New Asus ZenBook soars above MacBook Air

Ever since Apple released its MacBook Air laptop, PC vendors have been trying to play catch-up by making their own sleek ultra-portables.

This explains why the Asus ZenBook UX305 bears more than a passing resemblance to the MacBook Air.

But while Apple has rested on its laurels with the Air, PC makers have caught up and overtaken it. The ZenBook is an ultrabook that surpasses the Air in nearly every area.

Its screen is one of those areas. It is a 3,200 x 1,800-pixel non-touch, in-plane switching (IPS) display with excellent viewing angles. In comparison, the Air still does not have the high-resolution Retina display of Apple's other products.

The Air's viewing angle is also lacklustre as it uses twisted nematic technology instead of the superior IPS technology.

The downside is that some apps have not been updated for the ZenBook's relatively high resolution. They either look pixelated, because they were made for a lower resolution (as with the Steam app), or the app window may appear small, with tiny buttons or icons (as with the Origin game launcher).

But this issue should go away as more devices adopt high-resolution screens and developers update their apps. Upgrading to Windows 10 could also help as Microsoft has improved how its new operating system manages high-resolution screens. The ZenBook is preloaded with Windows 8.1, and I upgraded it to Windows 10 without fuss.

At 14.9mm thick, the ZenBook is slimmer than the Air (17mm), although it is not as slim as an earlier version of the ZenBook, which measures 12.3mm thick.

That earlier model used an Intel Core M processor, a low-power chip which does not require a cooling fan. The ZenBook reviewed here uses a more capable fifth-generation Intel Core i7 processor. Along with the processor upgrade, the new ZenBook has 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD), up from 4GB RAM and the 128GB SSD of its predecessor.

The improved hardware is reflected in its PCMark 8 Home benchmark score of 2,176. This is comparable with other ultrabooks in the market, such as the Dell XPS 13 (2,204).

Key travel on the ZenBook is good and the keyboard feels spacious, but I wish it had come with backlighting. The touchpad is large, with a smooth surface.

The ZenBook has a micro-HDMI slot, which requires an adapter and is therefore not as convenient as a full-size HDMI. There is no Ethernet port, though Asus has included a USB-to-Ethernet cable.

Battery life was excellent, lasting 7hr 6min while playing a video. This is about 30 minutes longer than on the Dell XPS 13. But I expect the MacBook Air to outlast the ZenBook, given that the 2013 MacBook Air clocked nine hours.

While the ZenBook may not wow with innovative features, it does everything well. More importantly, it is priced competitively and great value for money.

•If you don't need a touchscreen, the ZenBook is one of the best ultrabooks for its price.


PRICE: $1,698

PROCESSOR: Intel Core i7-5500U (2.4GHz)

GRAPHICS: Intel HD Graphics 5500


SCREEN SIZE: 13.3-inch, 3,200 x 1,800 pixels

CONNECTIVITY: 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0, micro-HDMI, SD card reader, headphone and microphone combo jack

BATTERY: 45 watt-hour









This article was first published on Aug 26, 2015.
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