With a stunning, lightweight design, quality keyboard and super-affordable price point, the Asus UX305 provides better bang for your buck than competing laptops. Sure, it's not as powerful as machines like the Dell XPS 13, but it's plenty fast for basic productivity. And the notebook also offers a super-slim profile, long battery life and more storage space that most competing notebooks, starting at just $700. That makes the 13.3-inch ZenBook UX305 one of the best bargains in mobile computing.
The UX305 is sleek and simple, with gentle, rounded edges. There are a few design flourishes, including tapered edges and a laser-cut circle pattern on the lid that looks great when it catches the light. And since the UX305 doesn't have a cooling fan, there are no cooling vents to interrupt its smooth outer shell.
The aluminum deck is equally attractive in its minimalist design, with a black chicklet keyboard complemented by a sizable touchpad with integrated buttons.
Business users looking for something that won't weigh them down on their daily commute will appreciate the UX305's light construction. At just 2.64 lbs., the machine is almost as light as Dell's XPS 13 (2.6 lbs.), even though that notebook has a significantly smaller footprint. And the UX305 is lighter than HP's EliteBook Folio 1020 (2.68 lbs.) and Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air(2.96 lbs.)
It's extremely thin, too, with a uniform thickness of 0.48 inches. That's arguably thinner than the XPS 13, which tapers from 0.33-0.6 inches, as well as the Elitebook Folio 1020 (0.62 inches) and Lenovo's Yoga 3 Pro (0.5 inches).
The UX305's 13.3-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel display isn't the sharpest screen you'll find on a 13.3 inch notebook. But the resolution is standard for a notebook in this price range, and it's more than adequate for productivity tasks. There's plenty of screen space for editing documents and spreadsheets, and side-by-side multitasking feels fine
More noteworthy is the screen's matte finish, which eliminates reflections, but has the unfortunate side effect of making colors appear a bit dull and washed out. But if you plan to use the UX305 primarily for work tasks instead of watching movies, the matte screen might actually be a perk. At any rate, it keeps screen glare from windows or overhead office lights to a minimum.
There's no touch screen here, though. I consider that a good thing, since a touch panel would bump up the machine's weight and cost, and the feature is mostly superfluous for business tasks anyway.
Keyboard and touchpad
For a notebook this thin, the UX305 is a treat to type on. The keyboard features large, well-spaced keys with a clean, uncluttered layout. The individual keys are springy and offer a satisfying level of feedback. The downside is that key travel is a bit shallow, measuring about 1.2mm, compared with the 1.5mm notebook average. Deeper keys are usually more comfortable for extended typing sessions. Regardless, I found the UX305 quite comfortable to type on.
My biggest complaint is the placement of the power button, in the top right-hand corner – the spot that's usually reserved for the Delete key (which is now located just to the left of its normal position). It might seem like a small issue, but it's a real nuisance for touch typists. While typing this review on the UX305, I reached up for the Delete key and accidentally put the computer into sleep mode a couple of times.
The large touchpad is even more satisfying to use. Mousing around felt extremely responsive, and my finger glided effortlessly over the smooth surface of the pad. Right and left clicks are built into the pad, and while some people might complain about the lack of dedicated buttons, I prefer having more room to navigate. I wish the touchpad didn't click quite sound loudly when pressed, though.
Specs and performance
Asus currently sells the ZenBook UX305 in a single configuration, which is powered by a Core M 5Y71 processor with 8GB of RAM, 256GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage and a 13.3-inch full-HD display for $699. A more premium model with a glossy quad HD display and a slightly speedier Core M processor will launch later this month for $999, but I consider the baseline model a good sweet spot for most business users.
It lacks the horsepower of notebooks running Intel Core i-series chips, but the Core M CPU in the UX305 proved quite capable in our testing. I didn't notice much slowdown, even while streaming HD video from YouTube while editing two large spreadsheets and juggling a dozen open tabs in my Firefox Web browser. In other words, it can probably handle your daily workload just fine, so long as it doesn't involve processor-intensive programs like AutoCAD or Photoshop.
On the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall system performance, the UX305 scored 4,623. That's a lot slower than the Core i5-powered XPS 13 (by a factor of about 20 percent). But it fared better on that test than the Yoga 3 Pro (4,571), which also runs on a Core M 5Y70, despite Lenovo's notebook costing nearly twice as much, with a starting price of $1,299.
The SSD also delivers really fast drive speed. In our test it duplicated 4.97GB of mixed media files in 33 seconds, which edged out the XPS 13, but was a bit slower than the EliteBook Folio 1020.
Another nice bonus with the UX305 is the low-power Core M CPU, which doesn't require active cooling. While most laptops include a loud, spinning fan inside, this one runs silently.
Ports and connectivity
While most competing notebooks have just two USB ports, Asus packed three onto the UX305. That's a big perk if you want to work at your desk with a bunch of peripherals like a mouse, keyboard and external hard drive. You also get an SD card slot to expand the already-generous 256GB of internal storage, and a micro HDMI port that will come in handy for linking the notebook to a larger monitor.
Many affordable Ultrabooks skimp on battery life, but the UX305 isn't one of them. The machine ran for an impressive 9 hours and 38 minutes in our battery life test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi with the screen set at 100 nits of brightness. That's a lot longer than the EliteBook Folio 1020 (6:49), and it also beats the average for ultraportable laptops (7:27). Dell's XPS 13 lasted longer (11:42), but remember that that machine costs $200 more than the UX305 in its cheapest configuration.
Notebooks designed with business uses in mind – like the EliteBook Folio 1020 – typically boast extra security features like hardware encryption and fingerprint scanners, to help keep your work data private. The ZenBook UX305, in contrast, was built for consumers, so don't expect any additional security outside of Windows 8.1's standard password screen.
The ZenBook UX305 comes with a fairly clean installation of Windows 8.1 installed. As usual, some of Microsoft's productivity apps come preloaded, including OneNote for digital note-taking, Skype for videoconferencing and OneDrive for keeping your work files backed up to the cloud. You also get a free month of Microsoft Office 365 – which includes Excel, Word and PowerPoint – but you'll need to shell out for a subscription to use the apps beyond the trial period.
The UX305's 720p front-facing camera is more than good enough for basic videoconferencing, capturing images that aren't too grainy, with a minimal amount of visual noise. Unfortunately, the camera has some white balance issues, so video comes out with a slightly yellowish tint. It's not a big deal, though, and the effect varies depending on your environment.
The speakers are a bit on the quiet side, topping out at 79 decibels (compared with the 86-decibel category average), but you still shouldn't have any trouble hearing the person on the other end of your call if you conduct remote meetings somewhere quiet.
Dell's XPS 13 crams a 13-inch display into a notebook the size of a typical 11-incher, and has longer battery life than the UX305. It starts at $800 for the low-end model, which is $100 more than the UX305 with half the storage.
HP's EliteBook Folio 1020 packs the same Core M processor as the UX305, but adds a sharper quad HD touch screen and security features such as a fingerprint scanner, but it's pricey, starting at $1,199.
Lenovo's Core M-powered Yoga 3 Pro also offers a quad HD touch display and a folding design that lets you use it like a big tablet, but it also has shorter battery life than the UX305 and a much steeper, $1,299 price tag.
If your budget can easily accommodate a notebook that costs $1,000 or more, I wouldn't necessarily recommend the ZenBook UX305. Other systems offer faster processors, sharper displays and more robust security features, if you're willing to pay for those features.
But the UX305 is by far the best laptop you can buy for $700, making it a great pick for business users on a budget. It simply does more than other systems in its price range, with more ports, more storage space and longer battery life, plus a top-notch keyboard and touchpad. Dollar for dollar, Asus' notebook is hard to beat.