In September of 2016, from the show floor of IFA in Berlin, we called the laptop a “solved problem.” That’s not to say all laptops are good, of course, but the elements of a good laptop are now set in stone, and it doesn’t appear new technology will change them any time soon.
We reached that conclusion after testing laptops like the Asus Zenbook UX305UA, as well as competitors like the Acer Swift 5 and Lenovo ThinkPad 13. These simple, affordable laptops aren’t going to turn heads, but they’re a joy to use because they nail the fundamentals.
Now, Asus has introduced an updated follow-up to last year’s Editor’s Choice winning Asus Zenbook UX305UA, balled the UX330UA. The new model iterates on its predecessor, adding a 7th-generation Intel Core processor, a fingerprint sensor, and USB Type-C support, among other goodies.
But goodies aren’t what won awards for previous Zenbooks. They won because they brought excellent quality to a price everyone can afford – which, in this case, is $730. Is the UX330UA another affordable champion?
The laptop equivalent of a t-shirt and jeans
The Asus Zenbook UX330UA allegedly isn’t identical to the previous model. According to the specifications, the new version is a tenth of an inch thinner at just a half-inch thick. It’s also lighter, at 2.6 pounds. You’d never notice those differences without a specification sheet in front of you, and we doubt most people could tell the difference between the UX305UA and UX330UA even if the two were placed side-by-side.
That’s fine. On its own, the UX330UA holds up. The mostly-metal chassis features the distinctive “spun metal concentric circle” finish that’s common to all Zenbooks, and is meant to remind you of ripples in a pond. We’ve always liked the look, which is handsome, and adds unique flair that competitors from Acer, Dell, and Lenovo can’t claim.
Having said that, our review model’s silver finish wasn’t a head turner. In the past, Asus has sometimes offered subtle yet distinctive alternatives, like the dark blue-black of last year’s Zenbook UX305CA. There’s no such choice here. Silver is fine, but the lack of another option feels notable given last year’s models came in several eye-catching shades.
Though light, the UX330UA is a solid laptop. The chassis shows little sign of flex when handled roughly, and what can be found isn’t enough to be concerning. Our only complaint is one we’ve had with past Zenbooks — the display bezels are wide, and the laptop is large for a 13-inch system as a result. It’s not a major problem, but some competitors, like Dell’s XPS 13, fit the same screen size into a smaller, more portable footprint.
A little new, a little old
Asus takes a mixed approach to connectivity here, pairing two USB 3.0 Type-A ports with a single USB 3.1 Type-C. The Type-C doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3, and can’t be used to charge, so there’s still a proprietary charging connector. Micro-HDMI, a headphone jack, and a card reader round out the options.
Though light, the UX330UA is a solid laptop.
While it’d be nice to see Thunderbolt 3, it’s hard to complain about either the number or type of connections here. The UX330UA offers some future-proofing, but will also work with your current peripherals.
Wireless connectivity includes 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1. This is typical of a laptop in any price range.
Solid keyboard, mediocre touchpad
The thin profile luckily doesn’t compromise typing on the UX330UA, which offers a respectable 1.5 millimeters of key travel and a nearly full-sized keyboard layout. This is where the large footprint pays off. There’s plenty of space to rest your palms, and almost all the keys are properly sized. Only the arrow keys are tucked away – but how often are those used, really?
Keyboard backlighting is standard, and serves up three levels of brightness. All three are dim enough to be usable in a dark environment without becoming a distraction. Not all keys are evenly backlit, which cheapens the look, and a fair amount of light leaks from the bottom of each key.
Below the keys is a normally sized touchpad, about three inches tall by four inches wide. It offers full support of Windows 10 Precision Touchpad gestures, which work well. Yet the touchpad never felt great to our hands, largely because of its super-slick surface. The lack of friction provided less tactile feedback than we’d like, making it easy to overshoot gestures.
A fingerprint reader is integrated into the touchpad, which is impressive, given the price. The square it occupies unfortunately isn’t responsive to touch input, so it knocks a small but awkward chunk out of the usable surface. The fingerprint reader hooks seamlessly into Windows Hello and generally accepts input well, though on a few occasions it did fail, forcing us to type in a password anyway.
A display that’s always beautiful
Like past Zenbooks, and many of its competitors, the UX330UA ships with a 1080p non-touch display. This is the most common resolution among 13-inch laptops but, of course, panel quality can vary widely from one model of laptop to the next. Luckily, this screen is a good one.
A few numbers immediately jump out from the rest. The screen displayed 98 percent of sRGB and 74 percent of AdobeRGB, figures that don’t break records, but are better than expected from a laptop in this price range. The contrast ratio of 940:1 is also strong. While it’s behind the Apple MacBook Pro 13 with Touch Bar, it beats the Acer Swift 7 and almost ties the Dell XPS 13, which had a contrast ratio of 960:1 when equipped with a 1080p touchscreen. Maximum brightness comes in at 315 lux, which is not the best we’ve seen, but its more than adequate in a laptop with an anti-glare screen.
The i5-7200U is plenty fast, cramming through everyday tasks effortlessly.
We did find some flaws. The gamma curve came at 2.4, which indicates the screen renders content slightly darker than it should appear. Color error came in at 2.56. Because this is an error value, a lower score is better, and anything below one is generally unnoticeable to the human eye. The UX330UA’s score is not bad, but the Acer Swift 7, Dell XPS 13 with 1080p display, and HP Spectre x360 all score under two.
Testing aside, it’s hard to fault the UX330UA’s display in day-to-day use. The anti-glare coat keeps it usable in a variety of scenarios, including outdoors, where the reasonably bright backlight can compete with the power of the sun.
Yet, somehow, the display also looks good playing a movie in a dark room. Its strong contrast ratio and reasonably accurate color combine to provide a clear, crisp image. It’s not going to knock your socks off, but it’s also hard to fault.
Strong speakers, facing the wrong way
A pair of forward-facing speakers tuned by Harmon Kardon are included along the bottom lip of this Zenbook. They provided robust sound, including a hint of bass that can be both heard and, if you’re typing while listening to music, felt. The location dampened quality, though, as it’s easy to obstruct the sound. External speakers or headphones are a good idea, but the built-in speakers are fine in a pinch.
7th-generation Intel Core continue to impress
Inside the Zenbook UX330UA you’ll find the Core i5-7200U which, like the i5-6200U and i5-5200U before it, is destined to become the most common chip of the new generation. It shows up in laptops from $600 to over $1,500. This Asus is on the low end of that price spectrum, so its inclusion looks like good value right away.
That initial assessment is backed up by our benchmark results. The chip performed almost identically to the Core i5-7200U found in more expensive laptops, like Dell’s XPS 13, or HP’s Spectre x360. Better still, the i5-7200U is a decent upgrade over the old i5-6200U.
That’s not to say you can’t find faster hardware. Our Handbrake test, which involves transcoding a 4K trailer of Elysium from h.264 to h.265, needed over a half-hour to complete. That’s a bit long for a system with the Core i5-7200U, and it may indicate the Zenbook UX330UA does not handle thermal limitations as well as some peers.
Still, this Asus isn’t a mobile workstation. The i5-7200U is meant for typical day-to-day use, and there it provides excellent results, launching applications and cramming through edits of typical, HD-resolution photos without breaking a sweat. This chip will still feel quick enough five years from today, which makes its inclusion in a sub-$800 laptop impressive.
Modest hard drive performance
By now, you might be wondering what the UX330UA doesn’t do well. It has a decent keyboard, nice display, and fast processor. Surely something has to give, right? Well, that something is the hard drive –kind of.
A skeptic might see a lot to dislike here. The UX330UA’s 256GB solid state drive, which uses the SATA connection standard, can’t keep up with newer drives that connect over PCI Express. The HP Spectre x360 and Dell XPS 13 easily outperform it.
Even so, the Zenbook shouldn’t be dismissed. Its performance is near the top of what can be expected from SATA, and it’s unreasonable to demand a PCIe drive in an affordable laptop. In fact, Dell drops down to SATA in the XPS 13 if you choose the 128GB drive, which is the only one available in the $800 entry-level version.
Gamers, look elsewhere
Like most budget notebooks, the Asus Zenbook UX330UA makes no promise it’ll game well. Which is for the best – because it doesn.t
The scores produced by this laptop are mediocre even for its category, in some cases coming in a few hundred behind competitors. This significant defeat is only softened by the fact none of the UX330UA’s peers can play new 3D titles at 1080p resolution and anything approaching a respectable level of detail.
We also tried playing Civilization VI, the latest entry in Sid Meier’s long running and incredibly popular strategy franchise. It puttered along at less than 20 frames per second with resolution set to 1080p and all detail sliders set to minimum. That’s not a great experience.
Of course, you simply can’t buy a thin and light laptop that games well for less than $1,000. You’ll need to start looking at 15-inch systems if gaming matters to you.
Big battery means long life
Weighing in at 2.6 pounds, the Asus Zenbook UX330UA is quite light for its size, coming in below the Apple MacBook Pro 13 and Dell XPS 13. It’s also thin at a half-inch thick, though it feels thicker than it is. Blame the boxy body and big, chunky rubber feet. There are certainly thinner options, like the Asus Swift 7, but we doubt anyone’s going to complain the UX330UA is too thick.
Asus crams a large 57 watt-hour battery into this laptop, and that paid off in our battery tests. The Peacekeeper web benchmark test, a relatively heavy load, ate through a charge in six hours and 31 minutes. That beats the Dell XPS 13 with Core i5-7200U, which lasted six hours and 12 minutes. It also defeats the MacBook Pro 13 with Touch Bar, the Acer Swift 7, the Asus Zenbook 3, and the HP Spectre x360 13-inch.
We saw a similarly impressive result in our video loop test, which repeats a 1080p clip of The Avengers until the battery dies. The UX330UA lasted an incredible 13 hours and three minutes. That again beats all the competitors we’ve tested, most of which last between 10 and 12 hours.
This is certainly a case of less becoming more. The mid-range processor, paired with a simple 1080p display, maximizes every bit of fuel from the laptop’s sizable tank. The closest competitor to it is the Dell XPS 13, which did come within twenty minutes of the Zenbook UX330UA in both tests discussed above. Other laptops are handily outperformed, lasting one to two hours less in most scenarios.
Quiet, until it’s not
The Zenbook UX330UA is not fanless but, like Apple’s MacBook, it hides the exhaust vents within the display hinge – and the vents don’t even span the entire width of the laptop. It’s extremely difficult to notice the fan when the laptop is idle, or under light load.
Asus crams a large 57 watt-hour battery into this laptop
Heavier load can tease the fan out, and it becomes extremely noticeable once a heavy load, like our Handbrake benchmark, runs for more than a minute or two. The laptop also heats up significantly under these conditions. That said, its overall noise and thermal performance isn’t outside the norm for a 13-inch laptop.
Bloatware is a common problem on laptops at any price, yet the Zenbook UX330UA almost entirely dodges the problem. There’s very little pre-installed here. Not even an anti-virus application is included; Windows Defender is activated by default instead. It’s good to see Asus provide a pure experience that doesn’t bog down the user experience.
Asus ships the Zenbook UX330UA with a one year warranty. That’s the industry standard no matter a laptop’s price, so we wouldn’t expect to see it muchOur Take
Asus’ Zenbook UX330UA is a worthy successor to last year’s UX305UA. It upgrades the processor, modernizes the port layout, and increases battery capacity. And yet, despite the upgrades, Asus is charging just $730 on Amazon.com — $20 less than it did for the UX305UA when it released.
Is there a better alternative?
Competition in this price bracket is fierce. Acer’s Swift 5 is the greatest threat, as it offers similar hardware for about $750. It’s a 14-inch laptop, so it’s larger overall, and it also has a slightly smaller battery. Lenovo’s Ideapad 710S is another possibility, but it sells for $800, and has a smaller 128GB solid state drive.
The DT Accessory Pack
Most other systems comparable to the Zenbook UX330UA in size and weight are several hundred dollars more expensive when similarly equipped.
How long will it last?
Though affordable, the Zenbook UX330UA is packed with current hardware, and its connectivity arrangement provides ways to hook up both old and new USB devices. This laptop should last as long, if not longer than, most laptops purchased today.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The Asus Zenbook UX330UA is the ideal mid-range laptop.
There are some flaws. The touchpad is a bit of a miss, and the system’s design isn’t eye-catching. These are minor issues, however, and forgiven by excellent performance by every other metric. The fact that this laptop sells for just $730 only cements its excellence.
There’s no need to spend more than $1,000 on a great laptop. The Zenbook UX330UA is as fast and portable as any, yet priced within grasp.