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Asus Zenbook UX303LN Ultrabook
It's thin and light form factor does well to disguise the fact that it also has a discrete GeForce graphics adapter
- Solid overall design and good comfort
- Can be used for some gaming
- Rich screen
- Poor touchpad
- Palm rest edges could use some rounding
The Asus Zenbook UX303LN should appeal to those of you who want an Ultrabook that has a bit more going for it than most. It has a good set of features, and it can be used for some gaming, though you’ll have to be selective in the games you want to run.
Price$ 1,699.00 (AUD)
With the ASUS Zenbook UX303LN, you get an Ultrabook with oomph. It’s designed with the intention of providing better graphics than usual, thanks to the inclusion of a discrete NVIDIA GeForce 840M adapter, and it will at least give you an opportunity to run some games while still swinging a convenient thin-and-light form factor.
Build quality and design
The aluminium body and overall shape of the 13.3in UX303LN are reminiscent of the Apple Macbook Air, and people will continually go out of their way to point this out to you (sorry for doing just that). Just nod your head and rest easy in the fact that you’ve got a great overall laptop that’s comfortable to use (for the most part), and which will perform well for everyday tasks, including a bit of gaming.
An Intel Core i5-4210U, fourth-generation CPU is the leader in the engine room, and it’s supported by 8GB of RAM, a 128GB solid state drive (SSD), and the previously mentioned NVIDIA GeForce 840M graphics. For a machine that includes a discrete graphics adapter, it sure doesn’t feel like it. The Ultrabook disturbed our digital scales at 1.55kg and its balance felt good overall. You can open the lid with one hand and the base won’t lift up off the desk.
It has a thickness of 21mm at its thickest point when you include the rubber feet on the base, and the aluminium body provides plenty of rigidity. Indeed, the build quality is solid overall, though we did notice that the screen sometimes tilted a little when we picked up the laptop by the base to move it around. As such, we think the hinges could stand to be a little stiffer.
The screen is Full HD and supports touch, though we found that we rarely used the touch capability. It’s not like you can tilt the screen back all the way flat or switch into a tablet form factor; the most you can do is incorporate touch actions into your navigation of the Windows 8.1 environment. Because it’s a glossy screen, reflections from room lights will sometimes litter the screen, but it won’t give off a full mirror finish, thanks mainly to its decent level of brightness.
We found the overall quality of the screen to be easy on the eyes, and even using full brightness at night didn’t produce strain. For a 13.3in screen, we feel that the Full HD resolution is ideal. Some laptops, including Lenovo's Yoga 3 Pro have an 1800p resolution that can be tough for some eyes to use without scaling, and scaling in Windows 8.1 doesn't work as well as it should, with many system windows, dialogue boxes, and tooltips either looking muddy or staying at the native size of the screen.
As for its performance, the Zenbook’s Core i5 CPU, plentiful RAM, and SSD all combine to produce a laptop that won’t feel sluggish when undertaking everyday office and Web-based tasks, and it’s fine for image editing, video streaming, and also a bit of gaming. Blender 3D rendering recorded a time of 48sec, which is a solid result, while in CrystalDiskMark the SSD recorded a sequential read rate of 513 megabytes per second (MBps), and a write rate of 289MBps.
The laptop will auto-detect the appropriate graphics adapter to use for the application (either the integrated Intel HD, or the NVIDIA GeForce), although you can also select the adapter you want for particular applications. The Intel graphics are the default operator, so the laptop won’t draw too much power while running basic tasks on battery.
In our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness, and loop a Full HD, MP4 video file, the laptop lasted 6hr 3min, which is a respectable time for a 13.3in Ultrabook in this test.
We did a little bit of gaming on this laptop just to give you an idea of what to expect. Battlefield 3 ran at only 11 frames per second at the native resolution of the screen using the NVIDIA adapter, and even dropping the resolution to 1366x768 only upped the frame rate to 22fps. You won’t want to use this laptop for this type of game unless you don’t mind getting killed all the time (though the way we play, the laptop has nothing to do with that).
When we ran Need For Speed: The Run, the results were more pleasing, with 27fps achievable at Full HD using the NVIDIA adapter. This game was enjoyable on the laptop, and for lazy scenarios, such as when you just want to lie down and race while resting the laptop on your chest, it’s perfectly fine. Using the Intel adapter, only 11fps were achieved, so the NVIDIA adapter definitely provided a good use case for running this type of game.
In 3DMark’s Fire Strike test, the NVIDIA adapter propelled the system to a mark of 1305, while the Intel graphics got 596. In Sky Diver, the NVIDIA adapter got 4965, while the Intel adapter got 2617. You can see that in these tough tests the discrete graphics do make a difference.
Importantly, the laptop didn’t get hot, even while it was processing 3D graphics. The unit maintained warmth that was widely distributed throughout the chassis, even onto the palm rest, and it was comfortable to touch. Noise also wasn’t an issue for us, with the cooling fan being only mildly audible and not at all annoying. There are vents at the bottom through which clean air is brought in, and warm air is pushed up in front of the screen through the spine. If you block the bottom vents, you’ll probably find that the chassis gets a little warmer, so keep that in mind when using it on non-flat surfaces.
For the majority of the time, we used the Zenbiook UX303 as a traditional laptop rather than a touchscreen device, and it was a comfortable experience. They keyboard has full-sized keys (apart from the arrows) that are soft and responsive. It's a wonderful keyboard for long sessions of typing. It also feels solid, and it's quiet. A while backlight looks good while typing at night, and there three intensity levels to choose from.
Unlike some other laptops (such as ones from Lenovo), the Function keys are function keys first and you need to press the Fn key to modify them if you want to change brightness, keyboard backlight intensity, to go into Flight mode, or to change the volume.
Since the power button resides at the top-right corner of the keyboard rather than on the chassis itself, you need to be careful not to press the power button when aiming for Delete. The laptop will immediately go into sleep mode if you do press the power button — there is no grace period to offset an accidental press, nor a way to set a grace period through any installed Asus utility that we could find.
The palm rest has squared-off edges that could bring a little bit of discomfort depending on the way you are resting your wrists while typing. We feel that a more rounded design would serve the Zenbook better in future.
We found the touchpad to be decent overall, but far from perfect. During our tests, it felt like the pointer skated a little. It definitely didn’t feel as accurate as the touchpad on a machine such as Lenovo’s ThinkPad Yoga. The other thing we noticed was that three-finger swipes didn’t work while using Firefiox, but did work elsewhere.
What’s the verdict?
This is a fine Ultrabook overall, and that’s mostly to do with its solid build quality, comfortable keyboard, rich screen, and good all-round performance. It has three USB 3.0 ports and a full-sized HDMI port, which are nice touches, and you even get mini DisplayPort and a full-sized SD card reader (though SD cards won’t sit all the way inside the slot). It also includes dual-band, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0, which performed well when streaming music to our Rotel amplifier.
All of these features should make it appealing to any of you who want an Ultrabook that has a bit more going for it than most. It can be used for some gaming, though you’ll have to be selective in the games you want to run.
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