ASUS ZenBook UX305CA, First Take: An affordable ultrabook with all-day battery life

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When I reviewed the ASUS ZenBook UX305 last year I was pleased by its light and tough chassis, great screen, good battery life, fanless cooling and trio of USB 3.0 ports. Less exciting was the amount of storage available in UK models, and its moderate performance.

Less than a year on, the updated UX305CA is still an impressive laptop. It's still light -- 1.2kg for a laptop with a 13.3-inch screen is good going, although Dell just beats it with the Latitude 13 7370, which weighs 1.12kg. The ZenBook UX305CA is thin as well as light, with a desktop footprint of 32.4cm by 22.6cm, and thickness of just 1.23cm.

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The 13.3-inch ZenBook UX305CA runs on Intel's Core m3-6Y30 processor with 8GB of RAM. Our review unit had a 128GB SSD, with 90GB free out of the box.

Image: ASUS

By way of comparison, Dell's Latitude 13 7370 measures 30.5cm by 21.1cm and is 1.43cm thick. Both have 13.3-inch screens, but it's Dell's edge-to-edge screen that makes the difference here -- there's almost no bezel on the Latitude 13 7370, while the ZenBook UX305CA has a more conventional design.

There are plenty of other differences between the two laptops, but to compare them head-to-head would be like pitting apples against oranges. That's obvious from the fact that the Latitude 13 7370 has a starting price of £1,359 (ex. VAT), whereas the ZenBook UX305CA is available for £549.99 (inc. VAT, or £438.33 ex. VAT) at the time of writing. So I won't make any more comparisons. Suffice to say that if you're looking for a small, light computer that will see you though an average range of tasks, it's worth considering this ZenBook.

Windows 10 Home might not appeal to everyone, though, and you'll have to manage with just 128GB of SSD storage. To put that into perspective, my review device had 90GB free out of the box. ASUS gives you 25GB of Dropbox storage free for six months and 16GB of ASUS WebStorge for a year. What's galling about this laptop is that versions exist with up to 512GB, but these are not available in the UK.

The ZenBook UX305CA runs on an Intel m3-6Y30 processor with 8GB of RAM. This dual-core CPU, which clocks between 900MHz and 2.2GHz, isn't going to set any performance records, but it's a low-power processor (TDP 4.5W) that should cope with mainstream productivity workloads.

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Ports and connectors are ranged across both short edges. There's an SDXC card reader and a 3.5mm headset jack, plus Micro-HDMI and three USB 3.0 ports. One of the latter will fast-charge external devices, and ASUS bundles a USB-to-Ethernet cable for wired networking. Wireless connectivity is catered for via 802.11ac wi-fi (with WiDi support) and Bluetooth 4.0.

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ASUS Splendid provides preset display settings for general use (Normal), watching movies (Theatre) and viewing photos (Vivid). You can also manually adjust the screen color temperature, hue and saturation.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The screen is lovely. It's not touch sensitive, but the 3,200-by-1,800-pixel (276ppi) resolution is good, images are bright, viewing angles wide and the matte finish is welcome. ASUS makes much of its Splendid technology, which automatically alters display settings according to what you're watching. You can adjust this manually too if you wish. An ambient light sensor can be turned on and off via a Fn key combination.

Sound quality is middling, but just about good enough for delivering presentations to small groups. More volume would be welcome, though -- even at 100 percent it's pretty quiet.

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Image: ASUS

The keyboard is comfortable to use, but isn't backlit. ASUS augments the touchpad capabilities with its Smart Gesture system which you can customise to your own taste. The same Smart Gesture settings app lets you remotely control the laptop via a Bluetooth-connected phone and configure the touchpad to automatically disable when you connect a mouse.

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ASUS Smart Gesture lets you specify different one-, two and three/four-finger touchpad actions.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

According to ASUS, you'll get up to ten hours of life from the ZenBook UX305CA's 44Wh lithium-polymer battery. In practice, I found this new model as impressive as its predecessor on that front: I'd expect this laptop to get me through an average working day, but if you do need to recharge, the AC adapter is a small, lightweight, one-piece unit that's not too much of a pain to carry around.

Overall there's a lot to like about the ZenBook UX305CA, but I find myself wishing -- as I did when reviewing its predecessor -- that the 512GB version were available in the UK.

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