ASUS ZenBook 3: Power in a Small Package

Slightly Thinner Than an Apple MacBook Air But With Higher Performance

ASUS Zenbook 3 UX390UA 12.5-inch Premium UIltrathin Laptop
ASUS ZenBook 3. ©ASUSTeK

The Bottom Line

For those wanting an ultra thin and lightweight work laptop that offers higher performance than Apple's MacBook, the ASUS ZenBook 3 is a solid alternative even if it does offer a few compromises and has similar limitations when it comes its connectors.

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Pros

  • Faster Performance from Core i7 and SSD Drive
  • Extremely Thin and Light
  • Excellent Display

Cons

  • Battery Life Suffers Due to Higher Performance Processor
  • Keyboard and Trackpad Could Be Better
  • Poor Low Resolution Webcam

Description

  • Intel Core i7-7500U Dual Core Mobile Processor
  • 16GB P4-17000 DDR4 Memory
  • 512GB M.2 PCI-Express x4 Solid State Drive
  • 12.5-inch WUXGA (1920x1080) Display with VGA Webcam
  • Intel HG Graphics 620 Integrated Graphics
  • 802.11ac Wireless, Bluetooth
  • One USB 3.1 Type C
  • 11.65" x 7.52" x .46" @ 2.0 lbs.
  • Windows 10 Professional

Review - ASUS ZenBook 3 (UX390UA-XH74-BL)

It seems laptops these days need to have a gimmick in order to stand out in a crowd of so many similar systems. It can by a hybrid design that folds between being a laptop and a tablet to being a compact gaming system with the ability to use external desktop graphics. Apple continues to push the thin and light profile with its MacBook laptops. ASUS is challenging the MacBook with the ASUS Zenbook 3.

This new premium laptop forgoes touchscreens or folding into a tablet to create an extremely compact traditional laptop design.

At just .47-inches thick, it is slightly thinner than Apple's offering and, weighing in at two pounds, is roughly the same weight. It is built from an aluminum chassis that gives it a premium feel and is offered in multiple colors including a very distinctive Royal Blue with gold accents. It feels solid but lightweight enough that you barely notice carrying it.

ASUS didn't sacrifice power by going with the Intel Core i7-7500U dual core laptop processor rather than the lower wattage Core m processors Apple chose for its MacBook. The latest processor for Intel also allows it to use the faster DDR4 memory and the 16GB included is probably overkill for many, but important as these ultra-thin systems don't allow for aftermarket upgrades. The performance is especially useful for those that might be considering using this system for more demanding work like desktop video editing. It still is not going to be on par with a desktop or a heftier quad core gaming laptop, but it is definitely faster than the Core m5.

The performance of the system also extends to the storage. Pretty much all ultralight laptops now use solid state drives in order to save on the space and weight compared to traditional hard drives. ASUS ups the performance by using an M.2 drive with the PCI-Express x4 interface. The system boots up extremely fast and doing large file work is a not hampered by the storage interface. This is one of the fastest storage drives on the market. Having said that, be warned that the lower priced versions of the system use a slower SATA interface drive which actually makes a huge difference.

One of the big criticisms of the Apple MacBook is the use of a single USB 3.1 Type C connector used for charging or peripherals. This makes it difficult to charge the system and use an external peripheral at the same time. Well, ASUS encounters the same problem with the ZenBook 3 by also using a single Type C connector for both charging and peripherals. They try to make up for this by including a small dock that plugs into the connector and then provides a USB Type A connector and HDMI port for an external display.

ASUS uses a lovely 12.5-inch IPS based panel that offers some great color and wide viewing angles. The disappointing part is that it uses a fairly standard 1920x1080 native resolution which is a bit low these days. The MacBook, for reference, offers a display of 2304-by-1440. This not a huge problem as there are still issues with scaling many legacy Windows applications to such high resolutions especially with the small screen size. The screen is covered with Gorilla Glass that makes it look like it should be a touchscreen but there is no such feature on any of the current models. The graphics are powered by the Intel HD Graphics 620 built onto the Core i7 processor. It may not be suited for PC gaming but it does offer improvements for 4K video support even if the screen does not go to those resolutions.

With such a thin profile, the keyboards on laptops can often suffer. ASUS has generally been known for its excellent keyboards. In terms of looks, the Zenbook 3 keyboard looks great and even offers a greater amount of travel on the keys which was something that Apple was criticized for. In use though, the keyboard just feels a bit off when it comes to the feedback which can impact accuracy. Users will likely get adjusted to the feel of it but it definitely is not as good as some of the previous ASUS designs. The trackpad is nice and large and has a small indent in the upper right corner for the fingerprint reader. The problem with the trackpad is that you have to press fairly hard to use it which gets tiring. It was, however, accurate in its tracking.

A typical issue for such thin laptops is the battery. There's just not much room to provide a high capacity battery and so usable time often suffers. This means you generally have to go for the low power route of Apple with the MacBook or in the case of ASUS, you just sacrifice running times. The 40 WHr battery pack in the Zenbook 3 is advertised to give up to nine hours of running time. The issue is that if you are using it for some serious work as the processor in this laptop offers, you are likely to get several hours less as the new Core i7 is highly optimized for minimal power use in digital video playback.

Pricing for the ASUS ZenBook 3 starts around $1099 but the model in this review runs roughly $1599. This makes the cost equal to the high-end MacBook. For many people, this is more than they would want to spend, but the target audience for this system is much more business professionals than the average consumer. This is evident by the inclusion of the Windows 10 Professional software rather than the more typical home. This makes the pricing on the higher side but still reasonable.

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