Sadly, laptops rarely get their moment in the sun, at least not to the extent of their small-screen siblings, smartphones or tablets. With PC sales struggling, the laptop's fate isn't clear. Despite those woes, there are still innovations happening in the laptop space. Case in point: Asus' new ZenBook UX305.
The new ZenBook is one of the first laptops powered by Intel's new Core M processor, which the chipmaker unveiled at IFA 2014 in Berlin. It allows for new lightweight form-factors that can further blur the line between laptop and tablet. While the UX305 doesn't attempt anything too radical (it lacks a touchscreen for one), it does bring a new level of portability to the laptop category. And it's a beautiful machine to boot.
The ZenBook UX305 is a very sharp-looking piece of machinery. The laptop is made out of aluminum and comes in two absurdly named colors: Obsidian Stone and Ceramic Alloy. The Obsidian Stone-colored machine, which is the one we tried out, also has the Asus spiral design on the back of the laptop's screen.
The machine is equipped with a 13.3-inch QHD+ display with a resolution of 3200 x 1800. It's fanless and comes with a solid-state drive in 128GB and 256GB variants, with 4GB or 8GB of RAM. The 720p webcam allows you to make HD quality video calls.
Perhaps the best part of the UX305's design is its thin profile, just 12.3 mm. That's 4.7 mm thinner than a 13-inch MacBook Air. We compared it to a MacBook Air and while the difference isn't shocking, it is noticeable.
The UX305 comes with Bang & Olufsen speakers, which sounded rather airy when we tried them out, but otherwise they produced good sound. And as for the keyboard, it felt solid and had good feedback. The only key that seemed odd was the space bar, which made a bit of a clacking sound if you hit it too hard.
The Core M & Windows
While this ZenBook is one of the first to use Intel's new Core M processor, I found it a bit odd that Asus did not list the processor's speed. When I dug into the machine's properties, I was surprised to find that the processor was clocked at just under 1 GHz.
It is unclear if this is the processor speed that the machine will ship with later this year, but it does raise some concerns about how the machine will perform under the weight of more powerful applications like Photoshop. In my brief time with the notebook, which runs Windows 8.1, it was fairly responsive. There was no lagging as I moved around the OS, but at the same time it did not feel lightning fast.
Windows 8.1 has been designed to work well on low-grade hardware so its performance was not surprising. We will have to wait until we can get a model in our labs to perform a proper test of the processor's performance capabilities. Until then, I'm not sure I could recommend this machine to someone who uses very processor intensive applications. It should work well though for document editing and other basic functionality.
The Take Away
When it comes down to it, the ZenBook UX305 is a sweet piece of hardware. It has excellent design, a great high-res display, and a super-thin profile. Many of the advancements are probably due in part to the new Core M processor, but it's still early days for Intel's new chip. Hopefully it lives up to the hype.
The UX305 will be available later this year. An exact price has yet to be announced, but an Asus representative told me it should be in the ballpark of around $799 to $899, which is not bad for an ultrabook. Considering both price targets fall below Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air price, the ZenBook UX305 should make for a compelling buy.