The ASUS ZenBook 13 (UX331UA-AS51) is a legit contender for anyone seeking an Ultrabook that is thin enough for daily commute, but powerful enough to handle even some of the more intense tasks you can throw at it.
PROS: Svelte, all aluminum body. Backlit keys. Crystal clear display.
CONS: Middling keyboard. No Ethernet port.
At first glance, it may not look like much, but we assure you the Asus Zenbook 13 (UX331UA-AS51) $799.99 at Amazon is one of the best Ultrabooks you can buy –and is worth the dollars. It not only boasts a discerning aesthetic and punch-performance, but this Windows 10 Ultrabook is finely adjusted to take on the likes of Apple MacBook Air and the Dell XPS 13.
The spirit of greatness trickles in the footsteps of Apple’s MacBook Air’s success – a laptop that set the precedent for svelte designs and powerful components. While these light and thin beauties cost more, the ZenBook 13 remains in the sub-$1000 mark, making it worth paying attention to – even with the stiff competition in 2018.
And, considering that Apple has not been serious with the MacBook Air, even with rumors of upcoming release, there is no reason why the UX331UA-AS51 shouldn’t bask in that glory and shine. In fact, Asus have made serious improvements on this model both on design and components, to a point that we’re convinced it’s the ultimate heir to the MacBook Air’s legacy.
With all due respect, the UX331UA-AS51 is insanely pretty, and looks much better than the MacBook Air’s design that some of us don’t like for the shiny all-metal finish. The lid sports concentric circles emanating from the Asus logo, and they look impressive in real life as they do on photos. It adds smooth lines round the edges, and does so without being expensive. The MacBook Air costs more and leverages outdated components. A few dollars can be saved here.
The ZenBook UX331UA’s thin profile stacks well against the competition. It is a little thinner than the MacBook Air which is 0.6 inches thick, while our review unit is 0.5 inches and has smoothened edges. Another slimmer laptop in the same range is the HP Spectre x360 – 13t but its pricing is on the higher side of things. Asus decreased the thickness and kept the high build quality from last year’s model. A milestone in design worth applauding.
In addition to the nice aesthetics, the ZenBook UX331UA sports a fantastic screen. Our review unit sports a full HD 1920×1080 resolution screen, which is vibrant and displays crisp images.
It uses In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel technology, thus benefits from wide viewing angles (178 to be precise) and the Anti-Glare actually works as it should.
Depending on the viewing angle, you may notice some edge burn, especially when the screen is entirely black but the colors are well rendered and does not suffer from screen bleeding.
If you’re a photographer, this happens to be one of those screens you can use on the move thanks to wonderful color definition.
Again, if we compare it with the MacBook Air, at this price range you’re definitely getting a Retina screen. If we have one notable feature on display, the bezels around the screen are extremely thin, something Asus call Nano-Edge bezel technology.
Keyboard and Touchpad
For someone coming from Apple’s butterfly mechanism keyboards, the keyboard on the ZenBook 13 isn’t one of the best. We’re accustomed to keys bouncing back with minimal effort after every press. Asus made attempts to mimic the same feedback, only that the result isn’t that impressive –simply said, mushy.
The keys have some delay before they spring back into place, and they miss the level of resistance you get on the Mac air. It will take a few days to master the learning curve. The large silver touchpad right beneath the keyboard has integrated left- and right-click buttons, which are smooth and responsive.
To have a thinner chassis you must do with a few concessions. Just like its predecessor, it gets two full-size USB ports – one on each side. The full-sized HDMI port has also fallen, and in its place, you have a micro-HDMI port on the right side of the laptop.
Most folks will find the USB 3.1 Type-C connector useful, as it allows you power peripherals such as USB monitors and other storage gadgets independently. Also included are an SD card reader and a 3.5mm headset jack, although an Ethernet port is painfully missing. Wireless capabilities include 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1.
In the last quarter of 2017, Intel announced the first quad-core (eight-thread) range of CPUs designed for ultra-portable devices. The chips (codenamed Kaby Lake-R) were being flaunted as 8th generation processors, though in reality they are updates of the 7th generation hardware. The ZenBook UX331UA-AS51 uses that newer class of chips, the 3.4GHz Intel Core i5-8250U processor to be precise.
This processor is backed by 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD and Intel UHD 620. As configured, this Ultrabook easily powers through anything you throw its way, for as long as it doesn’t include any complex graphics. Multitasking is a non-issue, as you can switch between tabs and apps without any noticeable slowdown. Also, the fans are very quiet and don’t cause a distraction by any means.
Gaming performance is a shadowy foray for most Ultrabooks, since most lack dedicated graphic cards. The UX331UA’s gaming capabilities are limited but you can get away with basic games played at low-medium settings. For gaming, you are safe with the likes of like the ASUS M580VD-EB54 or Dell G5587-7866BLK-PUS, for around the same price.
Battery life is stellar. Thanks to its lithium-ion battery pack, the Zenbook UX331UA lasted 10 hours and 43 minutes on our rundown test, eschewing the Dell XPS 15 Touch (9550) (5:56) but behind the MacBook Air’s 13 hours 24 minutes. It may weigh more than the svelte ultraportables, but it lasts nearly 6 hours longer than most competing laptops. This laptop can last a full work day, and then some.
The Bottom Line
Priced well below the XPS 13 and MacBook Air, the Asus ZenBook 13 (UX331UA-AS51) is a legit contender for anyone seeking an Ultrabook that is thin enough for daily commute, but powerful enough to handle even some of the more intense tasks you can throw at it. Expect all day battery life but don’t be surprised if you wish to use an external keyboard. All said, if you can look past the few compromises, the ZenBook 13 is a sleek and powerful laptop that picks up the ball from where Apple dropped it.