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.
You can buy the UX303U from Amazon for £899.99/$1,350, but we’ve seen it for up to £20/$30 cheaper if you hunt around.
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.
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.
- 13.3in (1920 x 1080) 166ppi AAS matt anti-glare display
- 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U (3.1GHz Turbo) 2C, 4T
- Intel HD Graphics 520
- 12GB 1600MHz DDR3 RAM
- 256GB mSATA SSD (SK Hynix)
- USB 2.0 to 10/100 ethernet adaptor included
- 802.11ac dual-band 2×2 (Intel Wireless-AC 7265)
- Bluetooth 4.0
- 3x USB 3.0
- Mini DisplayPort 1.2, MDP to VGA adaptor included
- SDXC card slot
- stereo speakers
- 0.9Mp webcam
- dual mics
- 3.5mm headset jack
- UK tiled keyboard
- buttonless trackpad, 104 x 73mm
- 50Wh lithium-ion battery, non-removable
- 65W mains charger with IEC C6 inlet
- 322 x 222 x 19.4mm
At around £900/$1,350 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.