Another new laptop to play with, the ASUS Zenbook UX305 (or UX305F sometimes). I’m a little late to the party, these have been available for some time. Amazon had a $100 rebate off the regular price, which puts it at pretty fair price I think ($599). I was looking for a second laptop, one specifically to serve as a “second” laptop, to run Windows when I wanted, etc. My laptop lifecycle seems to involve running Windows for a bit, then eventually giving up and installing OpenBSD. I’ve spent the day playing with this thing, so here are some early thoughts. It’s not my intention to use this laptop as a primary machine (although one could), but I think I’ve gotten a feel for what it would be like. The Anand Tech review is more complete than here.
It’s a Core M CPU, which means it can go pretty fast, but only for a little while. Heh. There are no fans here; it’s entirely passively cooled. It also means the bottom of the case gets fairly hot. The lack of fans mean it can be even thinner, but I’m not sure it’s a great design. The fans in my X1 are generally off, too, so it’s equally totally silent, but it can turn them on when needed. No fans means the Zenbook just gets really, quite uncomfortably, hot. Generally, though, the Core M isn’t that far behind its more empowered i5 brethren.
The screen is nice. It’s a fairly high res 1080p IPS panel. Considering the price, it’s quite good and there aren’t many other options in this range. Getting 10 hours of battery life doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable. There’s a gigabit USB ethernet dongle included (works in OpenBSD with cdce driver). 256GB of SSD is pretty healthy, though it’s curiously partitioned into C: and D: drives, so if you don’t manage your files manually, you’ll run out of space after 128GB. 8GB of RAM. At least they didn’t skimp on the essentials. Three USB ports, one more than my X1 even. But only a micro-HDMI display out, no DP or regular HDMI. SD card slot as well.
It has the CPU of the new Macbook, and a nice IPS panel, but the general dimensions look much more like a darker shaded clone of the Macbook Air. It’s very solidly built, just a block of aluminum. One interesting fact is that, like a MacBook but unlike my X1, it can be opened with one hand. The screen hinge has enough tension to keep it where desired, but is just flexible enough to allow the screen to be opened without lifting the base off the table. The power brick is directly attached to the plug, unfortunately, meaning it eats up lots of wall space. And despite being an obvious clone in general shape of the Apple chargers, the prongs don’t fold back.
The keyboard is alright, but not great. The keys don’t travel far, but they click nicely. Nothing too unusual about the layout. No backlighting, which is kind of a standard feature these days, but the caps lock has an indicator LED on it (unlike the X1!). I do miss dedicated home/end/pageup/pagedown keys though. The trackpad is kind of crap. Supposedly this is one of the better PC models? In my experience, it doesn’t work as well as the X1. I think I generally dislike “glass” top touchpads. My finger alternates between sticking and skipping over the surface, leading to some erratic cursor movement. I didn’t think I used the trackpoint that much, but I keep reaching for it here, so apparently I do. I also miss having buttons at the top of the trackpad. It’s much easier than reaching all the way down to the bottom. So, not in love with this part of the Zenbook, but it’ll do. I can’t decide if it’s the kind of thing that one grows accustomed to, or becomes more aggravating over time. A mix of both.
It’s interesting to compare this experience with Coding Horror’s UX31A. The highlights have mostly stayed the same, or gotten better. Lighter, longer battery, same screen. Trackpad still suspect. We did hit the “magical” 10 hours of battery life somewhat sooner than a “long, long time”. The price has come down considerably. I think competition has increased considerably in the ultrabook segment, but left room for a “premium netbook” segment. I really would not consider moving much farther down the stack, though.
It comes with Windows 8. Crapware seems pretty limited. Skype, McAfee, not much else really. (That I could tell. What’s the difference between “sound enhancer” and “sound driver” these days?) The first thing I did was upgrade to 10. This is quite involved, because Windows Update can’t seem to decide if it wants to download 10 first, or the 6000 updates for 8. This required some manual intervention. Then one reboots and watches a very, very slow installation screen. No idea how it could possibly take that long to install. I suspect the SSD (Sandisk, definitely not PCIe) is not that fast. Finally, one lands back in Windows 10 to discover that trackpad scrolling doesn’t work. You need to install the new version of “Smart Gestures“, but it can’t upgrade itself. You have to manually delete the old version, then install the new version. I now also have a 20GB windows.old directory eating up a considerable amount of space.
I haven’t used Windows 10 before. Everything is different from 8, but fortunately I never quite got used to that, so finding my way around 10 doesn’t seem that strange. Indeed, more like 7 than not. Apparently it spies on me, though. Oh, well.
I’m not normally running OpenBSD on it, but most hardware seems pretty well supported (by current). An install to a USB stick went quite smoothly, if slowly.