Glass isn’t the most obvious choice when it comes to crafting an Ultrabook, but the ASUS Zenbook UX301LA-DE002P throws caution to the wind. It clamps its 13.3in IPS (2560 x 1440 resolution)touchscreen between two plates of Gorilla Glass and partners a top-flight Haswell CPU with not one but two SSDs.
Purpose-built to induce irrational, credit-card-crushing desire, the UX301LA-DE002P’s glass-clad lid shimmers in a deep, lustrous indigo blue. The brushed-metal base is honed to a silky, matte sheen, and the squared-off top half contrasts with the gently tapered curves of the base.
The ASUS’ 1.44kg glass and metal chassis is beautifully constructed. There’s barely a millimetre or two of flex in the base, and although the lid is more pliant, the Gorilla Glass promises to do its best to protect the Full HD display from harm. In a neat piece of design, the offset hinge raises the rear of the laptop when the lid is opened, tilting the keyboard forwards slightly.
Inside, ASUS features a potent Haswell CPU, the 2.8GHz Core i7-4558U, with a base frequency of 2.8GHz and a maximum turbo speed of 3.3GHz, which is obviously quite a hefty bit of CPU lifting power inside the elegant body. The integrated GPU is Intel’s HD5100, which is adequate for general gaming, though many games won’t much like maximum detail in the game settings menu turned up too far. The Haswell engine is paired with 8GB of RAM and a pair of 256GB SSDs lashed together in a striped RAID0 array. With such a potent SSD configuration and a relatively generous amount of storage to boot, the ASUS is incredibly quick for file access and app loading.
The Core i7 CPU provides a fine balance of speedy application performance and impressive battery life. This range-topping model has a high-DPI, 2560 x 1440 touchscreen panel and colours and contrast are at the high end of what’s available anywhere in the Ultrabook market. In some respects, though, the very high resolution of this screen can have its drawbacks. While your desktop, media and common apps such as Office will be sharp, with even the smallest fonts being perfectly readable, if you read our review of Lenovo’s IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro (p44) you’ll note that high-DPI displays aren’t always an asset; few applications take full advantage of the extra pixel density and many still need some fiddling in their settings to even get them to display correctly in the first place. Google’s Chrome browser, as a somewhat stunning example, still doesn’t properly support high-DPI screens without a tweak (to fix that, make a desktop shortcut to Chrome, right-click on it and select the Compatibility tab, then check the ‘Disable display scaling on high DPI settings’ option).
It’s a technically competent screen with brightness peaking at 400cd/m2 and a high contrast ratio of 931:1. Yet closer inspection reveals weaknesses. Dark greys are reproduced as black, leaving detail obscured in the darker corners of images and movies, and the lightest greys blend into white.
The Scrabble-tile keyboard gets the UX301LA-DE002P back on track. The square keys depress with a refined, cushioned stroke, and the layout is perfect, with no unduly shrunken keys and a highly usable cursor cluster. It’s also LED-backlit, with the backlighting conveniently adjustable through three brightness levels.
The ASUS’ touchscreen is superb – it feels velvety smooth, and supports ten-point multitouch. While the touchpad isn’t as cultured, it’s perfectly acceptable, responding reliably to scrolling, tapping and edge-swipes.
Despite its lissome figure, this Ultrabook is packed with all the essentials. 802.11ac (the newest, fastest and longer range standard) provides high-speed wireless networking; twin USB 3 ports are accompanied by a full-sized SD card reader; and there are mini-DisplayPort and micro-HDMI video outputs. ASUS has also included USB Gigabit Ethernet and mini-DisplayPort-to-VGA adapters in the box.
All in all, the ASUS Zenbook UX301LA-DE002P is a gorgeous laptop. So much so that it deserves a spot in our A-List, where it now replaces the Dell XPS 13 as our Ultra Portable of choice. What’s more, we’re awarding it a PC & Tech Authority Recommended award as it’s so beautifully made, beautiful to behold, and well configured with high-end components.