Gorgeous, with reservations. That's the Sharp IGZO gloss touch panel in the Zenbook UX301. The Sharp display was one of the first higher than full HD panels to hit the market in Windows laptops, and it's admirable for its low power consumption and high brightness. Generally, higher pixel density displays require more backlighting because that very density prevents light from reaching you. In the case of the IGZO panel, Sharp found a way to emit more light without using more power. Color gamut is as good as it gets in high end laptops with 98% sRGB coverage and 79% of Adobe RGB. Contrast is high and brightness is very impressive at 380 nits. It's a great looking glossy touch screen with 2560 x 1440 resolution and 276 ppi. Our only concern was the absolutely abysmal color calibration from the factory (we tried all of Asus' color profiles and they all stunk). Once we calibrated the display, colors were superb and the blue-green factory color cast that reduced apparent contrast was gone. But what we did notice is some red fringing on black text displayed on a white page only when we scrolled that text. That made us wonder if Asus was intentionally shipping the machine with a weird color calibration to hide a weak point of the panel's design. With the factory calibration, there is no text color shift during scrolling. It's not the end of the world, but it is a bit disconcerting when you're paying for a best of the best display. Light bleed, common on older Zenbook models and IPS displays isn't an issue on the IGZO panel.
Horsepower and Performance
As mentioned, the 13.3" Zenbook UX301LA we look at here runs on a different class of CPU, the 28 watt Intel Core i7-4558U clocked at 2.8GHz with Turbo Boost to 3.3Ghz. It's mated with Intel Iris 5100 graphics for a noticeable boost over the usual Intel HD 4400 graphics used in other Haswell Ultrabooks. The usual Core 1.6GHz i5-4200U and 1.8GHz Core i7-4500U used in other Ultrabooks are 15 watt platforms with considerably less headroom for performance. So the UX301 nets you approximately 20% more performance. In a 3 lb., 0.6" thin Zenbook, that's an impressive achievement.
You don't need this kind of performance to use MS Word, edit 15 meg JPEG photos in Photoshop or browse the web. You will enjoy it if you process full HD videos, compute thousands of rows in Excel, work with development environments on projects with many thousands of lines of code and if you play 3D games. We put the Asus Zenbook UX301LA to the test with a few current 3D games that leave everyday Ultrabooks panting with their fans whining and the FPS dragging. We test out BioShock Infinite, Skyrim and Civ V. Now Civ V runs decently on many current Ultrabooks, though touch response sometimes seems a bit slow or balky (it's one of the few touch-enabled modern 3D Windows desktop games). The other two? You've got to run at low resolutions and settings to manage 30 fps. Watch our gaming demo to see how it does (hint, pretty well though it's no gaming laptop). Keep resolutions and settings low in more demanding games like BioShock Infinite, and you'll have a very playable experience with less fan noise than on a Core i7-4500U with HD 4400 graphics. Asus' dual internal fan design is both efficient and quiet; their engineers know a thing or two about designed cooling systems for gaming rigs, after all.
PCMark 7: 5828
3DMark 11: P1357
wPrime: 16.26 sec.
Cinebench R15: 314 (CPU)
Geekbench 3 (single/multi-core): 3292/6858
PCMark 7 Benchmark Comparison Table
CrystalDiskMark SSD Scores
RAM, RAID 0 SSD Drives and Model Variants, Including the Zenbook UX302
The UX301LA-DH71T model we cover here has 8 gigs of DDR3L RAM soldered to the motherboard (like most Ultrabooks, it's not upgradable). It has a 256 gig SSD that's actually comprised of two very fast 128 gig SSDs in a RAID 0 configuration to boost speed. For some reason, Asus partitions this as a C and D drive. Asus uses SanDisk X110 M.2 form factor drives, and these are fast drives (forget the issue of slow SanDisk SSDs in the old Zenbook UX31E, these are different animals altogether). If you buy the most expensive UX301LA-XH72T configuration, you'll get a 512 gig SSD (again, 2 SanDisk X110 drives in a RAID 0 configuration). The base model UX301LA-DH51T lists for $1,699 and runs on a standard 15 watt 1.6GHz Core i5-4200U Ultrabook CPU with 8 gigs of RAM and the same 256 gig RAID 0 SSD.
If you simply want a standard Ultrabook with a unique look, the Zenbook UX302 is an excellent option. It has the same blue glass lid, and when closed it looks almost identical to the UX301. The UX302LA has a 1920 x 1080 IPS display and a metal keyboard deck rather than the textured matte glass deck on the UX301. It has a standard 2.5mm SATA drive bay with a conventional spinning hard drive and a single RAM slot. It's available with only 15 watt Intel Core i5 and i7 CPUs. The Zenbook UX302LG (not yet available in the US as of this writing) adds NVIDIA GT 730M dedicated graphics, and is the successor to the Zenbook UX32VD. All models have a gloss touch screen.
Battery Life and Wireless Performance
In the good old days, we didn't have to focus on WiFi performance since it was generally good. As notebooks use increasingly lower power, their wireless adapters get less power to work with, and that affects wireless performance. And now we have several different WiFi standards to worry about: B, G, N and AC. Not to mention there are two bands, 2.4GHz and 5GHz, a few different operating systems... lots of different routers running old, new or something in between firmware. Yikes. The good news is that Asus went with the best here: Intel's WiFi AC 7260 WiFi 802.11ac adapter. It's a dual antenna and dual band card, so the Zenbook has the potential to reach the best possible speeds with less interference (if you use the 5GHz band and have a dual band wireless AC router). In our tests, once our machine received Windows updates for the wireless drivers, connection speed was top notch on our dual band 802.11n network and range was good with the machine maintaining the same connection and download speeds up to 30 feet from our AirPort Extreme wireless access point. We did have once per day connection drops with "limited connection" errors that we fixed with a quick toggle of airplane mode, but we've seen this on every Windows 8 laptop we've reviewed (here's looking at you, Microsoft).
The Zenbook UX301's 6 cell, 50.6 Wh battery is sealed inside, as is the case with nearly all Ultrabooks. If you remove the bottom cover, you can access the battery should you need to replace it a few years down the road, but it's not a "slide the latch and pop it out" design. That's a decently large capacity battery for a 13", 3 pound Ultrabook and it matches the also beefy Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus (another upscale Ultrabook with a very high resolution display and elegant design). We worried that the very high resolution display and 28 watt platform would kill battery life, but we found the laptop lasted a livable 6 to 6.5 hours for productivity tasks that include MS Office work, web browsing, social networking and streaming 30 minutes of YouTube HD video with brightness set to a very adequate 40%.
The Asus Zenbook Infinity UX301 is one of the finest Ultrabooks money can buy. It has a higher resolution display than most and a faster CPU and integrated graphics than all except the 13" Retina MacBook Pro (which technically isn't an Ultrabook and is equally as fast if you buy the similarly configured 2.8GHz i7 model). Of course, this comes at a price, and few will pay the $2,000 price of admission. But if you want one of the fastest, best-equipped Ultrabooks on the market that also happens to look exquisite, it's the Asus Zenbook UX301. Of course, a glass top isn't for everyone, and if you do travel frequently and don't need the super-charged Ultrabook CPU, you might want to look at the equally lovely looking and also perfectly put together Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus with a 3200 x 1800 resolution display. And of course, for you switch hitters who are OS agnostic, the 13" Retina MacBook Pro is also an excellent ultraportable.
List Price: $1,699- $1,999 ($1,999 as reviewed)
Asus Zenbook UX301 vs. Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus Comparison Article
Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus Review
2013 13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display Review
Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro Review
Dell XPS 12 Review
Sony Vaio Flip 13 Review