When it comes to premium laptops, Apple has reigned the territory with its MacBook range. Be it the Air series or the recently-launched touchbar-toting MacBook Pro range, the Cupertino giant’s offerings are able to command a premium with their looks and impressive set of features. But it seems that Windows manufacturers like Dell and HP are aiming to break Apple’s hold with high-end laptops of their own. Taiwanese company ASUS has also joined the bandwagon with the ZenBook 3, launched recently in the Indian market. Priced at Rs 1,47,999, the ASUS ZenBook 3 UX390A, without a doubt, is on the higher end of price spectrum. But can it stand out from its Windows-based peers and take on the revered Apple MacBooks? Let’s find out.
Specs at a glance
- Measures 296 x 191.2 x 11.9mm
- Weighs 910g
- 12.5-inch IPS display, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution
- Intel Core i7 7500U processor
- 16GB LPDDR3 RAM
- Bluetooth 4.1, Wi-Fi 802.11ac
- One USB-Type C port
- VGA web camera
- Six-cell battery
Design and display: offers a sleek build with a gorgeous screen
Over the past few months, we’ve seen a lot of manufacturers launching razor-thin laptops, and the ASUS ZenBook 3 is no different. While it may not be the thinnest laptop around, it is quite sleek, being a mere 11.9mm thick. It’s also quite light as it weighs less than a kg and tips the scales at just 910g.
The ASUS ZenBook 3 is a looker as well. With its glossy blue exterior, it’s able to strike the perfect balance between class and the style quotient. The concentric circles around the ASUS logo on the outer lid bounce off light to give it a shiny look. The gold frame also adds to its charm. While we personally love the blue hue, you can also purchase it in grey or gold options.
The device has taken minimalism to the extreme. Thanks to a screen-to-body ratio of 82 percent, you’ll be greeted by an almost bezel-less display as soon as you open the lid. The IPS screen offers full HD resolution. Combined with its screen size of 12.5-inches, it translates to crisp text and sharp images thanks to a pixel density of 176ppi. The colour reproduction is also top-notch and we didn’t find any issues with the brightness levels either, unless viewed in harsh sunlight. We loved watching movies and reading longform content on the laptop as it’s an absolute delight. Protecting the display against scratches is a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 4. However, the screen lacks touchscreen functionality, which is strange omission considering the ZenBook 3s’ high-end positioning.
Perhaps the biggest sacrifice because of its compact form factor is the number of ports, or their lack thereof. The ASUS ZenBook 3 has only one USB-Type C 3.1 port, which can be used for charging as well as data transfers, placed on the right. The 3.5mm audio socket is present on the left edge. Yes, that’s it – the laptop has no other ports. In our usage, we found it to be the most frustrating aspect of the laptop. While we appreciate the future-forward thinking of using a single bi-directional Type-C port, we’d have preferred more connectivity options or if the device shipped with other adapters for hooking up. For reference, the HP Spectre 13 comes with three USB Type-C ports.
Flip to the back, and the ideology of minimalism continues. You’ll only see rubber feet and a few screws. There are also two speaker vents.
We also have some questions about the build quality of the ASUS ZenBook 3. While it might look like a metal-based construction, it’s made out of plastic and you start noticing that as soon as you start applying pressure on the keyboard or the touchpad area… which brings us to the next section.
Keyboard: leaves something to be desired
Even with its small footprint, the ASUS ZenBook 3 comes with a full-sized chiclet keyboard. Sadly though, it fails to deliver an optimum typing experience. While there’s good amount of travel, the feedback offered by the keys isn’t that great. Even after getting used to it, we often made errors while typing. We were also not able to type on the keyboard as fast as we could have. However, we loved the backlit functionality as it made typing easier irrespective of the surrounding light. You can also control the backlight intensity and switch between three levels.
The touchpad on the other hand, works fine… but mainly for touch responses rather than firm clicks. It supports all the Windows-specific gestures and responds quickly. The touchpad also has a fingerprint scanner towards its top right, letting you log into the laptop in a jiffy by working in conjunction with Windows Hello. While the fingerprint scanner ensures secure access, the placement could’ve been better.
Hardware: delivers desktop-grade performance
Don’t get fooled by the size of the ZenBook 3 as it’s a beast when it comes to hardware. In fact, it can easily put many big and bulky laptops to shame. Under the hood, it features Intel’s sixth-gen Core i7 quad-core processor, which is tuned at 2.7GHz (Turbo speed up to 3.1GHz). At a time when 8GB RAM seems to be more than sufficient for most users, the ASUS’ offering sports 16 gigs. Needless to say that the combination is as powerful as it can be. There were no lags during our review usage, and opening different apps or switching between them was buttery smooth.
While the ASUS ZenBook 3 lacks dedicated graphics, the integrated Intel 620 GPU is able to deliver a joyful gaming performance for casual titles. Talking about pure numbers, in the PCMark 8 Home test, the laptop scored 2,760 – well above some gaming PCs from a couple of years back. Interestingly enough, unlike its ultra-thin peers which don’t have cooling vents as they use Intel’s fanless SoCs, the ZenBook 3 utilises an efficient cooling system with a liquid-crystal-polymer fan impeller and a copper-alloy heat pipe. However, this setup does get noisy at times.
Storage-wise as well, the ZenBook 3 is quite impressive as it comes with a 512GB SSD.
With Harmon Kardonn speakers, the ZenBook 3 is able to offer impressive sound output. It gets quite loud with two speakers above the keyboard and two at the base – something which is nothing short of remarkable for its thin frame.
While the device might have skimped on ports, it scores full marks when it comes to wireless connectivity. It packs in Bluetooth 4.1 and dual-band Wi-Fi with support for the latest 802.11ac standard.
The ASUS ZenBook 3 draws power from a 40WH Li-Po battery, which promises to deliver up to nine hours of runtime. In our usage though, the numbers weren’t as reliable. At times, it met the promised number, but in others, it would give up within four to five hours of normal usage. Thanks to the support for fast charging however, the laptop can be juiced up quickly.
Let’s just say this upfront – the ASUS ZenBook 3 is the Windows-based answer to Apple’s MacBook. It ticks most of the boxes, be it a premium and thin design language, or a gorgeous display… not to mention the powerful internals.
However, that also puts in in a peculiar position. At its price tag of Rs 1,47,999, you can get all sorts of laptops – from 2-in-1s to high-spec’d gaming-centric ones, not to mention the newly-launched Apple MacBook Pro with touchbar. Of course, the ZenBook 3 is aimed at those who are looking to buy an ultraportable machine that can catch everyone’s attention. A similar premise is offered by the HP Spectre x360 13 priced at approximately Rs 1,33,000 and the Acer Spin 7 with an asking price of Rs 1,24,900, both of which have touchscreens and can also be used as convertibles. The Dell XPS 13 is another worthy option with its infinity display and sticker price of roughly Rs 1,30,590. However, none of them are powered by desktop-grade innards like the ZenBook 3.
So, if you’re looking for a loaded and premium laptop, with price not being a consideration, then the ASUS ZenBook 3 offers enough to be in your consideration list.
Editor’s rating: 4 / 5
- Gorgeous and sleek design
- Stunning display
- Powerful internals
- Good sound output
- Lacks connectivity ports
- Battery life could have been better
- Steeply priced
Photos by Raj Rout