Last year we declared the Asus ZenBook UX305 the best budget ultrabook of 2015, for delivering performance and quality that belied its price. It’s no surprise Asus has barely altered the blueprint for the 2016 model.
The most notable difference is the CPU. The previous model’s Broadwell-based Core M-5Y10 is now replaced by Intel’s Skylake Core m3-6Y30 chip.
Other than that, there’s little detectable difference. That means while the previous model’s strengths remain, so do its weaknesses. As before, the 13.3-inch, 1920-by-1080 IPS screen is merely average. There’s still no keyboard backlighting, and the trackpad, while adequate, has an unusual bounce to it. Also, in the light of 2016, it would be nice to see USB-C on the UX305 for charging—and as a replacement for the funky micro-HDMI port.
Fortunately, those annoyances are overshadowed by the UX305’s assets. It’s superthin at less than 13mm, as well as reasonably light at 2 pounds, 10.3 ounces. It continues to be fanless, and—the best part—it’s still a hell of a deal.
The new Skylake-based Asus UX305 is super thin and fanless too.
Our Asus UX305 is priced at $699, with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of reasonably fast storage on its SATA M.2 SSD.
That’s a steal compared to other brands’ offerings. Dell’s XPS 13 at $799 gives you 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. HP’s Spectre x360, meanwhile, matches the Dell’s RAM and storage, but for $900. Then there’s Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4—also with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD—which will cost you $1,030 once you’ve tacked on a keyboard.
To be fair to Dell, HP, and Microsoft, their devices each offer something that the UX305 doesn’t. The XPS 13 has a wickedly small footprint and packs a full Core i5 Skylake chip with Thunderbolt 3. The HP gives you the same Core i5 as the Dell, plus a touchscreen and the ability to flip the screen 360 degrees. The Surface Pro 4, well, that’s a tablet, right? All three also have backlit keyboards.
But here’s the thing: For people on a tight budget, a lot of those premium features aren’t worth the extra dough. Not when the UX305 delivers the bread and butter of a good computing experience, with its additional storage and RAM.
Of course, the CPU also matters. You’re no doubt wondering how the UX305’s Core m3 compares to the Core i5 in competing models. As always, it depends.
To test the Core m3’s mettle with office drone tasks, I turned to PCMark 8 Work, and the results aren’t surprising. Anyone who uses a computer for work knows that once you get enough RAM, an SSD, and a reasonably fast CPU, you’ll have no problem pushing around Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and most common business apps. The PCMark 8 results highlight this: The UX305’s Core m3 performs closely with the Core i5 and i7 chips in the pack. You have to dip down to an Atom X7 before you really feel the pinch, and even that isn’t a deal-breaker for everyone.