Before you buy that ultra light notebook

[17 Jan 2017 update: glad my choice of laptop was one of the laptop of the year. I ordered another one, a newer model for my high school kid]

I bought a notebook in April 2016 as the one issued by IT does not need my need anymore. Even in the same role, your need can change. Since it’s my own money, I had the freedom to choose and budget to live with. I waited for Intel Skylake to be available and 256 GB SSD price to drop.

Summary: It's been worth it!

If you want to know details, read on….

First, there weren’t many choice of light laptop below US$ 600 in April 2016. The situation will change dramatically in 2017. LG Gram is definitely a good alternative.

I cap at US$600. I hope to change every 2 years, not 4 years. So the cost is $300 per year for me.

My requirements:

  • Weight near 1 kg. I ended up at 1.2 kg, which is still okay but I cannot put a case. A case adds weight 🙂
  • 13 – 14″ screen. 12″ is too small for me as I deal with long documents, spreadsheet, diagram, slides, etc.
  • Full HD. If it is not, the pixels can be seen. Full HD makes it sharper.
  • Small size. A thin bezel is a must as it’s hard to work in cattle class when passenger in front recline.
  • 256 GB SSD. 128 GB is too small.
  • 8 GB RAM.
  • Fast. This is relative. I’m just using Office, not heavy duty. Intel Core m3 at 0.9 GHz turned out to be fast for my need. Yup, just a low end CPU works wonder when complemented by SSD.
  • Fanless. I don’t like it hot nor noisy. A quiet place helps in concentrating.
  • Windows 10 or Mac. I actually don’t find major difference in terms of productivity. In fact, Windows 7 suits me better.

BTW, if you need a smaller and cheaper one, here is a review by Ariel.

What I could not find at $600 price point in April 2016:

  • Touch Screen. I could not even find it at $800 price point.
  • Hybrid mode. I love hybrid like Microsoft Surface and Lenovo Yoga. I think by 2018, all notebook will be hybrid.
  • 512 GB SSD.
  • Thin bezel, like Dell.

After some search, I found that Asus UX305CA was the best for the above requirement. There are many reviews on it, so I will just add complementary details.

What I find good:

  • Fast.
  • Quiet
  • Light. My Dell Latitude E7440 laptop is less than 2 kg. It’s amazing a few hundreds grams make a whole world of a difference.
  • Thin. My Dell is just a few mm thicker. I’m surprised a few mm makes a huge difference.
  • Battery last long enough.

What I find bad

  • No wired network. Not even with adapter. The wireless at office is not on Intranet network.
  • The lid is not easy to open, as it’s too thin. It’s a surprise since Asus has this model for a while now. It makes me wonder if Asus even tested it.
  • Surface is slippery. It’s a solid build with brushed metal. Asus should have carved it a little deeper.
  • No protection from minor dent. The 4 rubber buttons at the base barely protrude. Asus should provide larger and more buttons. I think a skin cover will fix it, although I have not tried one.
  • Sound is soft. In some cases, it’s hard to hear when the source quality was poor.
  • Screen cannot be open 180 degree. In fact, it’s only 135%.
  • It uses micro HDMI, not mini HDMI. Did not come with adapter for projector.
  • Confusing models. Asus produces many UX305 models, and they are not the same! As a result, it’s hard to buy case or skin as they don’t fit.
  • It came with outdated softwares. Lots of Windows updates have to be done as it has last year Windows.
  • Windows ecosystem. Be careful in updating drivers. I updated the Intel HD Graphic adapter to the latest (not the beta) from Intel.com. Apparently it resulted in black screen from sleeping! I had to get the the driver from Asus, which is several versions older.
  • Windows 10 settings assumed touch screen. Some can be easily configured, others you have to live with it. There is no Recent Document in Windows 10, and you have to get 3rd party.

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