(Pocket-lint) - Just being a laptop doesn't cut it anymore. The Asus ZenBook Flip UX360CA plays at the level you need in order to walk with the Windows 10 cool crowd, complete with a hinge that lets the screen flip around to form this month's least likely tablet.
It's also slim and very light, while its £699 price point seems absolutely right. However, the Flip UX360CA's spotty build quality and self-defeating screen let it down. How does it fare overall?
Asus ZenBook Flip UX360CA review: Design
Asus makes some of the best-looking mid-price ultrabooks in the world. You could convince friends you spent £1,000 on its ZenBook models, even though they start around the £600 mark.
The Flip UX360CA is no different. Its frame is aluminium, the version we have is decked out in a subtle purplish-grey colour. Don't be put off by the "purple"either, this is a metallic grey laptop with just a hint of colour to stop it looking dull. There's also a gold version if you like your shades of bling a little more traditional.
What separates it from those other ZenBook designs is, of course, that smooth-turning hinge - which is similar to Lenovo's Yoga series, albeit less snazzy. This is useful for propping the screen up at any angle, or to rest the laptop on surfaces that don't have room for the keyboard. It comes in handy more often than you'd think in pretty much any situation where you'd end up using the touchscreen rather than the keyboard.
The non-flexi Asus ZenBook UX305 feels better-made than the UX360C, even though the laptops look like near-identical twins. If you're after the king of the mid-range then the 305 is the one to go for.
Asus ZenBook Flip UX360CA review: Keyboard and trackpad
One of the UX360's big design issues is its construction quality. Run your fingers over the lid and it feels great. That's aluminium for you. However, when you start using the laptop, you'll notice the keyboard surround flexing when you type, because the shell just isn't as rigid as it should be. Your reaction may go from "oooh" to "oh" rather swiftly.
We've seen significantly worse keyboard flex, but as the UX360 is not a cheap laptop. It makes typing feel less crisp, in what is otherwise a perfectly good keyboard. The keys have a good amount of travel and a well-defined action if you type light enough not to start flexing the shell. There's no keyboard backlight, but we've tapped away fairly happily on the machine for hours at a time.
Down below, the Flip UX360CA's trackpad is big, smooth, and feels good when the laptop is laid on a totally flat surface. While the click response depends on this seating - if you rest it the laptop in certain positions, the flex of the frame dulls pad's click, or kills it altogether - it's otherwise a softer, quieter click than some ZenBooks.
These build woes may colour your experience but if you can get beyond them then the UX360 is comfortable to work on.
Asus ZenBook Flip UX360CA review: Screen
There's more of the "almost there" flavour in the UX360's screen performance. On paper it's great: a touchscreen 13.3in across, with Full HD resolution (1920 x 1080), and an IPS panel to maintain contrast at a wide range of viewing angles.
In person, though, it's less than ideal. The Flip UX360CA's screen doesn't use the full lamination process that gets rid of all the air gaps between screen layers, so it's less contrasty than others. Because it has a touchscreen, the screen construction is more complicated than in other ZenBooks we've reviewed.
As a result, in any remotely well-lit room, the UX360CA's screen looks grey rather than black. So even if the actual display panel has the greatest contrast in the universe, it's going to look a bit washed-out. Take the Asus ZenBook Flip UX360CA outside and the effect is really quite bad.
We saw similar in the Asus ZenBook UX701, and once again it spoils what should be a pretty great display. To make this fatal flaw all the more annoying, Asus even uses full screen lamination on some of its budget tablets, like the ZenPad 8.0.
Ready for a cliche? The Asus ZenBook Flip UX360CA is a case of one step forwards, two steps back compared to the traditional design ZenBook laptops, many of which use matte, non-touch screens. They're simpler, but far less problematic.
Asus ZenBook Flip UX360CA review: Connections
The UX360CA's connections cover all the bases, if only lightly. You get two USB 3.0 ports, a USB-C connector, a microHDMI and a full-size SD card slot. It's not a desktop-replacer array, but will do the trick for 99.5 per cent of the ultra-light laptop crowd.
You can connect a couple of peripherals, hook up to a monitor and easily snag pictures from your camera without fiddling about with any probably-annoying camera Wi-Fi file transfers.
Some laptops like this are starting to move over to using only USB-C connectors rather than full-size USB, and we're glad the Asus ZenBook Flip UX360CA doesn't. It'd be just too soon for most people.
Asus ZenBook Flip UX360CA review: Performance
In our review model the UX360CA is kitted out with an Intel Core M3-6Y30 CPU, a 128GB SSD and 8GB 1866MHz RAM. This is a classic mid-range ultrabook arsenal that makes Windows 10 run like a dream, but isn't much cop for gaming or real CPU-mincing tasks like editing gigantic images or using complex macros on spreadsheets with a billion cells.
Again, for the average buyer it'll do the trick, though. Juggling a whole bunch of light tasks feels very fast, and this is what we imagine will be the lead role for the Flip UX360CA.
If you want to be able to play a few recent-ish games, you'd be much better off with a ZenBook with a full Intel Core i-series CPU, though. For just a little extra cash you could get hold of a much more powerful Asus Zenbook UX303UA with an Intel Core i7-6500U and 256GB SSD, for example. Such a machine can actually play a lot of recent games if you really scale down their graphical detail.
It's also worth considering that you seem to pay over £100 extra for the flexi-hinge in the UX360. The ZenBook UX305 with almost identical core specs now costs £599, but that laptop has a 3200 x 1800 pixel screen rather than a 1920 x 1080 one. Several ZenBook models feel like bargains, but the 360 just doesn't.
The Bang & Olufsen speakers are more than passable though. While they can suffer from a bit of midrange distortion at top volume, the sound is not entirely reed-thin. It's no MacBook speaker array, but it'll do for those time-wasting YouTube black hole work breaks.
Asus ZenBook Flip UX360CA review: Battery
Let's not be too down on it, though. There's still plenty to like. Battery life is good, for example, enough to net you a whole work day's use. Feed it light tasks and don't crank the brightness up too high and you'll squeeze nine and a half hours from a single charge. This is one of the benefits of using a Core M-series processor rather than one of the more powerful Intel Core i5/i7 kind.
This figure is just about what Asus claims too, the company's website stating up to 10-hour battery life. Where you'll often see Intel Core i-series laptops not reaching their claimed figures, Core M ones often do because they're only designed to consume so much power. Even if you do start revving the engine a little.
The Asus ZenBook Flip UX360CA is one of the weaker entries in the ZenBook series - a series which contains laptops we've recommended countless other times.
The UX360CA is a bit of a harder sell. You pay extra for the hinge, the application of the touchscreen spoils the display quality, and it just doesn't feel as well-made as some of the other ZenBooks with normal laptop hinges.
There's almost certainly a terrific 360-degree Zenbook in our future, but the Asus ZenBook Flip UX360CA is likely to be remembered as the slightly awkward model that didn't quite get it right.