One of the more popular Windows Ultrabook options in recent years has been the ASUS Zenbook series. Thin and lightweight, with instant visual appeal, Zenbooks offer a premium portable computing experience at a reasonable price. ASUS sent me their latest, the Zenbook UX303LN—with its ultra high resolution 3200 x 1800 pixel display—and a powerful Core i7 CPU. This is one handsome Ultrabook with features and performance that ensure it stands out for more than just looks.
Asus Zenbook UX303LN Specs
Good Looks and Excellent Performance
One of the tough choices we often have to make when shopping for an ultralight portable PC is looks versus performance.
Ultra-thin often means having to give up niceties like a high-powered CPU, dedicated graphics card, full-sized keyboard and display resolution. Sometimes you can have looks and performance, but you end up sacrificing connectivity—my 11-inch MacBook Air is a good example of that tradeoff (with just 2 USB and one Thunderbolt port).
The ASUS Zenbook UX303LN has looks. It’s just 2 cm at its thickest point, constructed entirely of aluminum and weighs only 1.45 kg. Despite the sleek appearance, the review unit I was sent by ASUS had an incredibly sharp Quad HD+ touchscreen, a full-sized backlit keyboard, dual-core Intel Core i7 CPU and a dedicated Nvidia GeForce GT 840M video card. So this Ultrabook packs what’s needed to keep up with anything from running business applications to casual gaming. But it’s also fully loaded with ports, making it a great option for professional or power users who need connectivity. That includes three USB 3.0 ports, a card reader, HDMI and mini Display Port output. No ethernet, but it has Gigabit Wi-Fi for fast wireless performance.
The Zenbook UX303LN doesn’t make you choose between looks and capabilities and that’s something unusual.
Comfortable to Use, Impressive Display
One of the first things I check out on any laptop is its keyboard. As someone who spends all day (and sometimes longer) typing on a keyboard, this is an important feature. It’s tough to be productive with an under-sized version, one where the key spacing is off or when there’s insufficient travel to get feedback.
I was pretty happy with the Zenbook’s. It’s full-sized, with chiclet keys and they have decent action. Even better, they’re backlit—something that’s essential when working in a dimly lit room.
Next up was the display and this is where the Zenbook UX303LN really shines. The 3200 x 1800 resolution QHD+ touchscreen display is razor sharp, as you might expect. Display viewing angles were good. However, with that resolution on a 13.3-inch display, you may find text is too small to easily read. No worries, the Zenbook display handles scaling well and I found having resolution at 1600 x 900 offered much better readability without jaggies. With multiple video output options, hooking this laptop up to a big external monitor is an easy option.
The display has multitouch support as well, for those who like to take full advantage of Windows’ touch interface.
Solid Performance, Respectable Battery Life
As you might expect from the specs, the Zenbook UX303LN was a solid performer. The SSD meant startup took only seconds and file writing was zippy. Thanks to the Core i7 CPU and the 8GB of RAM on tap, running basic productivity applications wouldn’t make it even break into a sweat. The fan came on a few times, but it was quiet and not much heat was thrown off. Having 802.11ac Wi-Fi meant web browsing and streaming videos not only look good on that impressive display, there was no lag or waiting for content to cache.
And speaking of watching video, the stereo speakers (side-mounted and downward-facing) produce some pretty impressive sound. Loud and respectable quality. Clearly the partnership with audiophile favourite Bang & Olufsen has paid off for ASUS.
Having a discrete video card with dedicated video RAM means graphics-intensive tasks like editing or compiling video are possible on this Ultrabook—without pulling out your hair. It’s also capable of mobile gaming, although you’re going to have to go easy on the settings for more demanding titles.
Battery life is rated at up to seven hours, but here’s where things get a little tricky.
When you use the Zenbook UX303LN for tasks that make use of the Nvidia graphics card, power consumption ramps up and you aren’t going to see that kind of battery life. Fortunately, when the load is lighter—web browsing or running a text editor, for example—the integrated Intel graphics take over, reducing energy consumption. I was using the Zenbook for a mix of web browsing, writing, listening to music and watching streaming video (without cranking up any of the battery-saving settings) and that was returning between five and six hours of run time before having to plug in. Pretty respectable for a notebook with the power and display this one offers.
Premium Ultrabook Experience
It’s usually not hard to find fault with something when testing a laptop. But I really don’t have much to complain about after having spent time with the ASUS Zenbook UX303LN…
The only thing I would change is the finish to the all aluminum case. ASUS describes it as “smoky brown…enhanced by the iconic spun-metal finish that echoes the spirit of Zen.” I didn’t care for the colour (it had an almost pink hue in the right light) and I had to fight the urge to polish out the finely etched concentric circles. Give me plain, anodized aluminum. But that’s a matter of taste. I’m sure a lot of people love it.
Oh, and power users may find the 128GB SSD in my review unit is a little light on storage capacity.
Anyone in the market for a premium Ultrabook should find this ASUS Zenbook meets all their needs and then some. It has power, looks and even nice touches like the attractive carrying sleeve included in the box. The market for ultralight laptops is really heating up these days, but ASUS has a very competitive offering in the Zenbook UX303LN.