Last year's ZenBook UX305 was a fine ultraportable, albeit one with performance issues and a compromised display, flaws that held it back from true greatness. This was a shame, especially considering its beautifully slim design and lengthy battery life.
Perhaps the new ZenBook UX305CA edition will have better luck. From the ports to processor to the operating system, this refresh has been subject to a rather diverse mix of changes, the biggest being the addition of a QHD+ resolution screen, despite the price staying level with the original FHD model.
Once again, this is a staggeringly lightweight laptop for its 13.3in form factor. It weighs just 1.2kg, and if anything, it feels even less than that, and is ultra-thin as well, measuring 324x226x12.3mm. We found we could easily carry it around in a bag, and its durable aluminium chassis resisted any bumps, scratches or scuffs it might have otherwise received.
It's good-looking, too, in a "slightly taller MacBook Air" sort of way. Yes, it does have some chunky bezels, but the extra space makes room for a large trackpad and a comfortable keyboard. The former is ultra-smooth and includes some pleasingly clicky buttons, while the latter's keys are a bit short in travel distance but are both generously sized and spaced far enough apart for speedy, accurate typing.
The selection of ports has been updated, in the form of a new USB-C connector in addition to the three USB 3.0 ports, one micro HDMI slot and one SDXC card reader, making for a versatile range for such a thin device. Also included in the box is an Ethernet-to-USB adapter, allowing for a wired connection if required.
As with the UX305, the UX305CA's ability to balance portability with functionality is commendable, but it's worth being wary of manufacturing defects; on our test model, the front-left rubber foot would lift about a millimetre off the desk when the display was raised. This didn't cause the wobbling one might expect, but it did reduce grip and stability.
The huge upgrade to a QHD+, 3200x1800 resolution display puts the humble ZenBook UX305CA on par with far more expensive premium laptops, like the Dell XPS 13 and the Lenovo Yoga 900. Since the size remains the same, at 13.3in diagonally, that means that pixel density is increased from the original model's 166ppi to 276ppi - a rise that becomes immediately apparent in use.
This is by far and away the sharpest display on a sub-£700 system we've ever used, benefiting immensely from crisp text and immaculately detailed images and video. It also lessens the effect of a returning flaw: the anti-glare coating, which combines anti-reflectivity protection with the same oily visual effect as it did on the UX305. Here, however, the greatly increased crispness helps to cut through this effect, leaving it only really noticeable on large blocks of light colours or white space.
Speaking of colours, there's nothing to complain about balance-wise; reds, blues and yellows are all vibrant but never overly so, while blacks are decently inky. It doesn't solve all its predecessor's problems, but the ZenBook UX305CA's new display is a clear step up.
Next: Operating system, software and performance