Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Asus Zenbook UX303UA Real Life Review

Asus Zenbook UX303UA Real Life Review

Let's get right into it. About 1000 EUR fell out of the sky, and I had to choose a PC/laptop within that budget. I came with a list of requirements:
  1. Backlit keyboard. As it is widely known, IT creativity and problem solving abilities in computer sciences are strongly correlated with the darkness. Not a single problem in the history of computers was solved during the daylight, or with even the slightest environmental lights on, because the computer-related answers are always lurking in the dark, waiting for that last beacon of light to die and for the darkness to prevail. So event though the illuminated keyboard does present a direct threat to the problem solving, it is a trade-off which is mostly tolerated in the dark eyes of the IT-related problem-solving creatures. 
  2. As light as possible. Because I had a 3kg+ laptops before, I somehow got tired of not having the possibility to pass the laptop to someone by only using a pinky.
  3. Battery duration at least 76 days on high brightness with 3 movies playing simultaneously.
  4. At least 8GB RAM.
  5. At least i5 CPU.
  6. Full HD resolution IPS Display with good viewing angles, and not nangles.

The first offer I got was for the Lenovo Yoga3 Pro:

  • Intel Core M5Y71
  • 8GB RAM
  • 13.3", 3200x1800 touchscreen display
  • Intel HD Graphics 5300
  • 256 GB SSD
to which I replied: "Nah." According to the reviews, the CPU performance was suspicious, battery life below average, device itself was having identity issues, and so on. Possibly I was wrong. 

The second offer was Asus Zenbook UX303UA with:
  • i5
  • 12GB RAM
  • about 7 hours of battery duration (according to most reviews on the Internet)
  • FHD resolution, IPS, bright
  • backlit keyboard
  • 256 GB SSD
  • and more stuff
to which I replied: "A bacon sandwich." Because I got hungry after spending 86639 hours of life reading laptop reviews. And I ordered the thing.
Things, to be more precise. Both the sandwich, and the laptop. 

After spending about 1 month with Asus, here are the conclusions on our relatively short relationship.

BTW. If you are a Linux-person, and have a short fuse, try not to beat the hardware with your fists, because, as it happens, this does not help the software to work better. I tried these distros:
  • Ubuntu Unity (fuc**ng Unity.)
  • Ubuntu with MATE desktop environment
  • Ubuntu with XFCE desktop environment
  • MATE Linux
  • Mint Linux
  • Arch Linux
  • KDE Linux (this one was a joy - completely destroyed video output)
  • and some others. 
Now, the complete list of problems I've encountered is impossible to recollect, and the state explosion, that emerged when I tried to fix the one damned thing, was simply remarkable. They say, it is a new hardware, so not every thing is optimized yet. Optimized, right. 

Let's review some of the things which did not work in above mentioned Linux distributions:

  1. Wireless. Wonderful issues - from not seeing the wireless networks available, reporting that there is no WiFi available while connected to one at the same time, and seeing the network, but not responding to the connect commands.
    Or this - connected to wireless, then reboot (or suspend/wake), and then there are no networks anymore. When it is a good day, a simple command:

    $ service network-manager restart
    does the thing. In bad days, you won't have an internet connection.
  2. Closing the lid, assuming that the laptop will enter hibernate or suspend mode. Put it in a bag, come home from work, try to get it out of the bag, and get a 5th degree burns on your hand. Smell of scorched electronics. Thinking - this is it, it's gone. Don't know exactly what happened, but farewell my friend, may Laptop Heavens treat you better that this Linux distro. So, hibernate and suspend don't work. Fortunately, it survived the accumulating heat. Still don't know wtf happened, but as I hear, it happens.
  3. Brightness buttons don't work. Found a solution here.
  4. Everything is dark. Seeing only the mouse cursor. Naturally, one would assume that there is a simple solution to this, but after having one of the darkest moments in my Linux history, my advice is - DON'T install KDE on your Asus UX303UA.
  5. Everything is tiny. Not one single distro is optimized for a FHD resolution. This would never cross my mind in this moment of technology evolution history.
    That things would be.. too tiny.
    Only pure Ubuntu has a usable option to make things bigger, but it does not work in every software environment.
  6. Printing pending. Every job in queue is "pending". Found some cues of solution here and here, but honestly, don't remember anymore what it took exactly to get the printing working.
  7. Two-finger click emulation on the touchpad not working. A simple command:

    $ synclient TapButton2=2

    resolves this momentarily, and you can automate it somewhat, but it isn't a long-term solution. Here is a useful discussion about this issue. Oh, and pinch-zoom is also not working.
  8. Chrome can't remember your login. Every time you re-open the Chrome, it asks you to sign in again and again, please sign-in, again, again, until you want to destroy the Chrome, it's children and pets, and everyone whose name begins with a C.

    The problem is with the Linux Keyring. For Ubuntu, the solution is something like this:

    - Menu > Accessories > "passwords and keys"
    - Right click on "Default Keyring"  > change password > enter your current password
    - Leave s new password BLANK, e.g. don't type anything, and confirm. 

    Not the most elegant solution in the universe, but it works. Restart everything, login, and it should be fine now. The problem is discussed here.
  9.  Bluetooth. I won't even go here. 
  10. Ambient sensor does not work.
  11. Chrome/screen flickers while scrolling. 
  12. Tons of other things.
My personal advice - stick with Ubuntu. It is the safest place for the Asus so far. Although it doesn't work perfectly, it has the least problems of all the above mentioned distros.
All other distributions will slowly torture you with their issues until you crack and run into the woods wearing only the Home button in order to explain your new mobile home arrangement to a hedgehog.

BTW2. Windows 10, installed by default on Asus, works perfectly. I did NOT want to say that, but that is the unfortunate truth. And they look great, fully optimized for a FHD resolution.
And they steal your privacy.
And download stuff and upload other stuff without your knowledge or consent. 

Using Asus Zenbook UX303UA in Real Life The Good

  1. It is light
  2. It is relatively thin. I wish it could be thinner though. No special reason here. Just to watch its thinness while the rain falls and crickets chirp.
  3. Battery life relatively fine. Check the Bad for more details.
  4. Fast. 12GB RAM and i5 does that to you.
  5. Solid aluminium construction.
  6. You can open the lid without having the whole laptop tilting. It is fun to open the lid because of that. This would never cross my mind before.
    In fact, I am going to close the lid so I can open it right now.
  7. ...
  8. Cheaper that the competition for this kind of hardware.
  9. Nice keyboard illumination, 3 brightness values + off.
  10. Very good screen. Comfortable and large viewing angles, high brightness (Samsung ATIV Book 4 appears significantly dimmer in comparison, on highest brightness setting).
  11. Compact power adapter.
  12. Ambient sensor is kinda cool. When it's working. So... Ambient sensor on Windows is kinda cool. 

Using Asus Zenbook UX303UA in Real Life The Bad

  1. Touchpad. I hate it. It has left/right buttons implemented within the touchpad area, and they are loud and hard when pressing. I just pressed them and I have to take a break from the review, because they hurt my mind and bones.

    Ok, having a lid closed and opened, so feeling better now.

    Also, the buttons' area is also active as a touchpad, and this is especially irritating when trying to press-drag and similar functions.
  2. Not really a fan of all the aluminium. Yes, it is a subjective feeling. I don't like touching it - it's like it absorbs all the moisture right out of your hands, leaving it dry and wrinkled, thirsty for more. Since this is subjective, I must also stress that I'm not a fan of chewing broken glass either, so maybe this correlation will help you on this factor.
    Use case: One of the not-liking-the-aluminium-laptop-surface thing also involves shirt buttons on the wrists, touching and screeching on the laptop surface. Argh. If the buttons are made of metal in any form (thrash, heavy, death, power, prog, and similar), the screeching sound will wake the Dark Son of the Underground Squirrel Behemoth from its sleep. You don't want that. 
  3. Battery life. Although the reviews stated 6-7 hours of battery life o WiFi, in reality, with usual tasks such as surfing, more surfing and, well, mostly surfing, I would estimate a battery life to about 3-4 hours on both Linux Ubuntu and Windows 10. If something changes here, I will update.
    And this here is the great example and the main difference between Space Petunia Reviews and most other reviews on the net. Space Petunia is honest about stuff. The rest of them suck.
  4. The sound. It sucks, as it sucks on all laptops. No amount of superbrands labeled on laptop speakers will change this simple fact (Bang & Olufsen to be more precise). True, it doesn't suck as hard as on the Samsung ATIV 4, but hey, it sucks.
  5. Too short power cable. How long exactly? Too short. Give or take. 


  1. Have you tried Ubuntu Gnome? :)

    1. I think I did. Something was probably wrong with it.

  2. Yay! another space petunia review :) what was deal breaker when you tried mint distro?
    (Also great reference to viewing nangles, had so much fun with it ;)

    1. I should consider having the viewing nangles patented before some government agency moron steals and publish it as official.

      Anyway, the Mint - dropbox service freezing and breaking, connection manager dying, suspend/hybernate service killing the machine, bluetooth dropping connections, etc. It did not make my day.

  3. Yh, network manager on mint sucks, i.e. there is no option to rescan wifis, sometimes it sees al the wifis just not mine, it is clearly designed for facebook grannies, not power users. But I was quite delighted when I found "nmcli dev wifi list" command in console which outputs fresh wifi info, no bs. On the other side dropbox linked with my home pro security surveillance system ($5 ebay usb cam) worked like a charm