A simple, beautiful, seamless design. An incredibly thin chassis, crafted from metal and finished in a high quality dark grey paint. A fanless, low-power Intel Core M processor and oodles of battery life hidden away underneath a big trackpad and great keyboard. Sounds like Apple's new MacBook, right? Nope. The Windows 8.1-powered Asus ZenBook UX305 is an amazing feat of computing. This is a laptop that I want to use every single day.
What Is It?
- Processor: Intel Core M-5Y71 (up to 2.9GHz)
- RAM: 4GB, up to 8GB
- Display: 13.3-inch, 1920x1080pixel or 3200x1800 pixel QHD+
- Storage: 128GB SSD up to 512GB
There's something about the $1199-plus Asus ZenBook UX305 that is incredibly attractive to me. It's just so simple. It's not boring, though; the metallic chassis has enough innate style and the right curves and hinges to just look good. The UX305 is a 13-inch Windows 8.1 notebook, and it's just as thin as any MacBook Air or Intel-based Ultrabook.
At a maximum thickness of 12.33mm and a rated weight of 1.2kg, otherwise measuring 324x226mm, the UX305 is a skinny little thing. One third of that is the screen, the other two thirds is the base -- stuffed full of battery and processing components. The entire interior is covered with dark grey metal apart from the black plastic keys, while the lid has the same spun concentric circles metal design and chromed Asus logo as previous Zenbooks.
From corner to corner, the UX305 has way more ports than you'd expect on a laptop of its moderate price and slim design. On the left you get a full-size multipurpose SD card reader and two USB ports, while the right has DC power input, another USB 3.0 (sleep-and-charge compatible), the microHDMI video output and a multipole headphone/microphone jack. There's nothing on the back, because the screen actually juts out slightly when you open it and raises the keyboard tray/base up to a more comfortable typing position.
Inside the UX305, you'll find one of two Intel Core M energy-sipping CPUs; either the lesser Core M-5Y10 or the more powerful M-5Y71. That SoC and its Intel HD 5300 midrange integrated graphics is joined by either 4GB or 8GB of soldered-on RAM and either 128GB, 256GB or a 512GB solid-state drive. In Australia, ASUS gives you a three-year internationally redeemable warranty on the UX305's hardware.
What's It Good At?
Every feature that the UX305 puts in front of you is impressive, and continues to impress. The screen, first and foremost, is absolutely beautiful; the Full HD 1920x1080pixel IPS panel featured in most of the UX305s you can buy in Australia is incredibly good for the laptop's price point with excellent viewing angles, a glare-destroying matte finish and good colour reproduction as well as a high maximum brightness level. The speakers are even OK, albeit a little quiet.
The UX305 is a super-slim notebook, and that makes it incredibly portable. In the same vein as the new 12-inch Apple MacBook, this particular ZenBook uses the smart combination of a fanless Intel Core M processor -- super low voltage, super low heat output -- and a metal body that effectively transfers and dissipates that heat around the entire chassis; it's the perfect mix of thin, lightweight, and powerful enough to use as your only laptop.
It's more versatile than the MacBook, too. It has a full-size SD card slot, crucial for anyone who owns a digital SLR and likes to edit photos or video. It has three USB ports, all of which are USB 3.0 compatible and one of which supports sleep-and-charge. It has HDMI output, albeit through a microHDMI cable -- so you'll need an adapter. The keyboard is typically Asus -- short travel but excellent key-feel and little to no flex in the centre of the board depending on how heavy a typist you are.
Battery life from the UX305 is supreme. It's a 45 Watt-hour battery inside the incredibly thin shell of the ZenBook, roughly on par with the Core i5 and Core i7 Ultrabooks and thin-and-light notebook/tablets out there like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, but because the Core M chip uses literally a third of the power you get far superior results. I clocked a solid nine hours and 43 minutes from the UX305 from general Web browsing and video viewing at half screen brightness. Even in our 1080p, full brightness torture test the UX305 still clocked over seven hours straight.
What's It Not Good At?
The ZenBook UX305 is surprisingly affordable at a starting price of $1199 for the basic Core M-5Y10/4GB RAM/128GB SSD model, but quickly becomes expensive -- and more expensive than the equivalent MacBook or MacBook Air -- as you start to spec up a faster processor or more RAM and storage. It's significantly more expensive, too, than the price of the UX305 in the US, which starts at US$700. The mediocre exchange rate at the moment means that this isn't an enormous gap, but it's still noticeable on paper.
While the UX305's keyboard is pretty good -- more than good enough for a day's typing -- the trackpad is less stellar. It's only a software problem and can therefore be very easily updated if Asus lends it a little attention, but at the moment it lacks the options for fine adjustment and customisation of two- and three-finger tap and swipe options that competitors like the HP Spectre x360 have. Similarly, the keyboard isn't backlit.
It's not a problem per se, but it is worth considering your processing power requirements if you're thinking of buying a laptop with an Intel Core M chipset inside. You get tremendous battery life from the CPU's incredibly frugal energy usage, but the slight trade-off with that is that aggressive power throttling and a dual-core design (rather than a quad-core one as per Core i7) means you won't have as stellarly quick results if you're doing anything compute-intensive like photo or video editing or raw number-crunching.
Should You Buy It?
I'm a huge fan of the $1199-plus Asus ZenBook UX305. It is, like the Apple MacBook, just some laptop, and that's what it does so well. It doesn't have any incredibly fancy features or flourish, it doesn't try to pretend to have any gaming potential, it doesn't try to be a barn-storming processing powerhouse. Instead it's thin and it's light -- both of those extremely so -- and it has a beautiful display and pretty damn good keyboard.
That means, for the purposes of browsing the 'net and typing and watching videos, the ZenBook UX305 reigns supreme. This is the perfect university or high school laptop, or the perfect laptop for a portable workday, or for a long plane trip for business travel. As long as you don't try to do anything over the top -- no brand new AAA games, no CAD or video editing -- then it'll perform perfectly up to your expectations.
The thing that stands out most is the UX305's amazing battery life. This is a device that is perfectly suited to long hours away from the charger, to long interstate plane trips, to continued quick trips away from your desk during a busy business day. The keyboard makes it easy to use, too, and the ports make it useful. Everything is tied up with a beautiful screen and a sturdy, smart design that just gets out of the way.
Unless you have more specific needs -- maybe you desperately want a full-size HDMI port, maybe you need a Core i7 and twin SSDs, maybe you need a screen that is 15 inches or larger -- then the Asus ZenBook UX305 is your Windows 8.1 laptop of choice. It is, in a lot of ways, the perfect laptop.