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Asus ZenBook UX305 vs. Dell XPS 13: Thin, light and powerful

Brian Nadel | March 18, 2015
If Apple's new 12-in. Retina MacBook is any indication, the laptop is no longer considered an endangered species -- as long as it's slim and lightweight. However, while the new MacBook is extraordinarily portable and comes with an impressive display, it's garnered a bit of criticism because of its single USB port (which does double duty as a power port) and lack of SD card slots. On the other hand, two new Windows 8.1 systems have recently shipped that not only push the thin-and-light envelope, but offer enough features to make them suitable for both personal and business use.

Its 3,900mAh battery played videos nonstop for eight hours and five minutes, a very impressive score that translates into enough power for close to two days of actual on-and-off work. Still, it was more than three hours short of the Dell's exceptional 11-hour battery life.

Asus backs the ZenBook with a three-year warranty, which makes its $700 price tag an even better bargain.

Bottom line

It may be a less ambitious system than the Dell XPS 13, but the ZenBook UX305 is still a masterful device, especially considering the very reasonable price.

Dell XPS 13

In a world of cookie-cutter laptops, Dell's XPS 13 is a breakthrough system that does a lot with a little. It not only squeezes more battery life and performance into a small case, but adds several innovative goodies to the mix.

To start, the XPS 13's dull silver aluminum case is seductively thin, with a soft rubber coating in the area around the keyboard. At 2.6 lb. and 0.8 x 11.9 x 7.8 in., it is one of the smallest 13-in. systems around — for example, it's 0.8 in. shorter and a full inch narrower than the ZenBook UX305.

With a tiny 0.15-in. bezel around its perimeter, the 13.3-in., 1920 x 1080 Infinity Display makes images seem to float in space. The screen is bright, clear and sharp, although whites were a bit on the bluish side. In tests, it delivered 222 candelas per square meter of brightness, making it about 25% dimmer than the ZenBook's display.

If you do a lot of video chats, however, the thin bezel has a big drawback — it is too small to house the webcam. The 720p camera is mounted to the lower left of the screen rather than centered above, which changes the orientation for videoconferences; I found myself slouching in my chair on a video chat in order to be seen.

The computer uses Intel's HD Graphics 5500 video chip, which is slightly faster than the 5300 model on the ZenBook. Like the ZenBook, the Dell has no dedicated video memory; it can take up to 2GB from the system's 4GB of RAM.

The keyboard offers 19.1mm keys with only 1.1mm of depth, versus a more comfortable 2.0mm of depth on the ZenBook. On the other hand, unlike with the ZenBook, the keyboard has backlighting, with two brightness settings that can help get you through night work without straining your eyes. It has a 4.6-in. touch pad that's slightly smaller than the ZenBook's 4.9-in. pad.

The Dell's circular on-off switch is to the right of the keyboard. On the left side, the XPS 13 has a five-element LED battery gauge: Press the button and the number of LEDs lit shows its current charge status.

 

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