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Asus Zenbook UX303LA 2014 Review

I bought this laptop in Nov 2013 on Amazon.com for $899 to replace my dying Dual Core Dell Vostro. I have flip-flopped between this and T440S, but went for this and do not regret the choice at all. This is a very informal review based on my observations in the first couple of weeks of usage.

Update Aug 2015: I regret this purchase. See the twist in the tale.

Key features

  • 13.3 / 1920 x 1080
  • Core i5 4210U / 1.7 GHz
  • Windows 8.1
  • 8 GB DDR3L SDRAM
  • 128 GB

Observations

Main features

The laptop unit was very comfortable to hold on a single hand and felt as premium as a Macbook Air.

Typing on the keyboard feels natural to me. I am a keyboard person mostly and use the trackpad for speed browsing. The gestures, taps and scrolls feel fairly smooth and integrate well with how I do things. I specifically love the two finger vertical scroll. Clicking the trackpad, however, makes me a bit uncomfortable as I need to put in a slight amount of force into pushing down to register the click. Maybe that's the way it is supposed to be and is normal, but to me, if I think I have lots of clicking to do, I use the optical wireless mouse Dell WM123.

Touchpad, though responsive, felt a bit odd at first, but it grew on me as I used it more. Two and three finger gestures are easy to get accustomed to, but the three finger up-swipe that Asus provided doesn't seem as smooth.

Display is good enough for me. Though, I noticed that some applications or parts of applications (like menus or alerts) do not scale well. Example, the IIS Express' system tray right-click menu.

Has no flex on the bottom part of the laptop, but has a slight amount on the top part of the screen.

Windows 8.1 felt very good, after being a long time Windows 7 user.

The bottom never felt hot when running resource hungry applications.

Performance

On an average, I got 5 to 7 hours depending on the load. If I only browsed lightly, I got around 8 to 10 hours. As you might have guessed, it depends on the type of continuous usage.

Loading the CrunchBang VM seemed as smooth as dual booting.

Ran a Linux VM (CrunchBang) on it, opened few IDEs and SQL Management tools all at once and I did not feel any lag.

Battery life was decent during the first few weeks I got up to six hours on continuous usage with a few projects running and the browser with about 20 tabs open.

Annoyances

  • Auto brightness. First thing to turn off.
  • Power off key placement is easily the next thing. It is slightly hard to depress as comfortably as the other keys, so I was able train my muscle memory to not press it. Left pinky goes to the corner on habit and I refrain from clicking it and use the left index finger to use the Delete key.
  • Lack of dedicated Home/End/PgDn/PgUp was something I found after I purchased the laptop. These four keys can be accessed with the Fn key and the arrow keys. For a developer's machine, this is not acceptable and surprisingly I was able to adapt to pressing the Fn key.
  • Sometimes, on waking up from sleep, I see the login screen for a moment and screen turns off at this point as if going to sleep again. I press spacebar and its back again.

Twist

The hinge broke after eight months of usage.

I was so happy with the product that I told people that I made the best of choices possible. One guy even asked me whether there are hinge problems and I said "nothing of that sort at all".

One day I noticed a slight creaking sound every time I opened the lid. The hinge started getting loose almost within a week. Within the week after, the plastic casing that hides the hinge came off completely.

Some pictures of the hinge disaster

I sent the unit for repair a while after the warranty expired, unfortunately. So, the official hinge replacement cost estimate given to me was $510. I felt it was an outright theft and a daylight robbery to pay more than half of what the whole unit costed. I was never disappointed with an electronic device as much as I was with the Asus Zenbook UX303LA 2014 edition.

Currently I am using the laptop connected to monitor and plugged in all the time as you would with a mini PC or a standalone CPU.

Conclusion

Will the laptop survive 5 years?

This aspect of buying a laptop has always been a final decider for all the laptops I have almost bought. Honestly, I didn't know that about this Zenbook for sure at the time of the purchase, but I decided to go forth with the purchase. However, after three months of usage, I feel assured for reasons I can't explain well yet. I had my hands on a Macbook Air for the first time in my life just a few months back to test a website on the latest Safari. I was really blown away by its build quality. I could say that this Zenbook is probably quite close to the MBA. To conclude, I feel like the combination of Windows 8.1 and build quality is what makes this a top performer. That being said, I predict it will easily blow through three years of usage. Anything above that, I will consider it as a bonus.

I am never buying another Asus product. I don't recommend Asus Zenbook products at all. I found 100s, if not 1000s, of users who had the exact same issue after the exact amount time from the initial purchase for this model and the next year models. To verify this, check out the amazon reviews of this laptop and the subsequent models.

You will not go that wrong with Dell or Thinkpad if your budget is above $600. My personal recommendation is either the T or the X series of the Thinkpad line.