It’s surprising how you can get used to having a gadget around. Having bought into the Asus ZenBook range back in 2015, for the last couple of years I’ve been putting off upgrading the sleek, compact laptop that won me over so long ago, but as we enter the run-up to Black Friday 2020, I can’t delay the inevitable any longer.
The ZenBook UX305 was, when I bought it, a staggeringly good buy. I paid £500-600 for it (around $700 / AU$1,000), and was overjoyed at having found a slim, lightweight, and enjoyably fast laptop that didn’t cost anywhere near as much as a MacBook Air – which remained at a price tag of $999 (£949, AU$1,499) for some time after its release. The ZenBook had 8GB of RAM, and 256GB storage, and it felt wondrous when I first booted it on.
I was also a little bored of the black and gray computers I’d owned before, and continued to see everywhere – not least because Apple persisted, and persists in primarily using those colors for its MacBook range. The Asus ZenBook, though, had a brushed aluminum finish, with a radial pattern and purple / mauve coloring that seemed more ‘lifestyle accessory’ than ‘tech bro gadget’, almost like a clutch or sofa cushion. (Yes, I drank the Kool-Aid.)
Initially my ZenBook’s purpose was to make ferrying between lectures and libraries an easier task – it weighs just 1.17kg – but it quickly morphed into ensuring that a commute on London’s buses and trains, or a wander around the city, wouldn’t leave me with backache. And it didn’t!
All good things come to an end
The issue now, in 2020, is that I can’t justify keeping it on life support any longer. The screen is dim compared to pretty much every other display I own; the bezel seems thicker and sterner with every infinity-screen smartphone or smart TV I see; the audio simply doesn’t work anymore, whether over Bluetooth, cabled headphones, or the laptop’s own built-in speakers; and the processor is just a bit old.
Everything that made the ZenBook so tempting in 2015 – its size, weight, and speed – is now less impressive, less enticing, less urgent, with technology having marched on in the intervening years.
There will no doubt be plenty of Black Friday laptop deals to tempt me. Once discounts start to arrive in earnest, I expect to find similar specifications for around $400 / £400, or far better ones for the same price I paid for the ZenBook. For an ultrabook that gives me the same awe, and feels as good for the price as when I bought it, I might be paying a bit more though.
I’m probably looking at the same amount of RAM and storage, just with a better processor – maybe the Intel i5 or Ryzen 5, but probably not the Intel i7 or Ryzen 7 models that sit above them, which would put the prices of laptops running on them beyond my budget.
After waiting five years to upgrade, I expect the difference will be pretty dramatic.
What’s often missing from discussions about upgrading, comparing specs and so on is the personal attachment we have to our most-used devices.
Our smartphones are the devices that most of us handle most often, and for many people their phone has evolved from being a merely functional tool into something akin to an extra limb that they’d be virtually helpless without. So it’s no wonder that our phone is something we’re constantly looking to customize, upgrade, and enhance, to more perfectly meet our needs.
It says a lot that I’m not even using my ZenBook to write this article, on account of having a work laptop more fit for the purpose. But when it comes to a device that feels personal – that’s going to carry the programs I want to download, the projects I want to work on, the digital aspects of my life outside of my job – a new purchase is going to have big shoes to fill.
And it’ll need to be slim enough, light enough, fast enough – and yes, pretty enough – to be able to fill them.
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Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.