As continue to get smaller and more powerful, the likes of the Asus ZenBook 3 become more and more enticing. Who doesn’t want a more portable computer that’s powerful enough to handle most everyday computing tasks? It’s a compelling sales pitch made by the likes of Apple and its , or Dell with the .
Sure, you pay a bit more for the device, but at the end of the day your back isn’t yelling at you for hauling around a 15-inch behemoth.
There are, of course, trade-offs made when you go for an ultra-thin laptop. Ports have a tendency to disappear, and battery life is bound to take a hit. Both of which are true about the Asus ZenBook 3, but we can’t help and stare at its crisp display after frantically checking our bag to make sure we didn’t leave the 2-pound device on a desk somewhere.
Price and availability
Normally priced at $1,599 (about £1,499, AU$1,598), the ZenBook 3 is discounted on Amazon in the US and UK for the exact same model and specifications we tested for our review. As of this writing, it’s priced at $1,480 and £994, respectively. In Australia, the specifications are similar, save for memory. Instead of the same 16GB that ships elsewhere, the Australian model ships with 8GB and is sold at a ‘clearance’ price of AU$1,598.
Even before the discounted pricing, the ZenBook 3 is priced under Apple’s MacBook with better specs, although it’s nearly double when compared to the Dell XPS 13.
In may respects, the ZenBook 3 is quite similar to Apple’s MacBook. It’s incredibly thin, has a full metal housing, and on the right side of the frame is the single USB-C port. That same port is used for charging, connecting external accessories and anything else you would otherwise need a port for. Frustrating, to be sure. On the left side is a combo 3.5 mm audio jack.
In the top-right corner of the touchpad is where you’ll find a fingerprint sensor for signing into the ZenBook 3 using Windows Hello. The placement is odd, and can get in the way when dragging your finger across the pad. It doesn’t have a direct impact on the functionality of the touchpad, however it does break up the otherwise smooth surface and just feels out of place.
We recently took the ZenBook 3 along on a trip from Colorado to New York, replacing a MacBook Pro with TouchBar for the brief trip. On several occasions, we found ourselves opening our backpack and triple-checking to make sure the ZenBook 3 wasn’t left behind.
At just 11.7mm thin, the ZenBook 3 is deceptively light. Looking at its size, and considering its metal housing, it’s easy to expect it to have a reassuring weight to it. And, then you pick it up, and realize that, at only 2 pounds, it’s one of the lightest laptops out there.
Having used Apple’s butterfly mechanism keyboards, we’ve become accustomed to being able to lightly press a key and have it quickly bounce back with minimal effort. For the ZenBook 3, Asus tried to mimic this same feel of the keyboard – only the end result is, for lack of a more elegant term, mushy.
The keys don’t quickly spring back into place, nor do they have an equal level of resistance. In other words, the keys feel soft and lead to inaccurate typing before mastering the learning curve.
With a solitary USB-C port on the ZenBook 3, doing something like syncing photos and charging the device at the same time isn’t possible without a USB-C hub. Asus offers a series of accessories that allow you to charge and connect multiple devices to your shiny new computer simultaneously. But, it’s yet another thing you have to buy and then worry about carrying around with you.
As USB-C continues to creep into numerous products we use on a daily basis, not being able to connect more than one item to a laptop at a time is still a limitation.
Intel’s 7th generation i7 processor powered through anything we put the ZenBook 3 through during our testing. Multitasking was a non-issue, going between tabs and apps without any noticeable slowdown.
Fans, if they were needed, were quiet and not a distraction by any means.
Four Harmon Kardon speakers are found on the ZenBook 3. Two are on the top of the device, just above the keyboard, with the other two speakers found on the bottom of the housing. They aren’t the loudest speakers, but they’re more than enough to listen to music or watch the occasional YouTube video.
Our benchmark tests put the ZenBook 3 in the ballpark of the XPS 13, and in some areas ahead of it. Most notably, the ZenBook 3 performed better on both the single and multi-core GeekBench tests, but it fell short of the XPS 13’s performance in 3DMark.
One of the concessions that’s typically associated with a laptop of this size is battery life. Asus touts enough juice in the ZenBook 3’s battery to get through 9 hours of use. However, our tests found that to be a bit of a stretch. Looping Guardians of the Galaxy at 50% brightness with all unnecessary features (Bluetooth, location, backlit keyboard, etc.) disabled, we ran our movie battery life test twice to confirm the ZenBook 3’s score of almost 6 hours and 30 minutes.
What’s more, the PCMark battery life test came back at just over three hours of heavy use. That’s not good, by any measurement.
Reliable fingerprint sensor
Using Windows Hello to sign into a Windows 10 laptop is convenient and downright cool. Scanning your eyes or a fingerprint are popular implementations, with the ZenBook 3 having the latter.
Despite our gripes about where the sensor is placed, we have to praise the accuracy, reliability and speed of the sensor. After initial setup of teaching the ZenBook 3 to recognize our fingerprint, it was few and far between attempts when we would see a prompt that our finger wasn’t recognized.
Typically, after opening the lid and placing a finger on the sensor it was mere seconds until the device was unlocked and ready for use.
The ZenBook 3’s display is bright and vivid, even though it’s a 1080p screen. The lightweight and portable approach Asus took with its design is appreciated, especially for those who frequently travel and need a device to get work done on.
We would like to see slightly better battery life from the ZenBook 3, but are thankful it comes with fast charging technology. The keyboard, on the other hand, needs to be beefed up.
Priced in between the XPS 13 and the MacBook, the Asus ZenBook 3 is a legit contender for those seeking out an Ultrabook that’s ready to handle even some of the more intense tasks you can throw at it.
But, don’t expect all day battery, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to use an external keyboard.
All told, if you can look past the blemishes, the ZenBook 3 is a slick and powerful laptop that falls just short of some of the best.