MacBook Air pretty much has redefined how we look at our notebooks today. Right from the moment that Steve Jobs pulled the very first one out from the envelope, it has been an aspirational product for multiple brands and in fairness, we have seen some terrific attempts at brands trying to outdo Apple at their own game. However, one manufacturer who has come really close to at least matching the efforts up, has been Asus and their latest ‘UX’ lineup of notebooks gives you an interesting option if you are looking for a MacBook Air of Windows machines. One option clearly is to buy the MacBook Air and run Windows using Parallels or any other form of virtual OS or to pick up the Asus Zenbook UX303U.
We were shared the unit by the team at Asus and while we were bullish on their claims that this indeed is a fantastic machine for personal computing, we were keen to run it through ourselves. So, does the UX303U make the cut? Let’s find out in the full review.
Availability, Box and Contents
The Asus Zenbook UX303U comes in a neatly packaged cardboard box, within which is the packaged box, which houses the laptop itself. In the box, you get the laptop, alongside the charger brick and the power cord.
Asus also bundles in the with the box a Thunderbolt connector as well as a USB to RJ45 connector.
You also get a neat sleeve bundled inside so that you can carry your laptop, which is a nice add-on by Asus.
The Asus Zenbook UX303U that we used comes with the sixth generation Core i5 as well as 8GB of RAM. The exact unit, we could not find online, but was readily available if you can get yourself around an Asus store. The MRP on the box is Rs 78,990 but you could pick the unit for as low as about Rs 72,000. You do have the Zenbook UX305 as an option that is available online.
Design and Build
The design of the Zenbook UX303U mimics that of the Macbook Air. The machine is without a doubt, a little heavier than the MacBook Air 13 inch that we have come to appreciate and love as well as a shade thicker at 1.9 cm versus the 1.7 cm against the MacBook Air. As Asus likes to call it, the machine is, ‘smokey brown’ in color and comes with a spun-metallic finish which definitely feels premium in the hand. The machine has a tapering to bottom design, again very similar to the MacBook Air, but it sits well on the desk and the taper makes for a nice typing experience.
The hinges on the device are kind of a composite material primarily made of plastic, but they look good and sturdy. The air vents are located just below the single across hinge and it does a good job of releasing the hot residual air. Despite being wedged shaped, the machine is rounded from the edges and has a bulge at the bottom, which makes it look a little thicker than it really is.
The lid opens only to about 128 degrees so that was bit of a bummer. On the right side of the laptop, you have the charging port, Thunderbolt port, an HDMI port, USB 3.0 and a 3.5 mm headset jack. On the left side, you have two USB ports and a slot for SD card. The machine has a single microphone located right next to the webcam, which is VGA. The speakers are located at the bottom deck of the laptop, which, although adequately loud tend to get muffled up if you put the system on a soft surface. The speakers are tuned by Bang and Olufsen and you have a sharp branding of the same right after the keyboard.
The trackpad is adequately wide though the metallic surface is not always the most accurate when it comes to scrolling, you will always tend to scroll that much longer or shorter. If you are moving from an older generation of Mac to the UX303, you would be better off with a physical mouse as the trackpad will take some getting used to. There is no touchscreen here, though you do get a couple of LED lights. The first is bang above the keyboard to right which illuminates to show the power on state, while there is one on the right to indicate when your laptop is connected to a charger.
The Typing experience
For any laptop to be really good, it is a must that the keyboard must be adequate. The keyboard on the UX303 to be fair is really good and comes really close to the experience you would get when you type on a Mac. The keys are square, none of that odd bottom curve on keys that we have seen on some Lenovo machines and they have a very decent travel and feedback. You know when you press the key and that is very reassuring. Like any typical 13 inch machine, there is no dedicated Numpad here, so you will have to make do with the number keys located on top of your regular QWERTY set.
There is backlight under the keyboard, so you would have no issues typing at night. There are three levels of brightness for the keyboard backlight and we really like that as several Windows machines, even with backlight keyboards tend to not give the step brightness option. The keyboard brightness is not adaptive, but it is not something that would make much of a difference.
The Asus Zenbook UX303 comes with a 13.3 inch full HD display resolution, with a matte coating. This gives the machine a density of 166 PPI, which is perfectly good. The display will never feel as crisp as a smartphone display or a Retina MacBook display, but it is adequate unless you really want to ram your head inside and look at the pixels up close and personal.
The anti-glare coating is welcome, but it takes some time to get used to it. Given that the display does not have a very high obtuse angle flex, we never really had a problem of a lot of overhead light reflecting off the surface. The bezels on the display are pretty huge, a bit like the Air, and that makes the whole machine look really big. Put it against the likes of Dell XPS 13 and you see the difference. Unlike the UX303UB, there is no touchscreen here and although you do not really need it either, on a laptop worth Rs 70,000+ running Windows 10 out of the box which is bet big on the touchscreen, you would have been much better with it.
The viewing angles are pretty decent and the color reproduction is fine, without ever really popping out thanks to the matte display. Asus has built in an Eye care switcher, which lets you mute colors even more so that your eyes are not strained.
Software and Performance
The Asus Zenbook UX303U comes with Windows 10 out of the box. However, Asus bundles a ton of stuff with it. You get things like Asus Giftbox (an entertainment box with games and entertainment stuff) which never really loaded for us, there is Asus Webstorage so you get 100GB of invitation storage, there is McAfee as well as Microsoft Office trial that comes bundled. Thankfully, most of the annoying stuff can be uninstalled, so you can basically only keep the things that you want.
On the performance front, we actually quite enjoyed the sixth gen i5 chipset, which in tandem with the 8GB RAM made sure things trodded along nicely. We ran the machine through a few benchmark tests and on Geekbench, the single core score of 2817 and the multicore score of 5972 was really impressive.
On Novabench, the 1TB SATA hard drive was a little sluggish and posted a score of 117 MB/s. The Intel HD 520 GPU handled most of the basic graphics work we threw at it including some HD video playback well, without much stutters and scored a very respectable 72 on Novabench. Despite playing around with the machine on a day to day basis doing everyday stuff like web browsing, couple of mail accounts syncing and some video playback in the background, the machine never really got too hot. Temperatures were moderate, but open three tabs on Chrome and play an HD video and you will hear the exhaust kick in.
The battery on the UX303U is a 3 cell 50WH unit, which will give you a practical power backup of about 3 hours. Using the machine with lots of tabs on Chrome would reduce this a little, but you should be able to get about the aforementioned time. Charging was super quick, and we were able to get up and running from dead to about 60% in just a shade over 100 mins. The dual speakers on the laptop are some of the best ones that we have used. Put the UX303U on a desk and you really will enjoy the audio.
The Asus UX303U is without a doubt a capable machine, but priced a little too high. At just around the Rs 70,000 mark, you can pick up a MacBook Air 13 inch or even a Dell XPS13, both of which are superior machines. Oh, and there is always the Yoga series from Lenovo which is once again a very capable series in the range, and you get the benefit of a touchscreen and hybrid mode.
If aesthetics are the only thing you are looking at, and want a clone of a MacBook Air, then the Asus Zenbook UX303U would have made sense if it was priced better. We would personally recommend you to check out the UX305LA from Asus itself, if you would want to remain in their product lineup.