The team at Taiwanese computer gear manufacturer have been extra busy lately releasing a slew of ultra-books to bolster their already impressive ultra-book range. When asked if I’d like to review one of their newer models, the UX303, which is an affordable gaming capable ultra-book, I leapt at the chance.
Look and Feel
Looks-wise, The UX303 looks as if it was hewn from a single slab of aluminium. As is the trend of the moment, the UX303 features a wedge shaped design, with a wider back end tapering to a 3mm thin front edge.
It’s a great look and a body carved out of a single piece of alloy also has the advantage of giving the UX303 a decidedly solid feel. As with other Asus Ultrabook offerings the UX303’s lid has a circular spun pattern and the entire show is finished in a light Smokey brown.
As you’d expect from Asus, there has also been a lot of focus to detail. Everything aligns perfectly and little features such as Rubber feet on the UX303’s underside reduce wobbling and movement when typing or its hinge, which has a satisfying amount of friction. All of this helps give an impression of the UX303 being premium hardware. All told the UX303 is easy on the eyes and feels great to use.
Its alloy body feels great but it does add weight. At 1.5kg the UX303 isn’t the lightest Ultrabook in town. While The UX303’s body may be a tad thicker than some other ultra-books on the market, it’s slightly larger footprint earns it big brownie points on the usability front.
Where cramped keyboards and near non-existent wrist-rests are part of the whole ultra-book deal, extended bouts of touch typing on the UX303 were a comfy undertaking.
The UX303’s keyboard is also backlit, with brightness levels adjustable to 3 different levels using the FN + F3/F4 key combo. For use in a darkened environment this is likely to be pretty handy. The only albeit minor frustration I had with the UX303’s keyboard was the top right position of the power button. Initially I found myself hitting it while my fingers were searching for the Del key. While not a major, a dedicated power button positioned away from the keyboard would be a definite plus. This said, the US303’s larger wrist rest are also provides ample space for a good sized trackpad. When combined with the UX303’s touch-screen, I was spoilt for choice when it came to driving Windows 8.
Connectivity is reasonable. The outside serves up three USB 3 ports, HDMI and mini-DisplayPort outputs and a memory card slot. The inside provides dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. There’s no room for a Gigabit Ethernet socket, but Asus supplies adapters to convert USB to Ethernet and mini-DisplayPort to D-SUB for old school screens.
The UX303 has a 13.3” IPS LCD multi-touch capable screen that sports a 1920x1080 resolution and pixel density of 166ppi. Like its Apple counterparts, the UX303’s screen is surrounded by a black bezel. The display is both bright and vivid and was perfect for watching HD video content. Should Asus ever decide to get into the personal tanning studio line of business they’re going to be well equipped with the UX303’s screen.
Audio-wise, the UX303’s Bang-Olufsen speakers definitely delivered the goods. Where the sound from most ultra-books is at best treble laden and threadbare, the UX303 was a pleasant surprise. There was plenty of presence in the midrange and even a little bass. You’ll still want to use headphones to get the best audio out of the UX303, but its speaker design is something other notebook makers should take notice of.
Under the Hood
Ultra-books are invariably a compromise. Issues such as computing power, weight/size, heat dissipation plus battery life all require trade-offs. For instance high-end CPUs may deliver more computing power, but they also generate heat. This in turn requires cooling which adds bulk. Greater power requirements also need a larger battery, which again means larger chassis and more weight. Balancing these correctly is a tough task, especially for an ultra-book where space and computing power are supposed to be as close to zero compromise as possible. To their credit, Asus seem to have done a pretty good job.
Under its hood the UX303 is powered by an Intel Core i7-4510U, which clocks in at 2.0 GHz. It can be cranked up (in Turbo mode) to a zippy 3.1 GHz. The muscular CPU is backed up by a GeForce 840M GPU which makes the UX303 a surprisingly adept gaming machine. Boot times were measured in seconds thanks to the addition of a 256GB SanDisk SSD.
Throwing a few game titles at the UX303 saw the machine barely breaking a sweat. This said, I did as it ran hotter under load. With typical (e.g. non gaming or high end multimedia) use the UX303 was pleasantly cool in use.
The UX303 packs a 50Wh battery which delivered a respectable 5 hours of life with typical use (word processing, email, web surfing etc.) and power management set to balanced mode. I also managed just over 6 hours by tweaking both keyboard and screen brightness levels down, however this dropped to just over 2 hours when running games.
If you’re searching for a solidly built 13” ultra-book that is light enough to throw into a laptop bag but can handle most game titles, you’d be hard pressed to go past the UX303.
Asus appear to have pulled off a delicate balancing act to squeeze a powerful spec into a sleek lightweight yet well-crafted chassis. In use the UX303 performed flawlessly with the titles I installed as well as heavy duty video and photo editing apps. The UX303 sure offers decent bang per buck value, delivering plenty at a reasonable price.
Display: 1xMini Displayport, HDMI
USB 3x USB3.0
Display: 13.3” 16:9 LED backlit IPS LCD 1920x1080 panel, multi-touch
Dimensions: (WxHxD) 323 × 20 × 223 mm
Weight: 1.5 kg
Keyboard: QWERTY, Backlit keyboard
GPU: GeForce GT 840M, 2,048MB, DDR3
Bluetooth: 4.0, 802.11a, 802.11ac, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n
Memory card: Multi Media Card, SDHC, Secure Digital
SSD: 256 GB
RAM: 8GB DDR3
OS: Windows 8/8.1
CPU: Intel Core i7 5500U, 2.4 Ghz
Battery: Li-polymer, 3 cells, 50Wh