The mid-range notebook PC is usually more about compromise and price than spec or quality. Engineering a notebook to a specific price point isn’t an easy task and some concessions to spec and build are inevitable.
I was, however, pleasantly surprised by Asus’s latest mid-range offering, the Zenbook UX305, which offers a surprisingly solid build and bang per buck value.
If I were to describe what impressed the most with the UX305 it’d be this: It’s a slim and good looking piece of hardware that takes all the good bits of Windows and the MacBook Air and squeezes them into an affordable slim notebook PC design, that’s also an ideal travel companion.
Look and feel
The UX305’s brushed metal exterior feels solid and reeks of quality. The build quality is good and belies the UX305’s mid-range sticker price.
At 12.7 mm thin, its chassis is about 3-5mm thinner than a MacBook Air yet it still manages to house full-sized ports which include a bunch of USB 3.0 sockets plus a full-size SD card slot, micro HDMI out and a 3.5mm headphone socket.
One of my pet peeves with most ultra-book PCs is their cramped scrabble tile keyboards and tiny touch-pads, both of which are often an ergonomic nightmare in use. This isn't the case with the UX305, which sports a near full-sized keyboard and well executed touch-pad.
This said, the UX305’s keyboard isn’t backlit. The lack of a touch screen is also likely to be a problem for those used to the Windows 8 touchy-feely interface. This is, however, easily fixed via an upgrade to Windows 10.
Specs 'n stuff
Speaking of screen, the UX305’s has a 1920x1080 HD resolution on a 13.3-inch LCD panel. Solid contrast levels made Viewing HD video content on the UX305 a pleasant undertaking, and it worked fine outdoors under what little sunlight is available in Wellington at this time of the year.
The UX305’s ultra slim, ultra-lightweight design is due to the fact that it doesn’t use any fan based cooling. This is thanks to Intel’s thermally efficient Core M silicon.
While it is only clocked in at 800 MHz, its twin cores can turbo boost up to 2 GHz. In use it was plenty fast thanks to its pairing with 8GB RAM and a 128GB SSD.
For surfing the web, checking emails and media playback, the UX305 worked like a charm. Even basic photo editing was a doable proposition thanks to Intel's integrated HD Graphics 5300 silicon.
While you can get beefier specs in a notebook for the UX305’s price point, its metal chassis, roomy keyboard, near silent operation and ultra slim build are a winning combo, especially considering its very reasonable sticker price.
Also installed on the UX305 are several of Asus apps, including a cloud storage offering with 16GB provided. I also liked the Intel HD Graphics Control Panel where I was able to intuitively tweak settings to wring out slightly faster/smoother graphics or to opt for less power consumption while watching movies.
One of the things I most liked about the UX305 was its roomy keyboard. Key travel is reasonable and it greatly helped with typing accuracy. I found that when bashing out long emails, my usual colossal amount of typos was noticeably lower.
The UX305’s touch-pad also scores brownie points. It not only seemed to be placed where my fingers thought it should be, but its smooth finish felt good in use. A sure fire test for any touch-pad in my books is a normal day’s double tapping, scrolling and right clicks. For all of these it worked like a charm.
The Asus Zenbook UX305 bats well above its mid-range price point. While you could buy a more powerful and feature-rich notebook PC, the UX305’s reasonable $1,400 price tag see’s it delivering solid value for money, especially when you take its HD 13” screen, Tupperware free design, full size keyboard, silent operation and super-slim build into account.
If Asus were to add a backlit keyboard and perhaps even a touch screen, for a modest price increase, I reckon they’d have a real winner on their hands.
This said, I suspect you'd struggle to find similarly specc’d windows notebooks with a similar build quality to the UX305. Looks like mid-range notebook market isn’t such a boring place after all.
RRP$ 1,399 (8GB model)
CPU: 800MHz Intel Core M 5Y10 (dual-core, 4MB cache, 2GHz Turbo Boost)
Graphics: HD Graphics 5300
RAM: 8GB DDR3
Screen: 13.3-inch FHD 1,920 x 1,080
Storage: 128GB SSD
Ports: 3 x USB 3.0, micro HDMI, SD card slot, headphone/microphone combo jack
Connectivity: 802.11n + Bluetooth 4.0
Camera: 1.2MP HD webcam
Size: 325.12 x 226.06 x 12.7mm (W x D x H)