Asus ZenBook 3 review

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OUR VERDICT

The Zenbook 3 looks the part of a slick and powerful ultra-portable laptop, only with a mushy keyboard and odd fingerprint sensor placement.

FOR+

Crystal clear display
Lightweight and very portable
Reliable fingerprint sensor

AGAINST-

Weird fingerprint sensor placement
A single USB-C port

The best Ultrabooks keep slimming down, and no Asus laptop exemplifies this trend quite like the Asus ZenBook 3. After all, who wouldn’t want a laptop that’s quick enough to tackle most everyday tasks, while also being thin and light enough to carry with you wherever you go? It’s a compelling sales pitch made by the likes of the Dell XPS 13 and the MacBook Air – not to mention Asus’ very own ZenBook S13.

These thin and light beauties are on the pricier side. However, to be fair, it’s totally worth it to not have your back cursing you for lugging around a gargantuan 15-incher wherever you go.

The Asus ZenBook 3 does compromise to keep its slim form factor, much like most other similar Ultrabooks. With the ZenBook 3, you’re losing some ports, and the battery life isn’t the best in the business. But, the stunning design and display more than make up for any shortcomings. We still find ourselves staring at the Asus ZenBook 3 after frantically searching our bags to make sure we didn’t forget it on a desk somewhere.

Price and availability 

At the time of the review, the ZenBook 3 started at $1,599 (about £1,499, AU$1,598) in the US with the specs loaded in our review model. In Australia, the specifications are similar, save for the memory. Instead of the same 16GB that ships elsewhere, the Australian model ships with the smaller 8GB, and you can find it for AU$1,995.

Even before any discounts, the ZenBook 3 goes for less than the Apple MacBook while also being more powerful – though it’s almost twice the starting price of the Dell XPS 2017.

Unfortunately, by 2019, this ultimate Ultrabook is no longer for sale – though a small number of third-party vendors still offer it – leaving room for the ASUS ZenBook 3 Deluxe, which at the same starting price point, is equipped with a 14-inch display on a 13-inch chassis, two USB-C ports, an 8th-generation Intel Core i7, and the same memory and storage space.

Design

In the process of reviewing the Asus ZenBook 3, we took it on a trip to New York from Colorado, in lieu of our trusty MacBook Pro with Touch Bar.

At just 11.7mm thin, the ZenBook 3 is incredibly light. So light, in fact, that there was more than one occasion when we had to open our backpack in a panic, triple-checking to make sure the Ultrabook didn’t get stolen. Looking at its size, and considering its metal housing, it’s natural to expect that it would have a reassuring weight to it. But, then you pick it up, and realize that – at only 2 pounds – it’s one of the lightest laptops out there.

The Asus ZenBook 3 resembles the Apple MacBook in this way. It’s ridiculously thin, has a full metal chassis and only sports a single USB-C port on the right side of the laptop. This port is used for charging, connecting external accessories and everything else you may want to connect, so you can imagine how that might be a bit frustrating. On the upside, on the left-hand side is a combo 3.5mm audio jack, so you can listen to music, watch movies and even take a work call without disturbing the peace.

On the top-right corner of the touchpad is a fingerprint sensor used 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 won’t directly impact the touchpad’s usability, but it does break up the otherwise smooth surface and just feels out of place.

Dongle life

However elegant the Asus ZenBook 3 is, it’s only equipped with a single USB-C port, so doing something as simple as syncing and charging your laptop at the same time is impossible without a dongle or a hub. Asus does sell plenty of peripherals to offset the lack of additional ports so that you can connect to multiple devices while charging, but it’s just another thing you have to buy and remember to pack in your bag.

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.

At least, the ASUS ZenBook 3 Deluxe tries harder with an extra USB-C port.

Mushy keyboard

We’ve been using Apple’s Butterfly keyboards for a while now, and we’ve become accustomed to lightly pressing a key and having it rebound with minimal effort. Asus tries to mimic this effect with the Asus ZenBook 3, though the end result is just a bit mushy.

The keys don’t quickly spring back into place, nor do they have a consistent level of resistance. In other words, the keys will feel soft and lead to inaccurate typing before mastering the learning curve.

The Asus ZenBook 3’s Intel Kaby Lake processor blasted through everything we put in front of it throughout our testing. Multitasking is a non-issue, going from one tab or apps to another with no noticeable slowdown.

Fans, if they were needed, are quiet and not a distraction by any means.

Four Harmon Kardon speakers come equipped on the ZenBook 3. Two are on the top of the device, just above the keyboard, with the other two speakers situated on the bottom of the housing. While they’re lacking a bit in volume, they’re more than enough to listen to music or watch Netflix.

Our test results would put the Asus ZenBook 3 in the same league as the Dell XPS 13 2017, and, in some areas, ahead of it. For instance, the Asus ZenBook 3 shined in both single and multi-core GeekBench tests, but lagged behind the Dell laptop when running 3DMark.

Battery life

One of the compromises typically associated with a laptop of this size is battery life. Asus put enough of a charge in the ZenBook 3’s battery to get for supposedly 9 hours of use, enough to get you through a full work day without charging.

However, our tests found that to not quite be the case. 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 and ended up with almost 6 hours and 30 minutes – two and a half hours less than promised.

What’s more, the PCMark battery life test ended up running for just over three hours of heavy use. That’s not good, by any measurement.

Reliable fingerprint sensor

Using Windows Hello to log into a Windows 10 laptop is convenient and downright cool. Scanning your eyes or a fingerprint to sign in (or buy something) are popular implementations, with the ZenBook 3 implementing the fingerprint sensor.

Despite our complaints of the sensor’s position on the Zenbook 3, we have to commend the manufacturer on just how precise, reliable and fast this fingerprint scanner is. After teaching the laptop to recognize our fingerprint, it was rare that we would ever receive a prompt saying that our finger wasn’t recognized.

Typically, after opening the lid and placing a finger on the sensor, it took only seconds until the device unlocked, ready for use.

Final verdict

Sitting somewhere in between the MacBook and the XPS 13 in price, the Asus ZenBook 3 is a solid option for anyone wanting an Ultrabook that can easily tackle even some of the more processor-intensive tasks you throw at it.

The Asus ZenBook 3’s display is bright and vivid enough on its own, without tweaking. The lightweight and portable approach Asus took must also be appreciated, and anyone that frequently travels will find this laptop a great device to get some work done while on the road.

Don’t expect all day battery, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to use an external keyboard. But all things considered, if you can look lives with its flaws, the ZenBook 3 is a slick and powerful laptop that’s ideal to the mass consumer.