Based on the convoluted name alone, you may enter this review with some skepticism. We’re with you. Well — we’d be with you if laptops in this line hadn’t repeatedly impressed us over the years. In fact, the 2016 version of the Asus Zenbook UX330UA has been sitting at the top of our best budget laptops all year.
Laptops under $800 used to be hard to recommend. They were often poorly-designed, featured low-end components, and were full of notable compromises. But with machines like the $800 Dell XPS 13 and the $650 Swift 5 on the market, there’s now a host of great options in that lower-mid tier price range. It’s no longer necessary to spend over a thousand dollars to get a laptop that won’t be outdated in a year.
These simple, affordable laptops aren’t going to turn heads, but they’re a joy to use because they nail the fundamentals.
Asus has introduced its 8th-generation Intel Core processor to the Zenbook UX330UA. Outside of the new CPU, you won’t notice many other changes to this late-2017 update. But when you’ve got a laptop that still delivers all the essentials at such an affordable price point, who’s going to complain? Follow along as we put the new processor through the ringer and see if the Zenbook UX330UA still holds up to the competition.
The laptop equivalent of a t-shirt and jeans
The Asus Zenbook UX330UA allegedly isn’t identical to the previous model, the UX305UA. According to the specifications, the newer 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.
When a laptop delivers all the essentials at an affordable price, who is going to complain?
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 the 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, pairing two USB-A ports with a single USB-C. The USB-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.
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 around each key.
Below the keys is a normally sized touchpad, about three inches tall by four inches wide. It offers full support for 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. We turned down the touchpad sensitivity and cursor speed down, which helped a bit in comfortably moving the cursor around.
With touch-to-click turned on, we found the system often confused single clicks with click-and-drag actions.
The click of the touchpad is a little mushy for our taste. With touch-to-click turned on, we found the system often confused single clicks with click-and-drag actions. Lastly, it should be mentioned that the keyboard does have some flex in it. It’s not terrible, but even in normal typing, you’ll notice the movement of the keyboard beneath the weight of your keystrokes.
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.
Overall, the touchpad isn’t horrible, especially compared to some other Windows 10 laptops in this price range. However, coming from something like a MacBook or the Dell XPS 13, it’s one of the most noticeable weaknesses of the laptop.
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, and is passed the Dell XPS 13, it beats similarly-priced laptops like the Acer Swift 3 by a mile. Maximum brightness comes in at 315 lux, which is not the best we’ve seen, but it’s more than adequate in a laptop with an anti-glare screen.
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 3, Dell XPS 13 with 1080p display, and HP Spectre x360 all score slightly better.
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 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.
8th-generation Intel Core
The new CPU in the Zenbook UX330UA is the real story. It’s a new 8th-generation Intel Core CPU, a series of chips that have performed well across in other laptops we’ve tested, like the Lenovo Yoga 920, and Dell XPS 13. The UX330UA features the Core i5-8250U, which is the 7th-generation version of the same CPU you’ll find in a powerhouse 2-in-1 laptop like the Surface Book 2 . In case you’re wondering, that machine will cost you upwards of $1,499, while the Zenbook UX330UA still comfortably sits at $750. Here’s how the processor ranks against some competitors:
The updated version of the UX330UA zooms past the 7th-generation version (Core i5-7200U) with a 7.8 percent increase in single-core performance, and a 42 percent increase in multi-core performance, in our GeekBench 4 tests. We haven’t been able to test many Core i5 versions of the 8th-generation processors, but you can see that it holds up well even against Core i7 CPUs — even besting the i7 in the Dell XPS 13 in multi-core performance.
In our Handbrake test, we encoded a 4K video clip, and found again that the Zenbook UX330UA compared well to Core i7 CPUs. It lagged just behind the Surface Book 2, outran the Dell XPS 13, and left the previous generation UX300UA in the dust. You may notice that the blazing Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 outpaces pretty much every competitor with just a Core i5 processor (except the Lenovo Yoga 920, which is the fastest 8th-generation laptop we’ve tested) in both tests.
The Asus isn’t a mobile workstation though. The i5-8250U is meant for typical day-to-day use, and there it provides excellent results for processes like 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 noteworthy.
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 must 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 still uses the SATA connection standard, can’t keep up with newer drives that connect over PCI Express. It’s an area of weakness that Asus chose not to update — and that means laptops like 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, at least for now. 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 upgrade to the 8th-generation CPU should offer marginal improvements that keep it competitive with rivals, but that doesn’t mean much.
The scores produced by this laptop are mediocre even for its category, in some cases coming in a few hundred points 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. Its performance didn’t see much of an increase, still puttering along at well under 20 frames per second with resolution set to 1080p and all detail sliders set to minimum. That’s not a great experience.
The one score where we saw a significant improvement with the 8th-generation processor on was the 3DMark score. In the Fire Strike test, the new CPU on the UX330UA scored 912, whereas the previous generation scored a measly 457. It finally surpassed the 12-inch MacBook, and the 7th-generation Dell XPS 13. Now, it competes well enough with current models of the Dell XPS 13 and HP Spectre 13.
Still, we wouldn’t recommend anything other than casual gaming on the UX330UA. You simply can’t buy a thin and light laptop that also plays games for less than $1,000. You’ll need to look elsewhere — whether that’s at a gaming laptop like the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming Laptop, or a thin yet fast machine like the Razer Blade. You’ll be spending more either way.
Battery life takes a dip
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 just 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 highly doubt anyone’s going to complain the UX330UA is too thick.
When moving to the 8th-gen CPU, Asus kept the same large 57 watt-hour battery into this laptop. While we were happy with its performance in the previous model, it has lost some of its superiority this time around thanks to that high-performing processor.
Starting with the iMacros web benchmark test, which is a relatively heavy load, the UX330UA lasted 8 hours and 31 minutes, which has been reduced from the 7th generations CPU’s fantastic score of 10 hours and 25 minutes. We saw a similarly regressive result in our video loop test, which repeats a 1080p clip of The Avengers until the battery dies.
Asus crams a large 57 watt-hour battery into this laptop
The 7th-generation version of the UX330UA lasted an impressive 13 hours and three minutes, while the 8th-generation version lasted 11 hours and 6 minutes.
It tests better than the Dell XPS 13 and HP Spectre 13, but easily falls behind standouts like the Lenovo Yoga 920 and the HP Spectre x360 13.
Across the board, the UX330UA went from being an industry-leader to squarely middle of the pack. The battery has taken a step back from previous iterations — and that’s a disappointment. It still outlasts all laptops in its price range, but no longer run laps around them.
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.
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 this price, yet the Zenbook UX330UA almost entirely dodges the problem. There’s very little pre-installed here, except for everyone’s favorite McAffe anti-virus software, and a handful of games. We would have liked to see the laptop to have just relied on the proprietary Windows security, but McAffe is easy enough to uninstall or disable if you don’t want it to bother you with notifications.
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 much
Asus’ Zenbook UX330UA was a worthy successor to the UX305UA and the 8th-generation CPU is a nice addition to the mix. The new CPU boasts some impressive results, and ensures that the Zenbook UX330UA stays competitive well into 2018 and beyond.
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. Lastly, if design matters to you more than power, check out the beautiful Dell XPS 13, which has an entry-level configuration ($800) that has a slower 7th-generation Core i3 processor.
In terms of pure bang-for-your-buck, the Acer Aspire 5 also offers some great value with the inclusion of a discrete GPU at just $600. While battery life won’t be as good (and this is a larger 15-inch laptop), it’s worth considering in this range.
Most other systems comparable to the Zenbook UX330UA in size and weight are several hundred dollars more expensive when similarly equipped, such as the HP Spectre 13, Lenovo Yoga 920, or MacBook Pro.
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. The updated CPU makes it the perfect time to buy this laptop for maximum longevity.
Should you buy it?
Yes. 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 reach.