At a Glance
The Asus ZenBook UX305CA is a sensible, perhaps predictable upgrade to the UX305 we looked at last year. It has newer CPU, and a much higher-resolution screen. However, it remains a seriously portable, expensive-feeling laptop that really isn’t that expensive. That you can get this grade of machine for £600 (at the time of writing) shows that while Apple’s pricing has improved, companies like Asus still have the edge. A big, sharp, shiny edge. The Core M CPU limits the crowd of people this laptop will suit perfectly. But that it still feels fast for everyday tasks and the fact it will last all day with that kind of use makes it ideal for those who find themselves hopping between meetings or cafes as part of their daily grind. If you’re looking for something to use mostly at home, you might want look for something with a little more power and a screen with slightly higher contrast, though.
The Asus ZenBook UX305CA is a laptop that takes up the slack left by the MacBook Air series, whose design and hardware is now a little out-of-date in certain areas. What you get is a very slim, very light laptop that’s perfect for portable work – quite a lot like the
ZenBook UX303U we reviewed a few months back.
It’s not that expensive either, particularly for a machine with a 3K-resolution screen. Such a high resolution display has a mild hit on battery life compared with the 1080p version, and its Core M CPU isn’t suited to really taxing tasks. But in most respects this is one of the very best affordable
Asus ZenBook UX305CA review: Price
The ZenBook UX305CA is a mass market laptop. It’s not out to court people who are going to spend hours poring over benchmark results, and worrying about whether it’ll run their favourite game.
It’s not terribly powerful, but that does mean it’s able to offer an impressive-looking and feeling machine for £649. At the time of writing the UX305CA-FB005T (to give it its full name) is
available for just
599 online from John Lewis too. Much like the
original UX305, reviewed, you’d probably assume it was more expensive on first sight.
Asus ZenBook UX501 Pro review
Asus ZenBook UX305CA review: Design
Your first reaction on seeing the version of the Asus ZenBook UX305CA we were sent will likely be: that looks a lot like a MacBook Air. The tinted silver version is made of anodised anodised aluminium throughout, and its lines and ultra-skinny frame are clearly out to appeal to the sort of buyer who might otherwise end up with a MacBook Air.
Asus does offer a version with more of its own identity, though. The black Asus ZenBook UX305CA has a spun brushed finish on its lid, which is the ‘family crest’ of the ZenBook series. If you won’t want your laptop to be confused for a MacBook, consider that version. It’s no more expensive.
The Asus ZenBook UX305CA is quite lovely whichever version you choose, though. All-aluminium construction and a thin, light body make it feel quite expensive while also being thoroughly practical as a portable machine.
HP Envy 13 we reviewed recently, there’s no obvious flex to the panels either. This is a cheaper Ultrabook, but doesn’t give that away too obviously.
The Asus ZenBook UX305CA weighs 1.2kg and is 12mm thick. It’s very thin. It’s very light. You would have to switch to a smaller-screen laptop to get anything significantly thinner and lighter, but we find 13-inch laptops to be a great balance between portability and screen size.
Asus ZenBook UX305CA review: Connectivity
Asus has been quite a big supporter of the rise of the USB-C standard in its devices, but the Asus ZenBook UX305CA misses out on this. Instead you get three USB 3.0 ports.
It is looking as though the move to USB-C may be more fractured than we imagined, anyway. Until recently it seemed most new phones would use the new standard, forcing USB-C from relative obscurity right into the mainstream. But now that (perhaps) the most important Android phones, the Samsung Galaxy S7 family, have decided to use microUSB, the transition will take a bit longer.
You’ll have to decide for yourself whether it’s a big deal or not. Other than the trio of USBs, you get a full-size SD card slot and a microHDMI port.
Asus ZenBook UX305CA review: Screen
One of the boasting points of the UX305CA is that it has a high-resolution 3200×1800-pixel screen. Most laptops with one of these are significantly more expensive. Many are twice the price. It’s also the key difference between this model and the UX305 we took a look at last year, which had a 1080p screen.
This is an all-round good screen, but one that excels as a practical, all-conditions display rather than one you’d want to use as a TV-replacer.
Starting with the good bits, the Asus ZenBook UX305CA’s screen is very sharp. As with a lot of the current 3200×1800 LCD panels there’s still a tiny bit of fizziness up close, but it’s much sharper than a 1080p one. 276ppi wouldn’t look bad on a phone, and you’ll be sitting further back here.
Windows 10’s scaling options let you choose between packing more info on-screen and just having a sharper but otherwise normal-looking UI too.
The Asus ZenBook UX305CA has a matt screen, and its very solid 398cd/m2 brightness means this is a laptop you can use in virtually all conditions. A times I’ve used the machine with bright sunlight streaming right onto the display. It’s not ideal, but you can still see what’s going on when, say, writing a document.
It’s an IPS panel too, so looks just fine from any angle. Colours are good too, hitting 91 per cent of the sRGB colour gamut and 63 per cent of Adobe RGB. Ideally you’d want a laptop to hit 100 per cent of sRGB, but it’s easily forgivable given the price, and it isn’t all that evident in person. Plus, it’s in a different league from a TN-panel MacBook Air. Calibration is good too with an average Delta E of 0.2, making colours look natural.
The part of the screen that is just ‘ok’ is contrast. We measured it at 500:1, which is fine but nothing special. It clearly favours peak brightness over contrast. In person what this means is that blacks lose some of their depth when you ramp-up the brightness or when you’re in a darker room.
However, the unremarkable contrast wasn’t anywhere near as apparent when actually using the machine as a work computer. It is only when using the UX305CA in subdued indoors lighting it starts to come across a little limited compared to the best.
Just like last year’s UX305F, the UX305CA doesn’t offer any fancy screen tricks. The hinge only bends back to around 130 degrees, it’s not a touch display and has a classic raised bezel rather than a totally flat screen.
It may be super-slim and have a very modern CPU, but this is otherwise a traditional laptop.
Asus ZenBook UX305CA review: Keyboard and trackpad
It’s a good job, then, that the trackpad and keyboard are both solid. The keys are shallow like those of all laptops this size, but the key action is pleasant and there are no nasty surprises: no weirdly positioned or oddly shaped keys beyond the left-most column.
It is comfortable to type away on: we’ve written out thousands of words at a time, with no discomfort or cramped sensation. If you’re on a sensible budget, a 13-inch machine like the Asus ZenBook UX305CA is the best class to start in if portability is important.
Like last year’s model, though, the UX305CA doesn’t have a keyboard backlight. At a similar price the HP Envy 13 does have one of these, and it’s one of the few things that tips you off that this is a cheaper laptop.
The trackpad is similarly solid, with just a slight niggle or two. It’s of a good size, and the embedded mouse buttons are well-designed enough to mean you can just slide into using it without having to re-teach your fingers exactly where you need to press for a ‘right’ button press.
Its surface is smooth and non-tacky, because it uses the same sort of textured glass covering you get in more expensive ultraportables.
One area where the UX305CA could be improved is the feel of the pad’s click. It’s fine, but the HP Envy and MacBook Air pads have a slightly softer, more comfortable click that’s also quieter. This one is just a little loud.
Asus ZenBook UX305CA review: Performance
While the UX305CA has a pretty wide-reaching appeal, its hardware is actually intended for a fairly specific use case. It’s all down to the kind of processor used, a third-generation Intel Core M, the 6Y30. Its standard clock speed is just 900MHz, which can be boosted by over 100 percent to 2.2GHz.
These Core M chipsets are tiny SoC processors that use a tiny amount of power but are very efficient. This is a ‘premium’ chipset like the Intel Core series, as opposed to the budget Celeron and Atom series CPUs seen in cheaper slim machines. However, its power is relatively humble.
Its aim is to offer day-to-day performance fairly similar to that of, say, an Intel Core i5. It’s pretty successful on this front. Unlike most Atom systems, there’s no basic interface lag and thanks to the use of 8GB RAM and 128GB all-SSD storage, the UX305CA is very quick to boot and snappy to come out of sleep.
If you’re moving between locations, just put it in your bag and you can take it out later and be back to what you were doing within a few seconds. If the laptop does into a deeper sleep it’ll take a bit longer, but that’s the norm.
You see this decent baseline performance in the Asus ZenBook UX305CA’s PC Mark 8 Home score of 1985. While lower than the Core i5 you could find in a chunkier laptop of this price, the difference is less than you might expect. The HP Envy 13 scores 2657 points, for example, and it has an Intel Core i7 (the version we reviewed at least).
Its Geekbench 3 score of 4837 (2403 single core) is very solid too. If you’re looking for a laptop for light duties, a Core M CPU is a good pick.
It’s with more challenging stuff the Asus ZenBook UX305CA starts to show its limits. Its gaming performance is really quite poor, for example. Where a dual-core Intel Core i5/i7 can generally handle recent games if you really strip the settings down to the bone, this machine continues to struggle.
With settings minimised and resolution set at 720p, the Asus ZenBook UX305CA still only manages 22fps in Alien: Isolation. Some might consider this playable, but only just. An Intel Core i5/i7 dual-core CPU will add another (up to) 10fps to this result.
At 1080p, that performance drops down to 10fps. And the results were even worse with Thief, which managed 15fps at 720p, Very Low settings. As you’d really want to play the game, at 1080p and with the visual turned up, the UX305CA managed just 3.9fps.
You probably have the idea by now. This definitely is not a gaming laptop. It’ll handle very old games and recent casual ones, but not the sort of titles released boxed for PS4. It also means that the extra resolution on offer here is only useful for making the desktop and general interface look sharp, and for playing high-res video.
Finding the Intel Core M’s limits isn’t hard. However, one obvious benefit is that this is a silent laptop (bar any touchpad or key noise you make). It uses full passive cooling: no fans at all. Bliss.
In normal day-to-day use as a Word, email and browsing machine it stays very cool too.
Asus ZenBook UX305CA review: Battery Life
The other big benefit of the Core M 6Y30 CPU is that it uses very little power. It lets the UX305CA balance the high screen resolution with fairly good stamina.
Windows laptops continue to struggle to match the stamina of MacBooks, but the ZenBook UX305CA lasts a very respectable nine hours when playing back a 720p video at 120cd/m brightness.
We’ve also been using it in our daily work routine, and if you’re in a location that’ll let you keep the brightness fairly low it’ll last a decent eight hours off a charge. That includes plenty of Wi-Fi use too.
Crucially this is better than a lot of the rival Core i7/i5 ultraportables we’ve reviewed recently.
The one part we’ve not covered yet is speaker quality. Like many Asus laptops the UX305CA uses Bang & Olufsen IcePower speakers, one at each end of the underside. And like other IcePower speakers we’ve heard recently, they’re not mind-blowing.
The sound is fairly thin and light, and is not hugely loud. However, the tone is also fairly natural, making even music perfectly listenable once your ears bed into the lack of lower-end body. There’s also no obvious distortion at max volume. They may be fairly ‘standard’ laptop speakers, but the fairly low price and that 12mm thickness will make you think about them more favourably.
Asus Zenbook UX305CA: Specs
- 13.3in (3200 x 1800) 276dpi IPS LCD matt anti-glare
900MHz Intel Core i5-6300HQ (2.2GHz boost) 2 cores, 4 threads
Intel HD 515 integrated GPU
8GB 1600MHz DDR3 RAM
128GB M.2 SSD
802.11b/g/n/ac dual-band 2×2 MIMO
3x USB 3.0
SDXC card slot
stereo Bang & Olufsen speakers
3.5mm headset jack
UK tiled keyboard
44Wh lithium-ion battery
324 x 226 x 12.3 mm