The Asus ZenBook UX303UA is a 13-inch laptop that makes some competing ultraportables look downright overpriced. For $899, you get a sturdy aluminum design, a full-HD touch display, a fast 6th generation Core i5 processor and a 256GB SSD. Most machines in this price range saddle you with just 128GB or cost well over $1,000 if you want more storage. The Bang & Olufsen speakers don't exactly wow -- and we could do without some of the bloatware -- but overall, the UX303UA is a compelling value.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The aluminum-clad ZenBook UX303UA maintains a similar look to the rest of the ZenBook line, including concentric circles on the lid and a beige-silver color that the company describes as "smoky brown." Asus' logo is featured prominently in the center of the lid, and the aluminum build feels solid.
Inside, you'll find a black, backlit Chiclet-style keyboard with an aluminum palm rest and a 13.3-inch touch screen with a fairly thick bezel. The laptop seems svelte, at just 3.4 pounds, when compared to the Acer Aspire R 14's 4 pounds. However, the rest of the notebooks in the field are slimmer -- Dell's XPS 13 is just 2.6 pounds, and the HP Envy 13t-d000 is 2.75 pounds.
At 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.8 inches, the UX303UA won't take up much room on your desk or in your bag, but the 11.98 x 7.88 x 0.6-inch XPS 13 is much smaller.
The UX303UA may be thin, but it has all of the ports you need for day-to-day use.
The left side of the system houses two USB 3.0 ports and an SD card slot, while the right side contains a headphone jack, an HDMI port, another USB 3.0 port, a mini DisplayPort and a power port. There's no lock slot, something found on most notebooks.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keys on the UX303UA have a good 1.5 millimeters of travel, which makes the keyboard comfortable to use and easy to type on. I hit 111 words per minute, which is faster than my average 100 wpm, on the 10FastFingers typing test, while maintaining my standard error rate of about 2 percent.
The keys were a tad spongier than they should be, and more tactile keys would have made this an excellent keyboard rather than a really good one.
The 4.1 x 2.9-inch touchpad is fairly accurate; for the most part, the cursor went where I wanted it to go, but every once in a while, it couldn't keep up with my finger. Gestures like two-finger scroll, pinch-to-zoom and show the desktop worked well during my testing.
The ZenBook UX303UA features a 13.3-inch 1080p touch-screen display that's brighter and more colorful than its rivals'. I watched the trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse and was blown away by the variety of colors in the special effects. The pink and purple mixture in Psylocke's blades popped, and the red of Cyclops' optic blast was bright. Sometimes, though, colors appeared off, like Mystique's blue skin, which wasn't as dark as it usually appears.
The panel got quite bright, at 322 nits, which is the brightest in its class by just a hair (the XPS 13 reached 318 nits). The glossy display is reflective, though; sometimes I felt like I was looking in the mirror while using the laptop.
In our tests, the Asus' display covered a strong 115.6 percent of the sRGB color gamut (100 percent is excellent), which is better than the XPS 13, the Envy 13t and the Aspire R 14. However, it suffered in color accuracy, with a Delta-E score of 4.26 (closer to zero is better).
The UX303UA features Bang & Olufsen ICEpower speakers, which provide a pretty good sonic punch. Music Mode was enabled by default in the ICEpower AudioWizard program, and I'd recommend leaving it there.
The Lumineers' "Ophelia" came through loud and clear with the laptop on a table, though the sound was a little hollow when the computer was on my lap. Mids and highs were loud and clear, but the percussion got drowned out in the background.
Our configuration of the ZenBook UX303UA came with a 2.3-GHz Core i5-6200U, a 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM, which provides more than enough power for most users. When browsing the Web in Chrome, I didn't encounter lag until I opened my 10th tab with HD video from YouTube streaming in the background.
On Geekbench 3, a synthetic test that measures overall system speed, the UX303UA notched a score of 6,290, which is about on a par with other laptops we've tested with the same CPU, including the Acer Aspire 14 (6,266), the HP Envy 13t (6,306) and the Dell XPS 13 (6,391).
Asus' laptop took 4 minutes and 29 seconds to match 20,000 names and addresses on our OpenOffice spreadsheet test, beating out the Aspire R 14 and the XPS 13 and coming in one second behind the HP Envy 13t.
On our file transfer test, in which laptops copy 4.7GB of mixed media files including videos, music and photos, the UX303UA finished in 32 seconds, for a rate of 159.04 MBps. The XPS 13 blew its foes away at a blazing rate of 231.33 MBps, and the Envy 13t slogged behind at a rate of 77.1 MBps.
The integrated Intel HD Graphics 520 on the ZenBook will be fine for playing simple Facebook games, but nothing more demanding. The ZenBook achieved a score of 63,849 on 3DMark, a synthetic graphics benchmark, beating the XPS 13 (49,394), the Envy 13t (59,836) and the Aspire R 14 (51,763), all of which blew away the category average score of 41,788.
The 1.2-megapixel camera took a clear, color-accurate photo in our well-lit Manhattan office.
The selfie I shot retained detail in my face and hair, and only the brightest parts of the room seemed a little washed out (including a television mounted on the wall behind me).
The ZenBook UX303UA should get you through most of the day. The laptop lasted 8 hours and 27 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which continuously surfs the Web at a brightness of 100 nits.
That's in line with the ultraportable laptop average and just 2 minutes behind the Aspire R 14, and it runs circles around the Envy 13t's lowly runtime of 5:48.
Dell's non-touch-screen version of the XPS 13 lasted a whopping 11:42, but the quad-HD touch version lasted 8:08.
The ZenBook UX303UA kept its cool during the Laptop Mag Heat Test. After the laptop streamed 15 minutes of HD video from Hulu, the underside hit 91.5 degrees Fahrenheit, the spot between the G and H keys reached 89 degrees and the touchpad was just 84.5 degrees, all of which are well below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Software and Warranty
Unfortunately for buyers, most of the software packed onto the UX303UA isn't particularly useful. Candy Crush Soda Saga, Flipboard, Twitter and TripAdvisor apps all come preinstalled alongside a couple of links in the Start menu that take you straight to the Windows Store. CyberLink's PhotoDirector 5 and PowerDirector 12 media editing software are also on board.
The Asus Giftbox comes with more preinstalled software and more links to the Microsoft Store for games (Asus Five in a Row), media apps (Asus Lifecam) and utilities (Farlex Free Dictionary).
Some of the free trials are useful, including six months of Evernote premium and 25GB of Dropbox space that lasts for six months. A free one-month trial of Microsoft Office is also included.
Asus offers a one-year limited warranty on the ZenBook UX303UA.
Our review unit retails for $899 and includes a Core i5-6200U processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 1920 x 1080 touch screen. A second, $1,299 configuration of the laptop has an Intel Core i7-6500U processor, 12GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and a 3200 x 1800 quad-HD touch-screen display.
With its strong performance, premium design and good battery life for less than $900, the ZenBook UX303UA is an excellent value. We also like the comfortable keyboard and colorful display, although the sound quality could be better.
If you're willing to spend a little more, you can get the slimmer and lighter nontouch Dell XPS 13 for $1,149, which has similar specs to the Asus and longer battery life. The touch model starts at a pricey $1,449. But if you want to stay under a grand, the UX303UA is an excellent choice.