Asus ZenBook UX305F laptop
A slim and highly portable laptop with good keys and attractive design elements
Finding the right laptop should be about feel and comfort as much as it is about specs. For many of us, the specs don’t matter that much. What we value most in a Windows-based laptop is easy portability, good keys, connectivity features, and something that can run basic tasks without much hassle. It could be said that the Asus ZenBook UX305F is appealing because of these factors.
A slim profile of about 13mm (when you include the rubber stops on the base) hints at the technology within the 13.3-inch ZenBook UX305F. It uses a Core M CPU, which is one of Intel’s new chips on the block. Since the Core M doesn’t need a fan, the base of a laptop that’s using it can afford to be slimmer and lighter -- this ZenBook tipped our digital scales at 1.2kg.
The height of the ZenBook’s base is very much dictated by the height of the USB 3.0 ports that are present. There are three of these, and they are of the USB 3.0 variety. Having multiple USB 3.0 ports in a device of this size is something to appreciate.
It's great to be able to plug in an external storage device while a mouse is plugged in at another port. And then there's still another port free if you need to plug in the supplied USB-to-Ethernet adapter in order access your network while in the office.
One of the USB 3.0 ports -- the one on the right -- can even be used to charge things while the computer is off, and this adds another layer of convenience as you can charge USB devices on-the-go, while your laptop is in your backpack. Battery life from the 45 Watt-hour internal battery is plentiful for a Windows-based machine. The UX305F lasted 6hr 2min in our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness (switching off auto brightness), and looping a Full HD MP4 file.
In many respects, it’s a regular laptop apart from the fact that it runs silently thanks to the fan-less processor (and also solid state storage). In addition to the USB ports, you get a tiny micro-HDMI port so that you can watch streaming content on a bigger screen (you’ll have to buy an adapter to go from micro to regular HDMI), and there is even a full-sized SD memory card slot so that you can easily get photos off your camera (though SD cards don’t go all the way in and stick out dangerously).
The silent CPU operation favours those of you who have often complained of fans ruining the ambience of your environment, either at home or during a business meeting. There’s no chance of a fan spinning up and disturbing your peace while you work, and that’s the way things should be from now on.
The CPU still gets warm, but the warmth gathers mostly along the area of the spine, where there is a vent that exhausts it naturally. Some travels towards the direction of the palm rest, and you can also feel it a little on the base if you rest it in your lap, but we don't think it's an issue.
You can probably tell that a sacrifice has had to be made in order to make this thin and silent laptop. What you need to know is that the Core M CPU is not as fast as a Core i-based model. It sits below the level of a Core i3 CPU, offering a class of speed that’s still good enough for most daily operations, but not enough speed so that you can perform heavy multitasking or harsh multimedia jobs.
It’s very much a CPU for getting on the Web, communicating, streaming some Netflix (or your video service of choice), and just doing overall office stuff that’s limited to word processing, a little numbers work, and perhaps a small presentation now and then. It will do all this stuff much easier than a laptop based on an Intel Atom processor, and it can still be carried around easily due to its light weight, slim profile, and small wall-wart-style power adapter.
There are still some quirks surrounding the performance of the Intel Core M that we’ve noticed from our tests of the platform on this and other laptops. Mainly, we’ve noticed that Firefox tends to crash more often on this platform (running Windows 8.1) than others, whether it’s a brand new version, or an older one. We prefer running Chrome on it for this reason.
You might also notice that things tend to slow down if you’re loading a Web site with lots of Adobe Flash elements. If a lot of processing is required for those elements, then performing other tasks at the same time can be a bit of a pain.
But the general experience that we had with the Core M in the ZenBook UX305F was a positive one. We could do all of our usual media streaming of video and music. We could even streaming music from Google Play Music (using the 802.11ac capability of the Intel AC 7265 Wi-Fi module) over to a Bluetooth speaker (the speakers on the laptop aren't as good as Asus would have you believe), while at the same time writing up this review, viewing and lightly edit photos, and performing file management.
We confirmed the performance of the ZenBook UX305F against other Core M laptops using our Blender 3D rendering benchmark, as well as 3DMark. Its time of 1min 03sec in Blender is a couple of seconds off what we’ve seen from other Core M units, including Asus’ own Transformer Book T300 Chi. In 3DMark, its Ice Storm and Cloud Gate scores of 27639 and 3008, respectively, are also lower than what the T300 Chi achieved (35868 and 3403).
The ZenBook UX305F proved to be a quicker competitor in the CrystalDiskMark storage test. It recorded a sequential read speed of 502.3 megabytes per second (MBps), and a sequential write speed of 453.2MBps. The write speed, in particular, is an impressive one. To put it in perspective, it’s almost 2.5 times greater than that of the T300 in the same test.
Its configuration of an Intel Core M-5Y71, 4GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid state drive (partitioned to give a 95GB system drive and 130GB data drive) represents a mid-point for this particular ZenBook series. It also features a Full HD screen, which can be lifted open with one hand when the notebook is resting flat on a desk. A screen with a QHD resolution (3200x1800) is also available.
From our experience, a screen with such a high resolution is not comfortable to use under Windows 8.1 (even when the text and icon setting is increased), and it remains to be seen if Windows 10 (to which you will be able to upgrade for free after 29 July), will present a better QHD experience.
Touch capability is missing from the screen, and while we sometimes had the urge to tap on the screen for various tasks, after being used to it on so many other laptops, we prefer the non-reflective finish that the lack of a touchscreen provides. It’s an IPS (in-plane switching) based LCD screen, which means that its viewing angles are wide. We found its colour output to be decent, but we did note some shimmering in colour gradations, especially when the brightness was low.
Its keyboard tray is rigid, and its keys large and easy to hit. They possess the type of travel and responsiveness that contributes to an overall comfortable typing experience. We need to note the position of the power button at the top-right of the keyboard, where the Delete key would usually be. If it’s hit on accident, it will put the computer into sleep mode. A delay on the power button would be a good idea. You’ll have to get used to Delete being one in from the corner.
It’s not a backlit keyboard, which is something we look for in laptops these days, but that won’t be a problem unless you regularly type in dark environments.
A conventional touchpad is installed, and it supports multi-finger gestures. However, we couldn’t get the three-finger swipe gesture to work in Firefox, and this is consistent with other Asus laptops we’ve tested. It worked in other programs. Two-finger scrolling was fine, though we couldn’t find a setting in the driver to stop it from coasting after we released the gesture.
But when all things are considered, the ZenBook UX305 was a comfortable notebook for us to use at home and in the office, with a form factor and weight that made it too easy to pack into a bag for everyday travels.
We like the screen and the typing experience mostly, and love the convenience of the multiple USB ports on such a portable body. There are periods when the performance might be a little sluggish (as it was for us when we loaded some Flash-heavy Web sites), but it’s not a laptop that’s design for loads of processing; just use it for simple stuff, be mindful of things that can slow it down, and you’ll be fine.
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