ASUS ZenBook 3 (UX390UA- 12.5-Inch Ultraportable Review

Last week, we had a once over the ASUS ZenBook 3 (UX390UA-XH74-BL) –see review here, and we can say it got us as close we’d…
84%
EXCELLENT

OUR VERDICT

The ASUS ZenBook 3 (UX390UA-DH51-GR) is one of the lightest and lightest ultraportable we’ve seen in the market. Still, it manages to deliver class-leading performance and longer battery life thanks to its Intel “Kaby Lake” Core i5 processor.

  • EDITORS RATING

PROS: One of the thinnest laptops on the market. Excellent performance and battery life. Strong speakers. Fingerprint reader.
CONS: Single integrated USB-C port. Internal fans run often. Display is limited to full HD panel. No Thunderbolt 3 support. Slippery touchpad.

Last week, we had a once over the ASUS ZenBook 3 (UX390UA-XH74-BL) –see review here, and we can say it got us as close we’d get to the Apple MacBook, with its Intel “Kaby Lake” i7-7500U processor, 16GB memory, 512GB SSD and a full HD (1,920-by-1,080) resolution cramped into a 12.5-inch laptop. Now, let’s tote around its smaller sibling the ASUS ZenBook 3 (UX390UA-DH51-GR) that features the same screen size, weighs the same and has the screen resolution. The two systems are practically the same, but as with most models, what’s on the inside is different. This model actually cuts everything a step down from its bigger brother: Intel “Kaby Lake” Core i5-7200U processor, 8GB system memory, 256GB SSD, but it doesn’t skimp on computing power. Apparently, you’ll be making a few concessions for the sleek aerospace-grade aluminum body, that’s thin and light, but the result is worth it.

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Design and Features

At a glance, the ZenBook 3’s design screams ‘luxury’. At an impressive 11.9mm thickness, it looks premium thanks to an aluminum alloy case that is both smooth and sleek in angle. In fact, ASUS’s ZenBook line has always been attempting to grow into MacBooks, with unrelenting emphasis on thin profiles and all-body metal cases. The ZenBook 3 has gone a notch higher. The system comes in two shades of avant-garde blue and traditional grayish silver color theme, both with gold-colored ring around the diamond-cut edge.

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The laptop measures 0.47 by 11.65 by 7.53 inches (HWD), and it weighs only 2.1 pounds. The slim profile can slide into just about any bag or folio, and it won’t be a burden if you need an ultraportable to tote around. If portability is your worry, here is how it compares with the competition. The ZenBook 3 is a millimeter thicker than the HP Spectre 13, but if you need an even light and thinner Windows PC, you’re safe with a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. Still, the ZenBook 3 is more portable than the Dell XPS 13 Touch, and even thinner and lighter than both the Apple MacBook or the 13-inch MacBook Air.

On the 12.5-inch is, by far., one area where ASUS managed to eschew the MacBook by half an inch. In fact, the 12.5-inch full HD (1,920-by-1,080) screen is maybe the major selling point for this system. I found it to be gracefully bright and colorful, though it doesn’t come with a resolution that is quite high as the screen on the competing Apple MacBook (2,304-by-1,440) or the Dell XPS 13 Touch (3,200-by-1,800); but it is certainly good enough for most day-to-day computing needs. If you want a higher resolution for photo and video editing projects, then the XPS 13 Touch, the 4K version of the Razer Blade Stealth and the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch score well.

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We really don’t expect to have an ultraportable with a keyboard that’s an afterthought, and ASUS engineered the ZenBook 3’s keyboard to perfection from the start. Here we are looking at a well-designed backlit keyboard–with gold lighting that stretches from edge to edge, with only 2.1mm of bezel at each side and a key pitch of 19.8mm, which is similar to most desktop keyboards. Even though it is thin, there is still an impressive 0.8mm key travel, almost twice what we see in rival ultraportables.

The travel is deeper and much more comfortable to use than the keys that barely move on the 12-inch MacBook, though we’d still recommend the Dell XPS 13 Touch if you type for a living. To that, add a cleverly engineered touchpad designed for maximum comfort and accuracy, with a glass cover while at the same time incorporating palm-rejection technology, Smart Gestures and handwriting support.

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In addition to the impressive keyboard, you have a Fingerprint Sensor that gets you to the desktop in less than a second. I was impressed by the fact that the built-in fingerprint sensor on the touchpad and Windows Hello didn’t ask me to type in a password every time I logged in.  For a start, I found the touchpad to be a bit slick and took me time to get used to during the test period. Nevertheless, the four Harman Kardon-branded speakers above the keyboard are clear and audible enough to fill a medium-size room. I was able to hear a little fan noise from time to time, which is something you can never experience with Core M-powered systems like Apple’s MacBook.

Port selection is very mean, as the system only has a single USB-C on the right side and a headset jack on the left. The 12-inch MacBook also comes with a single USB-C port; there seemingly isn’t a lot of space on the system, but web can justify that since even the thinnest HP Spectre 13 has three USB-C ports. There is yet another technology missing on the ZenBook 3, which is Thunderbolt 3, which is present on both the HP Spectre 13 and the Dell XPS 13 Touch.

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While most users will argue that Thunderbolt 3 is far from a requirement, but it is a must have, especially if you’re going to be transferring large files like 4K videos. The single USB-C port serves as the port for the included charger, meaning you can’t connect a USB-C drive and charger simultaneously. Everything is not dark though, ASUS are generous enough to include a mini dock with a USB 3.1 Type-A port and an HDMI jack in addition to a USB-C port that can only be used with the charger.

Performance

The ASUS ZenBook 3 is the third system we’ve tested equipped with Intel’s 7th Generation Core (Kaby Lake) processor family: a Core i5-7200U processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics 620. So far, this combo is potent enough to deliver class-leading performance on most day-to-day tasks like document editing, Web browsing, and video conferencing. What’s truly impressive about this system is how ASUS managed to fit in a Sky Lake processor and gobs of memory in such a tiny machine. The processor spits speeds of between 2.5GHz and 3.1GHz, with the 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM clocked at 2,133MHz; which even exceeds Intel’s official maximum speeds of 1,866MHz for its latest chips.

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All these give the ZenBook 3 enough muscle to outperform systems like the Apple MacBookDell XPS 13 Touch, and HP Spectre 13. Look at it, the MacBook is still stuck with slow m3 and m5 CPUs and a maximum of 8GB RAM. We expect that Apple might refresh it soon, now that we have the seventh-generation CPUs trickling into the market, but as it stands now, ASUS wins the spec battle.

Having 256GB SSD storage and 8GB RAM isn’t that impressive, but you can opt for the other iteration, if need be, as it doubles both the storage and memory. The 8GB system memory is enough for multitasking, and if you’ll be working on multimedia projects, it will be enough, and after all, that’s one of the reasons you consider a Seventh-generation Core i5 machine over a Broadwell Core i7 system. This configuration comes with Windows 10 Home, although the other iteration comes with Windows 10 Pro, but both will easily integrate the interface with your company’s file and login servers.

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Battery life was excellent during our rundown tests. The ZenBook 3 lasted an impressive 8 hours 59 minutes, with continuous video playback, which is one of the major optimization in the latest Pascal-based processors. In comparison, the ASUS ZenBook 3 (UX390UA-XH74-BL) gets 11 hours 56 minutes the It eschewed the MacBook Pro (11:08) and he 12-inch MacBook (11:34), which were our former champs in battery life. To some, it will be surprising to see such a compact system pull good battery life, but the truth is that it uses a group of separate flat battery packs shaped to fit into the contours in the casing. These give the system the oomph to compete with other Windows laptops like the XPS 13 Touch (9:02), HP Spectre 13 (8:36), and the Razer Blade Stealth (6:25).

Conclusion

With the ZenBook 3 series, Asus perfected the art of shrinking a Core i7 and Core i5 laptop to insanely slender proportions, in fact only the HP Spectre 13 is thinner.  However, the ZenBook 3 bests the Spectre 13 on every spec and performance, although it skimps on port selection. It’s certainly faster and more comfortable to type on than the Apple MacBook, and it keeps juice well on a single charge, though the MacBook has a higher-resolution screen.

The Dell XPS 13 Touch is a different animal, that boasts a much higher-resolution touch screen, has better connectivity (two USB 3.0 ports, a USB-C port with Thunderbolt, and an SD card reader), but has a previous-gen processor, less storage space and less system memory. To that end, the ASUS Zenbook 3 meets; and, even exceeds our expectation for premium ultraportables: speedy, enduring, thin, extremely light weight, beautiful screen, good aesthetics and sturdy build quality. That’s plenty of reason to have the newest ZenBook 3 in your short list.

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