Asus' ZenBook UX303UA is a slim, striking work companion that you may actually be able to afford. Starting at just $899, the 13-inch laptop manages to be less expensive than rival notebooks, without sacrificing performance, durability or battery life.
Commuters might prefer something a bit lighter, though, and useless preinstalled software muddies the user experience a bit. Still, the ZenBook UX303UA's combination of premium hardware and a relatively low price point make it feel like a steal for workers on a budget.
The ZenBook UX303UA's aluminum lid — which features concentric rings that shimmer when they catch the light — is a bit on the flashy side compared to the unassuming look of Dell's XPS 13. I really like the slightly warm tint to the notebook's silvery finish, which further sets it apart from its rivals. I was also pleased to find that the ZenBook feels very solidly built, without any flex in the lid or keyboard deck.
While I wouldn't exactly call it heavy, at 3.4 lbs., the UX303UA does feel a bit hefty compared to its closest rivals. Dell's XPS 13 is almost a full pound lighter at 2.6 lbs., which makes a big difference when you're lugging your laptop between home and the office on a daily basis. HP'sEnvy 13t is also lighter at 2.75 lbs. Acer's Aspire 14 is heavier, tipping the scales at 4 lbs., but it also has a larger screen than these other laptops.
I came away impressed by the ZenBook UX303UA's 13.3-inch, 1080p touch display. It's nice and sharp, so images are clear and text looks crisp. It's also brighter than the screens on rival notebooks; topping out at 322 nits, it outshines the XPS 13 (318 nits) and Envy 13t (312 nits).
I'm not a fan of the screen's glossy finish, which tends to attract annoying reflections from windows and office lights. I much prefer the matte finish on the XPS 13's screen.
Touch-screen functionality seemed accurate during my testing period, as the screen responded swiftly to my swipes and taps. A touch display is more useful on a hybrid notebook like the Acer Aspire R 14 than on a traditional laptop like the ZenBook UX303UA, though.
Keyboard and trackpad
Considering its slim profile, the UX303UA's keyboard has surprising depth, with about 1.5 millimeters of key travel on each stroke. That's about on par with what we look for in the average laptop computer, but it's hard to find on ultraportable laptops like this one. A deep laptop keyboard provides a more comfortable, desktoplike typing experience.
I do wish the UX303UA's keys provided a bit more feedback on each stroke though; as is, they feel a bit on the mushy side. As a touch typist, I was also annoyed to find that the notebook's power button is located in the spot where you'd normally find the Delete key. I could get used to that with practice, though.
I like the feel of the touchpad, which has a smooth finish that lets my finger glide easily. Cursor control was accurate, and gestures such as two-finger scrolling were responsive.
The UX303UA should easily last through the end of the workday, and maybe a bit beyond. The notebook ran for a very solid 8 hours and 27 minutes on our battery life test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. That's on par with the larger Aspire R 14, and it easily tops the Envy 13t (5:48).
The nontouch version of Dell's XPS 13 laptop is still the battery life king, though, running for an amazing 11 hours and 42 minutes.
Despite its slim design, Asus was able to pack in a good selection of ports and connectivity options on the UX303UA.
The left edge includes two USB 3.0 ports and an SD card slot for expanding the notebook's internal storage.
The right edge, meanwhile, offers a third USB 3.0 port, an HDMI port and a Mini DisplayPort, which will come in handy for connecting to certain monitors and projectors.
The ZenBook UX303UA is more than speedy enough for daily work tasks, and then some. My review unit came equipped with a 2.3-GHz Core i5-6200U processor with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state (SSD) storage. The system held up just fine even under heavy multitasking; I didn't notice any lag when I edited a large spreadsheet while streaming HD video, even with about a dozen tabs open in my Firefox Web browser.
Those impressions were borne out in our performance tests. The UX303UA racked up a very respectable score of 6,290 on the Geekbench 3 test. That roughly matches the scores put up by rival notebooks like the Dell XPS 13 (6,391) and HP Envy 13t (6,306).
Meanwhile, the ZenBook edged out most of the competition in our spreadsheet test, matching 20,000 names to their addresses in 4 minutes and 29 seconds. That beats the XPS 13 (4:34) and Aspire R 14 (4:41), and roughly matches the Envy 13t's time.
The ZenBook UX303UA comes packed with a bunch of mediocre software, which I consider to be a nuisance. Business users aren't likely to want or need games like Candy Crush Soda Saga, or apps like TripAdvisor, but they come installed on the UX303UA anyway. It won't be a big deal for most users; the software can either be uninstalled or ignored.
A handful of genuinely useful apps are also included. For starters, you get the excellent note-taking app Evernote, complete with a free six months of Premium access. Asus also included a free 25GB of space on Dropbox for your first six months. Finally, you get a free one-month trial for Microsoft Office 365, which includes Web-connected versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. You'll have to pay to use those apps once the month is over, though.
Asus sells the UX303US in a couple of different hardware configurations. Our review unit is the one I'd recommend, offering up a Core i5-6200U processor with 8GB of RAM, 256GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage and a 1080p touch display, all for $899.
A more premium model is also available, featuring a speedier Intel Core i7-6500U processor with 12GB of RAM, 512GB of SSD storage and a quad-HD touch screen for $1,299.
Even though it's not my favorite 13-inch ultraportable notebook — that distinction still goes to Dell's excellent XPS 13 — the UX303UA's affordable price makes it a really enticing option. For just $899 you get fast performance, solid battery life and a nice keyboard, as well a sleek silver design that's as sturdy as it is handsome.
Commuters might be more satisfied with the nontouch Dell XPS 13, which is noticeably smaller and lighter than the ZenBook, and has much longer battery life to boot. But you'll pay about $250 for the Dell, which has specs that are comparable to the ZenBook UX303UA. For that reason alone, it's hard to recommend another 13-inch notebook over this one, at least for business users on a budget.