There was a time when Ultrabooks were coming thick and fast into the market, with every manufacturer trying their best to make their own thin and lightweight laptop stand out. There were plenty of contenders, but only few were worth looking at. ASUS remains one of those seasoned contenders, having put out a number of continually impressive Ultrabooks in recent years. Their latest addition to the market is the ASUS Zenbook UX301, another visually stunning Ultrabook with a high-resolution display.
Build quality & design
The UX301 carries a familiar design element that we’ve seen in some of ASUS’s other devices. Firstly, ASUS have styled the UX301 in a beautiful dark blue finish, topped with a lid made from Gorilla Glass 3. This gives it a super-sleek and reflective appearance, but a word of caution – the lid is an absolute nightmare to keep clean, and attracts smudges almost instantly. Pretty soon you’ll be packing a polish rag along with your power adapter, so just keep that in mind.
Weighing in at around 1.1kg, the UX301 feels slightly weighty in your hand but isn’t uncomfortable to carry around for extended periods. ASUS have kindly included a slim carry pouch for the laptop so you can do away with a bulky laptop bag. For connectivity you have two USB 3.0 ports, micro HDMI, mini Displayport, and thankfully an SD card reader. ASUS also bundles the connectors for HDMI and Displayport, but this just means that you’ll unfortunately need to carry around a few unwieldy dongles with you, rather than having full-sized ports on the device.
Benchmarks & Performance
Our UX301 review unit came with the Intel i7-4500U processor and 8GB of RAM. There are also two 128GB SSD drives inside, setup in a RAID 0 array. Graphics were powered by the new Intel Iris HD5100 chipset, that while not being as powerful as a dedicated graphics chip can still do much better than the previous Intel HD4000 chip. With all this under the hood, the UX301 is more than capable of running pretty much anything you throw at it. PCMark registered a score of 5,391 and 3DMark11 scored 1,419 in Performance mode. The demo videos for the UX301 show it running complex 3D software such as Maya, and while in theory this would run just fine, rendering it would be a nightmare because of the lack of a dedicated GPU. If you wanted to run games on the UX301, you could comfortably do so provided that you run them at a slightly lower resolution and medium to low details.
ASUS have outfitted the UX301 with a 13.3″ 16:9 WQHD display, that can support a maximum resolution of 2560×1440. That’s much higher than what we’ve seen on other Ultrabooks, but the problem is that there are very few programs or apps make use of that high resolution. While text on most websites was readable, I found myself constantly zooming in to read certain things, which was quite annoying. While colors are sharp, they’re not as vibrant as seen on other panels, so you’ll take note of a slight dulling effect that occurs on this screen, rather than making colors pop. The touchscreen was responsive during testing, although personally speaking I mostly preferred to navigate through Windows using the keyboard and Trackpad. Audio provided by the integrated Bang & Olufsen speakers are loud enough to fill a medium sized room, but the audio quality is at times quite harsh, so your best bet is to use headphones or external speakers for better sound.
When it comes to typing on the UX301 you’ll relax with the slightly raised keyboard that has slightly larger keys and much bigger text on them for easier reading. They keys are of course backlit, however I wish that they could be just a little bit brighter at times. Still, you’ll get a comfortable typing experience out of the UX301, which is all that matters. The Trackpad while spacious, can be a bit too sensitive at times. There are countless scenarios where I was typing away at this review and my palm suddenly activated the Charms menu, or swapped to another running program. It’s responsive enough for multi-touch gestures if you’re fan of those, and everything from cycling through running apps to speed-scrolling could be executed with little effort.
Ultrabooks are touted for being able to last a long time without needing a charge, and the UX301 delivers fairly well in this department, clocking in just over 6 hours of use before I had to reach for the charger. Heat levels were surprisingly cool, even when running multiple programs simultaneously.
The ASUS Zenbook UX301 is certainly a stylish Ultrabook that packs some very good performance. So what’s the only downside? Its price – sitting in at a cool AED 6,499. For an Ultrabook it’s certainly one that’s going to set you back a few, even though it’s capable of delivering some great performance.