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Asus ZenBook UX303UB

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating starrating star

What's Hot: Attractive all-metal design, upgradeable internals, lovely high resolution touch screen, very good keyboard, dedicated NVIDIA 940M graphics.

What's Not: Last gen WiFi card, no USB-C.


Reviewed February 2, 2016 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

Asus ZenBook UX303

We've reviewed the very likeable Asus ZenBook UX303 in 2014, and it was one of our favorite high end Ultrabooks with a mind for value. That continues with the UX303UB, the late 2015 refresh with Intel 6th generation Skylake CPUs and a host of improvements that address minor niggles and qualms with previous versions. The ZenBook looks much the same on the outside, and as with Apple and Samsung, when you've got a gorgeous and iconic design, why mess with it? The swirled aluminum "smoky brown" lid and all-metal casing are here with the same industrial design we've seen before on Asus' top 13.3" model. The refreshing thing here is that you get a top end 3.2 lb. machine with specs that beat much of the competition for $1,299. Goodies include the 2.6 GHz Intel Core i7-6500U CPU, dedicated NVIDIA 940M 2GB DDR3 graphics switchable via NVIDIA Optimus with Intel HD 520 graphics, and a very bright and colorful QHD+ 3200 x 1800 display. A backlit keyboard, capacious 512 gig SSD and dual band WiFi 802.11ac with Bluetooth round out the ample feature set. This is a traditional laptop-- it's not a convertible with a 360 degree hinge nor does it have an active digitizer with pen. It has a touch screen and you could use a capacitive stylus like those designed for the iPad Air with it.

Design and Build: Cool and Quiet Customer

The all metal ZenBooks have often been a bit toasty on the bottom. Not the UX303UB, it rarely goes beyond warm on the bottom (the top deck is even cooler) and we rarely heard the fan come on. Even when benchmarking and playing 3D games, the fan was audible but not loud. Perhaps Asus applied some of the Republic of Gamers cooling design prowess to their Ultrabook line. The dual fan design keeps the CPU and dedicated GPU cool enough, with temperatures that rarely exceeded 50C for the CPU (that's a perfectly good temperature) and 75C for the GPU (likewise good and both are well below the 100C thermal ceiling). We didn't see any significant thermal throttling.

Asus Zenbook UX303

The design is largely unchanged from previous generations going all the way back to the cult classic ZenBook UX32VD. Asus has simply refined with smoother edges, larger trackpads and improved keyboard action over time. Indeed, the aluminum-clad ZenBook has no rough or sharp edges, and the bottom panel (held in place with Torx T5 and 2 Phillips head screws under the rear feet) requires none of those overzealous plastic clips we loathe to hold it in place. That aluminum sheet bottom fits perfectly so you won't get bitten by anything sharp. The design is still appealing with a mix of subtle curves on the lid and smart angles on the base.

ZenBook trackpads used to be a sore point, but the UX303UB has a very good trackpad that's not quite as impressive as the Dell XPS 13 and Microsoft Surface Book's trackpads, but it's quite usable. We have the Microsoft Signature Edition model that does away with 3rd party bloatware and even some manufacturer utilities. In the case of the ZenBook I'd recommend it because Asus' utilities hurt more than they help-- dodgy trackpad software, Asus Splendid Color with several color profiles (none of which are ideal) and cloud storage software. You're better off without it, but one drawback is that you get Microsoft signature trackpad drivers with no customization for things like multi-touch and advanced gestures.

The keyboard has ample travel despite the slim design and excellent damping. That means the keys are quiet yet responsive and firm. The keyboard is backlit in white and an abundance of white filters out around the key edges. You can go with auto-brightness or turn it on and off at will using the Fn and A keys.

The bottom-firing stereo speakers are quite loud and passably full once you play with the Asus control panel's EQ settings. The Music preset sounds tinny while the Movie preset is surprisingly louder and a little bit fuller, though I wouldn't call these full bodied or bass rich speakers. They're louder than average but not fuller than average.

Asus Zenbook UX303

Last generation UX303s suffered from loosening hinges--users have reported that the display hinge became loose over time and the display wouldn't stay upright (Asus apparently repairs this under warranty). That model used a barrel or door hinge design with two plates that rotate on a central shaft. All parts were metal but the outer metal sometimes expanded so it didn't fit tightly on the shaft. One could either fix it themselves by opening up the laptop and gently squeezing the hinge with pliers or by sending it in for warranty repair. The new model covered here uses a very different hinge design with a central shaft and two adjustable nuts that tighten against a spring that provides tension. Asus has used the current design on older laptops that have held up fine, so we suspect the redesign should fix the former floppy hinge issue.

Asus Zenbook UX303

Above: new hinge.
Below: old hinge.

Asus Zenbook UX303


Asus Zenbook UX303


Ports and Wireless

Port selection is hearty for a slim and light 13.3" Ultrabook: 3 USB 3.0 ports, full size HDMI (no more micro HDMI on the ZenBook top model), mini DisplayPort, 3.5mm combo audio and an SD card slot. Unlike some ZenBooks of old, there was no USB to Ethernet or HDMI to VGA adapter in the box. Sorry, there's no USB-C 3.1 port here-- Asus threw a lot of very good features in for the price, but cutting edge new features like USB-C and NVMe SSDs aren't part of the deal.

Here's one of the few places where we caught Asus cutting corners to bring the price down: they're using the last generation Intel 7265 AC WiFi card with Bluetooth 4.0 rather than the current generation 8260 AC card. This late Haswell/Broadwell generation card was a bit quirky back in the day, though it behaved well enough in our review unit. Reception range falls a little short of several other laptops we reviewed, but not by a huge margin. We chalk that up to the all-metal casing rather than the wireless card. Should you wish to upgrade the card in the future, it's a socketed M.2 NGFF card (3 "legs") and it's not a hard job if you're comfortable working on laptops.

Asus Zenbook UX303



We've seen UX ZenBooks with Samsung 3200 x 1800 QHD+ displays before, but this one is improved in terms of yellow rendition-- it passes the Sponge Bob test with a yellow Bob rather than a mustardy green sponge hero. I suspect this is a PLS rather than IPS display since that's Samsung's specialty, and contrast ratios aren't impressive (PLS doesn't have high contrast). Brightness is excellent at 331 nits but black levels of 0.67 at max brightness reduce contrast to a passable but not stellar 550:1. Color gamut is very good at 95% of sRGB and 75% of Adobe RGB, matching the high end competition. Color calibration on our MS Signature Edition (that ships without Asus's not very good Splendid Color profiles) tended toward the cool with slightly bluish whites, which many folks favor. Calibration with our Spyder 4 Pro colorimeter easily tweaked it to nearly perfect, which is important to photographers and video editors. Though Microsoft Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 beat it for out of the box calibration, significantly higher contrast and even higher brightness, this is still one of the better and more pleasing Ultrabook displays on the market with vivid colors, excellent brightness and normal yellows.


Deals and Shopping:


Asus ZenBook UX303UB Video Review


Performance and Upgrades

Ultrabooks are notoriously not very upgradable when it comes to do it yourself replacement of internals. The ZenBook UX303 bucks that trend, much as did the popular UX32vd back in the day. It's a fairly tried and true design for Asus that they've been using for years. Thus it's not expensive to make and it doesn't feature cutting edge tech like PCIe SSDs in an M.2 slot or USB-C 3.1. Instead you get a practical machine with a RAM slot (very rare in a 13" Ultrabook), a standard 2.5" drive bay, a socketed M.2 wireless card and a battery that can be replaced if you remove the bottom cover. That cover is held in place with several Torx T5 screws and two Phillips head screws under the rear rubber feet.

The machine has 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM soldered onto the motherboard and a single RAM slot filled with one 8 gig DDR3 SODIMM RAM module in a dual channel configuration. That gives you a total of 12 gigs of RAM. If you sourced a 16 gig SODIMM, you could bring it up to 20 gigs, but those are rare. The SATA drive bay is fitted with a 512 gig SSD drive (Micron M600 on ours), and speeds are typical of SATA, which is to say good but not as blisteringly fast as a PCIe NVMe drive like those in the Dell XPS 13, some ThinkPads of the Skylake generation and the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. Honestly, unless many large file copies are a typical part of your day, you won't notice the speed difference.

Asus Zenbook UX303

The Intel 6th generation dual core, 15 watt ULV CPU is a fast 2.6 GHz Core i7-6500U, and the laptop benchmarks similarly to other dual core i7 CPUs of this generation. The only machine we've seen benchmark noticeably above the pack is the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga, which is closer to $2,000 when configured to match this ZenBook.


PCMark 8: 2882
wPrime:  16.1 sec
Geekbench 3 (64 bit): 3113, multi-core 6724
3DMark 11: P2323 / X 741
3Dmark Cloud Gate: 6253
3DMark Fire Strike: 1340

Asus ZenBook UX303 Skylake benchmarks

Battery Life

High resolution touch screens are generally hard on runtimes, though there are a few exceptions like Surface Book and the MacBook Pro 13" Retina model. Falling an hour short of the QHD resolution Dell XPS, our Asus ZenBook U303UB averaged 6.5 hours in a mix of productivity, social networking, web browsing and streaming full HD Video. To be fair, the Asus has dedicated graphics that automatically switch with Intel HD 520 integrated graphics depending on load, so it's fair that it should fall short of an integrated graphics machine.

Asus Zenbook UX303

The ZenBook ships with Asus' usual big black square charger. No, it's not absolutely tiny, but it is 65 watts rather than the typical 45 watt Ultrabook charger, and that means quicker charging and enough power to drive the dedicated graphics under load and still charge the laptop. The laptop has a 50 Whr, 3 cell battery that's nominally sealed inside (removing the bottom cover grants access).


Asus has managed to impress us again--not because of the attractive and elegant aluminum good looks of this Ultrabook... that's been the same for a few years. Sure it's still very good looking, but this time around we're impressed with how they've refined it, updated it and fixed design issues while setting an extremely competitive price that's hundreds of dollars below the big name competition. You'll make very few concessions: no forward looking USB-C or NVMe SSDs, and that last generation wireless card is an embarrassing detail Asus probably figured most users would never notice. But overall, the display is really lovely even if contrast doesn't match the more expensive competition, performance is excellent, the keyboard is great and the machine is upgradable yet still thin and light. If you have money to spend but not enough to consider a similarly configured Dell or Lenovo ThinkPad model, the Asus ZenBook UX303UB is much too good to be considered simply a consolation prize.


Price: $1,299

Related Reviews:

Dell XPS 13 Review

Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Spin Review

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14 Review

Lenovo ThinkPad X250 Review

HP Spectre x360 13" Review

Microsoft Surface Book Review

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Review


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Display: 13.3" QHD+ 3200 x 1800 glossy touch screen (PLS). Intel HD 520 integrated graphics and NVIDIA 940M 2GB DDR3 dedicated graphics. HDMI and mini DisplayPort.

Battery: 3 cell, 50 WHr Lithium Ion rechargeable.

Performance: 2.6 GHz Intel Skylake 6th generation Core i7-6500U processor (dual core, 15 watt). 12 gigs DDR3 RAM (4 soldered to motherboard, 8 gigs in 1 RAM slot).

Size: 8.8 x 12.7 x 0.8 inches. Weight: 3.2 pounds.

Camera: 720p webcam.

Audio: Built-in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack.

Networking: Intel 7256 AC dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0.

Software: Windows 10 Home.

Expansion and Ports: 3 USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, mini DisplayPort, 3.5mm audio and SD card slot.



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