With the ZenBook UX306UA, Asus is looking to undercut more-premium ultraportables by offering a powerful Core i7 CPU, a spacious 512GB SSD and a colorful 1080p display, all for a very aggressive $999. It's a beautiful machine that will last all day, but it has some obvious flaws. The keyboard is quite shallow, and the camera produces blurry images. Overall, though, the UX306UA is a good value.
Asus has fallen into a bit of a rhythm with its ultraportable laptops, and that's an OK thing when they look this good. The ZenBook UX306UA continues the company's trend of thin, lightweight laptops with an aluminum chassis. The silver lid features Asus' iconic concentric circles with the company's logo in the center. Opening the laptop reveals the gray deck, island-style keyboard and a 13-inch, 1080p display surrounded by a thick bezel.
At 2.8 pounds and 12.8 x 8.9 x 0.5 inches, the ZenBook seems petite, but competitors are even smaller. The Dell XPS 13 is 2.6 pounds and 12 x 7.9 x 0.3-0.6 inches, and the 12-inch MacBook is 2 pounds and 11 x 7.7 x 0.5 inches. The HP Spectre is more comparable in size to the ZenBook, at 2.5 pounds and 12.8 x 9 x 0.4 inches.
The ZenBook features just the bare minimum ports you need. The left side houses a USB 3.0 port, headphone/mic combo jack and an SD card slot. The right side is where you'll find the micro HDMI port, USB Type-C port and a power jack.
The 13-inch, matte 1080p display on the ZenBook is bright, vivid and precise. When I watched the latest Doctor Strange trailer, New York City's yellow taxis popped and Strange's cape was the perfect shade of burgundy. Dark backgrounds were so inky, however, that detail was lost in some shots. The viewing angles are limited and start to fade out at 45 degrees.
The display on the ZenBook covers 100 percent of the sRGB color gamut (as does the Spectre), which is higher than the 92 percent ultraportable category average. The MacBook reproduced 107 percent.
The Asus' colors are precise, too; the screen registered a Delta-E score of 0.4 (0 is best), far lower than the 2.2 average. The MacBook (1), Spectre (1.2) and XPS 13 (8.2) all scored worse.
The ZenBook's screen averages 320 nits of brightness, surpassing the ultraportable category average of 301 nits. The XPS 13 (318 nits) was just a teeny bit dimmer, while the MacBook (327 nits) and Spectre (359 nits) were both more luminous.
Keyboard and Touchpad
My wrists and fingers hurt when I was done typing on the ZenBook's keyboard. It has very shallow key travel, at 1.1 millimeters, and requires 64 grams of force to press down. I typed at my average 100 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, but my errors jumped from my usual 2 percent to 5 percent.
The touchpad is a completely different story. It's smooth and accurate, and I was able to use Windows 10 gestures like showing all my open Windows with a swipe and pinching to zoom without any problems.
The speakers on the ZenBook are solid on the high end but falter on the low end. The keys and synths were accurate, and the vocals were clear, but there was no bass to be heard with these speakers. The UX306UA wasn't particularly loud, either, barely filling our midsize conference room.
The included ICEpower software comes with several audio presets, but I suggest leaving it on the default Music Mode.
The ZenBook UX306UA comes with a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-6500U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. That all adds up to a fine multitasking machine. I had 25 tabs open in Chrome (one was streaming a 1080p episode of Last Week Tonight from YouTube) before I saw lag when switching between tabs.
On the Geekbench 3 overall performance test, the ZenBook notched a score of 6,898. It surpassed the category average of 5,295, as well as the XPS 13's score of 6,391 and the MacBook's 5,906. The HP Spectre led the pack, at 7,026.
It took the ZenBook 24 seconds to copy 4.97GB of mixed-media files, a rate of 212.1 megabytes per second. That's zippier than the average ultraportable and the HP Spectre (195.9MBps), but the XPS 13 (231.3 MBps) and the MacBook ( 355.9 MBps) are even faster.
The ZenBook paired 20,000 names and addresses in our OpenOffice spreadsheet macro in 4 minutes and 24 seconds. The average for ultraportables is 6:50, while the XPS 13 completed the task in 4:34. The Spectre and MacBook were the fastest, with times of 3:56 and 3:11, respectively.
Don't buy the ZenBook with plans to play Doom. This machine's integrated Intel HD Graphics 520 simply isn't strong enough for intensive gaming. The ZenBook earned a score of 67,917 on the Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark. That beats the average (48,378) and the score of the XPS 13 (49,394 with Intel HD Graphics 550), but isn't as good as the showing by the Spectre (69,409 with Intel HD Graphics 520).
The ZenBook UX306UA lasted a very strong 10 hours and 44 minutes on our battery test, which involves surfing the web over Wi-Fi. While the XPS 13 lasted longer (11:54), the ZenBook outlasted the MacBook (9:38) and the Spectre (6:13).
The ZenBook's 720p webcam is really, really blurry. A photo I took with the camera in our labs looked like it was taken through a piece of Saran wrap.
The yellow in my shirt was barely visible, while my eyes looked glazed over and details like my hair and beard were barely there.
The Zenbook maintained cool temperatures throughout our testing. After streaming 15 minutes of HD video from Hulu, the bottom of the laptop reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the keyboard between the G and H keys hit 86 degrees, and the touchpad was a comfy 82 degrees. All of these temperatures are lower than our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Software and Warranty
The ZenBook is pretty light on software, especially compared to some other recent Asus laptops. The usual bloatware suspects -- like Candy Crush Soda Saga, Flipboard and Twitter -- were all present. Asus' only notable additions are its Splendid Utility to adjust the display's color temperature and WinFlash to update the BIOS.
We reviewed the sole configuration of the Asus ZenBook UX306UA, which comes with a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-6500U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and a 1080p display, all for $999.
The Asus ZenBook UX306UA is a svelte, long-lasting machine with strong specs for its $999 price. We really like the speedy Core i7 performance, aluminum design and colorful display, plus the more than 10 hours of battery life. Additionally, the Asus costs hundreds less than the HP Spectre, MacBook and comparably configured Dell XPS 13 while providing a roomier 512GB SSD.
Unfortunately, the keyboard is on the shallow side, and the webcam captures blurry images. If you're looking for the best ultraportable, check out the Dell XPS 13, our favorite laptop. That machine starts at $799, though you'll have to spend over $1,000 for the best configurations and $1,600 for a model with a Core i7 CPU.
But for those on a budget, the ZenBook UX306UA is a great fit.