, which techradar's Kevin Lee loved in his recent review, is that it comes with a newer Skylake processor and packs a little more oomph. This machine comes in several configurations, depending on how much you want to save or splash out.

You have three choices of processors, ranging from an i3-6100U through to an i5-6200U up to an i7-6500U. Also, you have three choices of screen resolution, ranging from 768p through 1080p to 1800p (3200 x 1800), and storage options include a 128GB or 256GB SSD, a 500GB or 1TB HDD, or a 500GB hybrid with 8GB SSD cache.

The model we're testing here is towards the top end of all that – it runs with an i7-6500U, alongside a 1080p screen and a 256GB SSD – albeit without the very top, delicious 3200 x 1800 screen.

Design

The look is still that same MacBook Air-inspired slimline affair, though even slimmer, tapering to just 3mm at the front. The clean lines, the curved edges, the gentle toned silver and circular surface engraving all combine to make for a pleasant appearing, if not particularly original Ultrabook.

Its all-metal casing is made out of pure aluminium, both for the look and the lightness. The aluminium also provides the laptop with a good core strength – it doesn't bend easily at all, though I wouldn't be comfortable picking it up by the screen or bezel.

It also comes in three colours which are pleasant enough to look at, as far as pastel metallic shades go – they are smoky brown, icicle gold and rose gold. I didn't imagine icicles as gold, but someone at Asus can obviously afford gold icicles. I don't even know what you'd do with a gold icicle.

As for the ports and features, they're all placed quite sensibly. The speakers are neatly tucked away under the chassis and produce a reliable, if tinny sound. On the left side you've got two USB 3.0 ports and an SD card reader, while the third USB 3.0 port is tucked between the mini-DisplayPort and the HDMI port. Two adaptors come in the box which provide Ethernet access or convert the mini-Display Port to a VGA out, which is handy if you're still hooking your laptop up to projectors.

The keyboard has a nice resistance to it, though it's not backlit as on other UX303 models, and it allows reliable typing with its wide square keys. The touchpad is without buttons and rather large, but it at least detects your clicks reliably - unlike older models.

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