Asus Zenbook Review: The Zenbook UX303

I was ranting a few days ago about the new MacBook introduced by Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) and the fact that it had received the Retina display upgrade the MacBook Air needed.

Asus Zenbook, Zenbook review
Source: Brad Moon

The Asus Zenbook UX303 from China’s Asustek (the world’s fifth-largest PC maker) is a prime example of the shortsightedness of Apple’s move.

A base 13-inch MacBook Air upgraded to a Core i7 CPU costs $1149, while a similarly-equipped Asus Zenbook goes for just $40 more.

That MacBook Air is stuck with the same 1440 x 900 display resolution it’s had since the last display refresh in 2010. The ASUS Zenbook UX 303 has a Quad HD display (3200 x 1800 pixels) — more than four times the Air’s resolution! Looking at those two displays side-by-side, Apple’s laptop looks positively archaic in comparison.

Enough about the MacBook Air, though. Asus sent me a Zenbook UX303 to use for a few weeks. Here’s what I thought of this powerful new Ultrabook.

Asus Zenbook Review: Showcase Display, Nice Case

Asus Zenbook review, Zenbook side view
Source: Brad Moon

The focal point of this Asus Zenbook is  its display. The 13-inch panel boasts Quad HD resolution, which gives it a pixel density of 275 ppi. That’s impressive and means razor-sharp text.

The case is a familiar, tapered wedge-design, made of aluminum. The hinge is solid with no play and the front edge is thin and precisely aligned, leaving no gap. The no-gap looks good, but makes it a challenge for those of us with larger fingers to actually pry it open.

Asus has gone with what they describe as a smoky brown finish. In some lights, it looks almost dusty pink, in others it looks dark gray. The lid’s aluminum is finished with a subtle circular pattern that Asus describes as “the essence of Zen.”

Asus Zenbook Review: Not Just Looks

Asus Zenbook review, Zenbook beside macbook pro
Source: Brad Moon

This Ultrabook isn’t just about looks. It’s also capable of handling pretty much anything a typical user would throw at it.

Video games might be pushing it, but if you choose the optional Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA) GeForce GT 840M graphics card you should be able to run recent titles at a reasonable resolution and frame rate.

The Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) Core i7 CPU in my Asus Zenbook review unit wasn’t one of the new Broadwell chips, but it still chewed through day-to-day use nicely, and the 8GB of RAM was enough to keep Windows happy.

The 128GB SSD was a big contributor to the snappy performance, but if you’re going to load up on multimedia content, free space is going to disappear quickly — better opt for the 256GB drive instead.

Asus Zenbook Review: Specs

Asus Zenbook review, Zenbook compact
Source: Brad Moon
  • 13-inch Quad HD (3200 x 1800 pixel) IPS touchscreen display
  • Intel Core i7 CPU
  • Integrated Intel HD Graphics 4400
  • 8 GB RAM
  • 128 GB SSD
  • 3 x USB 3.0, mini Displayport, ethernet, SD card slot
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Bang & Olufsen audio technology
  • Backlit keyboard with integrated touchpad
  • 50 Whrs ploymer battery
  • Runs Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows 8.1
  • Includes cloth laptop sleeve
  • Weighs 3.3 lbs

Asus Zenbook Review: Conclusion

Asus Zenbook, Zenbook conclusion
Source: Asustek

I found a lot to like about the Asus Zenbook UX303, and that’s coming from someone who primarily uses a MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

First of all, the display is amazingly crisp. I couldn’t care less about the fact that it’s touchscreen-enabled (I have never figured out why anyone would want to smear their laptop display with fingerprints), but the display puts my MacBook Air’s to shame. Some software reportedly has scaling issues with the high resolution, but I never ran into it.

The keyboard is backlit (always good) and excellent for typing. The trackpad was more responsive than most Ultrabook versions I’ve used.

With its Core i7 CPU and 8GB of RAM, it’s equipped to handle pretty much anything, including casual video gaming. Those speakers really add something, too.

On the downside, the review Zenbook’s 128 GB SSD could have been larger, battery life was middling and the lid’s a little awkward to open. I’m not the biggest fan of the smoky brown finish and circular pattern in the aluminum, but that’s a personal preference.

Overall, for a sub $1,200 notebook, the Asus Zenbook UX303 is a pretty solid buy. At the risk of beating a dead horse, it also should put Apple on notice that the days of coasting on MacBook Air sales may be over if it doesn’t at least field a machine that’s competitive with what Ultrabook makers are now offering.

As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. 

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