The Asus ZenBook UX305CA hails from a successful line of ZenBook Ultrabooks first launched in 2011. The UX305CA can be compared to Apple's MacBook (2016), partly because of its appearance -- the original ZenBooks had distinctive brushed aluminium patterns that aren't on the creamy white UX305CA -- and partly because it has the same Skylark-based Core m3-6Y30 and 8GB of RAM. The two laptops look and perform much alike, despite their noticeably different screen sizes.
The ZenBook UX305CA I had on loan from Asus for a few months had a matte IPS screen with a resolution of 3200 x 1800 pixels and accurate color rendering. It beats the MacBook's screen resolution of 2304 x 1440 pixels, though the UX305CA obviously has a bigger screen: 13.3 vs 12 inches.
Neither laptop has a touch-sensitive screen, so you have to rely on trackpad gestures. Having now spent several years with touch-screen laptops and tablets, I missed this feature a lot.
The ZenBook UX305CA obviously beats Apple's MacBook in the number of ports. Where the MacBook has a single USB type C port, the UX305 has three USB 3.0 ports, a microHDMI port and -- great for photographers -- an SD card slot. Although it doesn't have a full-sized Ethernet port, Asus provides a USB-to-RJ45 cable.
The UX305CA also has a higher-resolution 720p webcam than the MacBook's 480p FaceTime camera.
The Core m chip design falls between the Atom and mainstream Core chips in terms of performance, but offers better battery life. I found it perfectly adequate for everyday tasks such as email, web browsing, and word processing with Microsoft Office. It also runs Adobe Lightroom, though I wouldn't recommend it for Adobe Creative Suite.
All-in-all, the ZenBook UX305CA has a lot going for it, starting with the aluminium construction and very good screen. It's very thin, has lots of ports, and is reasonably priced. I thought the cream surface might pick up my inky fingerprints but it still looked like new after the occasional wipe down.
But there's always a but, and this case, I have two.
First, I didn't much like the keyboard, which isn't backlit and has tiny cursor keys. I admit to a preference for big clicky keys, and I've never found an Ultrabook keyboard I've actually liked. If you're used to flat Chiclet-style keyboards, you may well like it, but I've had better Asus keyboards. (As it happens, the Apple MacBook's keyboard is also worse than the MacBook Air and Pro keyboards. Being ultra-thin has its price.)
On the other hand, the UX305CA's trackpad is both big and good, though not quite up to Apple standards. You won't end up packing a mouse.
Second, the battery life could be better, I was getting about six hours of web-connected work out of the UX305CA with normal settings (ie not a power saving mode). This is somewhat short of the promised "up to 10 hours". It would be good for a full-spec Core chip, but I'd hoped for a little more from a Core m3 with a 44Whr battery.
The otherwise similar MacBook, which only has a 41.4Whr battery, also claims "up to 10 hours of wireless web". It would be interesting to run the two side by side. I suspect that with the same screen brightness and my typical work patterns, the result would be roughly the same.
At least modern power adaptors are small and light enough to carry around....
My UX305CA loaner arrived with quite a lot of bundled software, not all of it useless. The selection included Cyberlink Power Director 12 and Cyberlink Photo Director 5, WPS Office for Asus (otherwise known as Kingsoft Office) and Foxit Phantom PDF, Magix Music Maker Jam, Ice Power's Audio Wizard, WinRAR 5.40, Evernote 5, TeamViewer 10, and McAfee anti-virus software.
It also included some Asus utilities such as Asus Smart Gesture, Asus USB Charger Plus, and WinFlash, which is a BIOS update utility.
WPS Office starts in premium mode and the word processor was more than good enough to write this review. Cyberlink Photo Director 5 seems reasonable, and offers a paid upgrade to the current version. I didn't run any of the others.
As usual, I ran the NovaBench benchmark on the UX305CA, because it's quick, easy, and free. It means you can test your current laptop for comparison purposes.
The Core m3-6Y30 was unusual in producing inconsistent results for CPU speed, which presumably depends on its variable clock speed. In six tests, the CPU scores ranged from 285 to 321, but all of them were lower than the 346 scored by the same CPU in a Lenovo Yoga 700.
On balance, I'm plumping for a NovaBench score of 562, because the UX305CA managed that in half the tests. This was made up of 180 points for the 8GB memory, 321 for the CPU, 44 for the HD515 graphics and 17 for the storage. This is significantly better than the 408 scored by an Asus T100HA with an Atom x5-Z8500, and significantly worse than the 766 scored by a Dell Latitude E5470 with a Core i5-6300U, both of which I've reviewed here.
The UX305CA is a good-looking, well-made silent (fanless) and cool-running 13.3-inch portable at a good price. You can get one with the Quad HD screen and 256GB of storage for less than £650 inc VAT, which compares with £1,049 ($1,299) for a similar 12-inch Apple MacBook. And, of course, you could save even more by shopping around for a UX305 with a lower-res screen and 128GB of storage, depending on your needs.
The Core m3-6Y30 offers more performance than an Atom chip, and is fine for everyday use word processing and browsing. However, if it's your main machine, you'd be better off with a different model with a Core i5 or i7. There are plenty of those in the ZenBook range.
ASUS ZenBook UX305CA, First Take: An affordable ultrabook with all-day battery life