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Asus Zenbook UX301 review: Asus gives the Zenbook UX301 a higher-res touch screen

A premium MacBook alternative with nearly every high-end spec imaginable.

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a semi-regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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A few years ago, nearly every PC maker had its own version of the idea ultrabook (some would call them MacBook Air clones), with a slim body, low-voltage CPU, 13-inch screen, and a premium price. In 2014, the nearly identical laptop everyone needs to have is a radically updated version of that ultrabook, adding Windows 8, a touch screen, and a better-than-HD screen resolution.

Asus Zenbook UX301LA-DH71T
7.9

Asus Zenbook UX301

The Good

The Asus Zenbook UX301 packs in a lot, including a better-than-HD touch screen, big 256GB SSD, and Core i7 processor, in a slim, smart design.

The Bad

It costs more than most comparable better-then-HD laptops, including the Retina MacBook Pro. The Zenbook doesn't feel as rugged as its price warrants, and its battery life is unimpressive.

The Bottom Line

Asus was one of the first PC makers to go ultra-thin with its Zenbook line. That latest UX301 version packs in nearly every high-end spec you'd want, but it's priced out of reach for most, and lacks an all-day battery.

The Asus UX301 joins the Toshiba KiraBook , Apple MacBook Pro , Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro , Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus, and others in offering a touch screen that goes beyond 1080p. In this case, it's a 2,560x1,440 display, which has so far proven to be slightly more common than the 3,200x1,800 version found in the Yoga 2 and Razer's upcoming Blade 14.

Asus Zenbook UX301LA-DH71T
Sarah Tew/CNET
In either case, it's a lot of pixels to push on such a small screen, but there are definite benefits in reading on-screen text and editing high-resolution photos. It's not an extra feature that counts as a must-have just yet, but just as touch screens have gone from oddity to standard feature in less than two years, I can see these higher resolutions coming to more and more laptops in the near future.

Hopefully, many of those future models won't cost quite as much as as this one. At $1,899 (it's about $50 less at most online stores), this configuration of the UX301 is about as expensive as non-gaming laptops get. The components are appropriately premium, to be sure, with an Intel Core i7 CPU and big 256GB SSD, but only 8GB of RAM and no other particularly unique features, aside from scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3 on both sides of the lid. A 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro with similar specs (but minus the touch screen, of course), is $1,799. Likewise, a similarly configured Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus can be found for about $1,750, with an even higher-res 3,200x1,800 screen.

With just a bit of daylight between the prices of comparable laptops, your preference will likely rest on subjective impressions of the design, keyboard, and touch pad (all very good here, but the same could be said for the Ativ Book 9 Plus, for example). And keep in mind, if a better-than-HD screen is the main feature you're after, Lenovo's Yoga 2 Pro offers a 13-inch 3,200x1,800 hybrid for just about $1,000.

Asus Zenbook UX301LAToshiba Kirabook 13-i7sApple Macbook Pro 13-inch (October 2013)
Price $1,899 $1,699 $1,499
Display size/resolution 13.3-inch, 2,560 x 1,440 touch screen13.3-inch, 2,560 x 1,440 touch screen13.3-inch, 2,560 x 1,600 screen
PC CPU 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-4558U1.8GHz Intel Core i7-4500U2.4GHz Intel Core i5 4258U
PC Memory 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz
Graphics 32MB (dedicated) Intel Iris Graphics 51001792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 44001GB Intel Iris Graphics
Storage (2) 128GB SSD hard drives256GB SSD hard drive256GB SSD
Optical drive NoneNoneNone
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 8.1 (64-bit)Windows 8.1 Pro (64-bit)OS X Mavericks 10.9

Design and features

The Zenbook was one of the first laptops to truly embrace the ultrabook vibe, with slim, tapered metal shells, and lids that stood out from the crowd with a circular pattern that some say resembled rippling water. Here the same effect is generated not in aluminum, but but under a Gorilla Glass 3 lid, over a dark blue background. The big difference between this and other recent slim ultrabook-style laptops we've tested is the incredibly high gloss finish on the back of the lid -- as one would expect from a glass top layer.

Asus Zenbook UX301LA-DH71T
Sarah Tew/CNET
At a bit over 3 pounds, the UX301 feels hefty in the hand, solidly built, but not as light as some other 13-inch laptops. However, despite the generally tight-feeling chassis, a very minor bump onto a carpeted floor left the power pin from the AC adaptor seriously bent out of shape, although still functional. That's why Apple, for example, has a magnetic power connection (although I've dropped and bumped plenty of Windows laptops over the years with nary a bent power plug pin).

The matte black interior features a sunken keyboard with large island-style keys. Important keys such as Shift, Enter, and Backspace are decently sized, and the entire keyboard has a very MacBook-like vibe, from the layout of the arrow keys to the power button at the very top right corner. Typing was only slightly hindered by some keyboard flex around the center, but you'll have to be a heavy typist to really notice.

Asus Zenbook UX301LA-DH71T
Sarah Tew/CNET
The large clickpad-style touch pad is much better than the versions found on the early Zenbooks of years ago. Back then, touchpad response was finicky, and multi-touch gestures were near-useless. This version is as good as any Windows laptop, with quick response and natural-feeling inertial scrolling, but I had to turn off the Windows 8 edge gestures because they were too easy to accidentally trigger.

The 13.3-inch 2,560x1,440 touch screen display is a system highlight. Covered with edge-to-edge glass, the touch response was excellent and off-axis viewing was decent, but not best-in-class. The ultra-high resolution allows for an amazing level of zoom, and you can pinch-to-zoom on pages of text to see the effect up close. The glossy screen does, however, have a lot of glare under normal lighting conditions, so you may end up twisting and turning to find a glare-free angle.

The speakers are from Bang & Olufsen ICEpower, a subsidiary of the famous audio company, and sound decent for such a small laptop, although that may be because they're fired from side-edge speakers, which gives you an especially wide stereo image.

Asus Zenbook UX301

Video micro-HDMI and mini-DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack
Data 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

Connections, performance, and battery

On a slim ultrabook-style laptop, you're not going to find a lot of ports and connections. The main compromise here is the inclusion of two off-size video outputs, micro-HDMI and mini-DVI, instead of a single full-size port, as in the case of the similar Toshiba Kirabook, which has a regular HDMI port. More options are great in theory, but you'll need to carry around a pocketful of dongles to make it work. Two USB ports is acceptable, but many ultrabooks offer three.

Asus Zenbook UX301LA-DH71T
Sarah Tew/CNET
The 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-4558U CPU is a few notches past the 4200U chips we see in a lot of competing systems, but as long as your 2014 ultrabook has a current-gen Core i7 low-voltage processor, you're in roughly the same camp. That said, the Asus UX301 deserves credit for running most of our benchmark tests faster than systems such as the Toshiba Kirabook or even the 13-inch Macbook Pro, even if you're unlikely to feel a difference in real-world usage.

The integrated Intel Iris graphics go a small step beyond the HD4400 version found in current-gen Intel Core i5 systems, but we haven't found Iris to offer much in the way of gaming abilities, especially if you take the very high screen resolution into consideration.

Despite the excellent benchmark performance in application tests, the UX301 was a letdown in battery life. In our video playback battery drain test, the system ran for 5:22. That's less than every other higher-res laptop we compared it to, with the Samsung Book 9 Plus running for more than three additional hours, and the MacBook Pro running even longer than that.

Conclusion

At first glance, the Asus UX301 is another me-too better-than-HD ultrabook, offering similar features, similar high-end design, and a similar premium price, as models from Toshiba, Samsung, Apple, and others. It stands out from the crowd for its Gorilla Glass lid and best-in-class application performance, but it also costs a bit more.

Add in a battery that doesn't run as long as the competition, and you have a laptop that loses out on being the go-to for this growing category, and instead lands firmly in the middle of the pack.

Handbrake Multitasking test (in seconds)

Asus Zenbook UX301 349Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro 391Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, October 2013) 445Toshiba Kirabook 13-i7s 446Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus 506
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)

Asus Zenbook UX301 212Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, October 2013) 244Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus 248Toshiba Kirabook 13-i7s 259Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro 302
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)

Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, October 2013) 73Asus Zenbook UX301 94Toshiba Kirabook 13-i7s 105Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus 119Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro 121
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)

Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, October 2013) 782Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus 509Toshiba Kirabook 13-i7s 471Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro 430Asus Zenbook UX301 322
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations

Asus Zenbook UX301

Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-4558U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel Iris Graphics 5100; (2) 128GB SSD

Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, October 2013)

OS X 10.9 Mavericks; 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-4258U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 1GB Intel Iris Graphics; 256GB Apple SSD Samsung

Ativ Book 9 Plus

Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1749MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400: 128GB SSD

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro

Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 1.6GHZ Intel Core i5 4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 1792MB (shared) Intel HD 4400 Graphics; 128GB Samsung SSD

Toshiba Kirabook 13-i7s

Windows 8.1 Pro (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-4500U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 1792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400; 256GB Toshiba SSD

Asus Zenbook UX301LA-DH71T
7.9

Asus Zenbook UX301

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9Battery 6