When shopping for a budget laptop, you are most likely to encounter Intel CPUs from its Pentium or Celeron series, and Core series processors priced around Rs. 20,000 price point. Last year, we rounded up some of the best laptops under Rs. 20,000 with Windows 10, which meant and we had to settle for a bit on the CPU front with all of them.
But what if you don’t need Windows to be preinstalled? Can you trade in software for slightly better specifications without increasing your budget? iLife Technologies Inc. has launched its low-cost laptop Z Air CX3 in India, and it has been available through online retailers for some time now. According to the company, the laptop is being targeted at first-time purchasers and college students in Tier II and Tier III cities in India.
19,999, the Life Digital Zed Air CX3 has an Intel Core i3 processor, which we don’t see very often at this price point. It piqued our interest, and so we decided to test this low-cost laptop for ourselves, to see if it was really worth buying.
Life Digital Z Air CX3 Design
Budget laptops hardly have much to offer when it comes to design and the Z Air CX3 is certainly no exception. It is made entirely of plastic; Silver on the outside and black on the inside. There’s an iLife logo in the middle of the lid and that’s about it. The build quality is also pretty average, with a lot of flex on the lid and bottom panel when you apply a little pressure. The laptop is also heavy at 2.5kg, which can feel like a burden if you plan on carrying a lot of it.
Lyft Digital has tried to hide the actual thickness of the laptop by making the sides angular. While this works to an extent, you can’t see any ports unless you tilt your head to either side. This quickly becomes annoying when you need to plug anything into the ports.
Out of which there are a total of three USB ports – two USB 3.0 Type-A and one USB Type-C port. The latter can only be used for data transfer and not for outputting video streams. There’s also a full-size HDMI 1.4b port, an Ethernet port, a headphone/microphone combo socket, and a microSD card slot. Our unit also had an unmarked cutout on the left, which appears to be for another port but this space was empty. It is present on the product photos on the company’s website but absent in the images in the retail listing, which we found strange.
The spacing of the ports is fine but we really wish the iLife would run with a full-sized SD card slot. Given the size of this laptop, we see no reason why it couldn’t have been included.
Opening the lid to the all-black interior, we have a 15.6-inch IPS display with 1920×1080 pixel resolution. The screen has a matte coating so reflections are not a big problem. Colors look fine but brightness is not very high, so even indoors, we often find ourselves using this laptop with maximum brightness.
The keyboard has enough room for a full-sized number pad. The Chicklet Keys have good travel but feel mushy, as there isn’t much in terms of tactile feedback. The palm-rest area is quite large and has a large trackpad in the middle. Normally, this made us very happy, but sadly, the trackpad’s tactile response is very finicky and it often entered a tap on a folder or file when we wanted to drag the cursor to something else. Tactile response to the trackpad buttons is also poor.
Overall, the Z Air CX3 doesn’t make a great first impression, but we’re not entirely surprised considering its price. You can ignore the Arabic letters on our keyboard, as this was a replacement part that was installed by a company service representative when our review unit had problems with the power button malfunctioning. Indian retail units have only English alphabets.
Lyf Digital Z Air CX3 Specification & Software
A quick look at iLife’s product page for the Zed Air CX3 reveals that it comes with either Windows or FreeDOS, however, models sold in India will only ship with DOS, which means you’ll have to buy your own Windows or Linux must be installed. Our review unit came with Windows 10 Pro preinstalled, just so we could run our tests on it. If you plan to install Windows 10 yourself, iLife provides all the necessary component drivers on their product page.
The Z Air CX3 is only available with one CPU option, and it’s a dual-core Intel Core i3-5005U. It’s a very old CPU from Intel’s 5th generation ‘Broadwell’ family, but its performance may surprise you, as we’ll explore in the next section. In India, the Zed Air CX3 is sold with either 4GB or 8GB of DDR3 RAM, with storage staying the same at 1TB. We have the 4GB version to review. The CPU-Z shows us only a single, unused RAM slot which could mean that the included RAM is soldered directly to the motherboard.
You get a VGA webcam above the screen but there’s no LED indicator to show when it’s being used, which is a little scary. The Z Air CX3 also packs a 5,000mAh lithium polymer battery.
Lyf Digital Z Air CX3 Performance and Battery Life
The Z Air CX3 performs well once it’s up and running. Windows 10 takes a while to boot up, and multitasking between multiple apps can be sluggish, even with just 4GB of RAM. If you limit your usage to a few apps at a time, you should be fine. The trackpad can be finicky but that can be fixed by simply using an external mouse. The display offers good viewing angles and the colors have good saturation, making videos enjoyable to watch. However, the speakers are quite terrible. The cutout is placed above the keyboard, but even at full volume, the treble and mid-range are weak and tinny.
To test CPU performance, we ran our usual suite of benchmarks. The Cinebench R20 returned single and multi-core scores of 192 and 473, respectively, while the POVRay took 10 minutes, 25 seconds to render its standard ray-trace scene benchmarks. Switching to PCMark 10, we got 1,881 points in the Express Suite, and 3DMark Fire Strike returned 518 points.
Real-world tests also ran decently. It took 9 minutes, 31 seconds to compress a 3.24GB folder of mixed files; It took 4 minutes, 59 seconds to encode a 1.3GB AVI file to H.265 MKV; And it took about 32 minutes to render the BMW test scene in the Blender app. Aside from its relatively weak integrated GPU, the Core i3-5005U is still good enough to score slightly better than the more recent Intel Celeron and Pentium CPUs we tested for our sub-Rs. 20,000 Laptop Guide.
This laptop can handle simple games from the Windows Store, but not much else. We tried Far Cry 5 because it’s based on a highly scalable engine, but even at its ‘low’ graphics preset and 720p resolution, it couldn’t run the built-in benchmarks and kept crashing on the desktop. When stressed, the bottom of the laptop did get a little hot but we never felt it got too hot.
Battery life is fine but we think it could have been better. Our Battery Eater Pro test lasted 1 hour and 51 minutes, which isn’t bad but for a 15.6-inch laptop, we expected better. With everyday use, battery life averaged less than five hours, meaning a full charge isn’t going to last your entire work day.
The Life Digital Zed Air CX3 is one of the few laptops in this price range to offer a Core i3 CPU, albeit from a much older generation. Even so, we found that this Broadwell chip still delivers enough raw power to hold its own against the more recent Celeron and Pentium offerings.
However, this laptop also has a number of drawbacks, which are difficult to recommend. Build quality is below average, there’s no full-size SD card slot, the trackpad isn’t very accurate, and the keyboard doesn’t have good tactile feedback. To add to these woes, the webcam is also mediocre and the battery life could have been much better. Let’s not forget that the Lyft Digital isn’t exactly a household name, and has competition from the likes of Dell, HP, and Asus in the same price range.
We think Lyft Digital should offer an option with Windows preinstalled, as many users won’t want to bother installing the OS themselves. For those users, there are many other options around Rs. 20,000 price points that meet that need well.