As Ultrabooks 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 workloads? It’s a compelling sales pitch made by the likes of Apple and its MacBook, or Dell with the XPS 13.
Sure, they may end up costing a bit more, but at the end of the day your back isn’t yelling at you for hauling around a 15-inch monster.
There are, of course, trade-offs when you opt 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 but stare at its crisp display after frantically checking our back to make sure we didn’t leave it on a desk somewhere.
Here is the Asus Zenbook 3 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
CPU: 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U (dual-core, 4MB cache, up to 3.5GHz with Turbo Boost)
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620
RAM: 16GB SDRAM (LPDDR3, 2,133MHz)
Screen: 12.5-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080, LED backlit, 60Hz)
Storage: 512GB SSD (PCIe Gen 3x4, NVMe)
Ports: 1x USB 3.1 Type-C, 1 x combo audio jack
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1
Camera: VGA (480p) webcam
Weight: 2 pounds (910 g)
Size: 11.65 x 7.52 x 0.46 inches (29.59 x 19.1 x 1.17 cm; W x D x H)
Price and availability
In the US, the ZenBook 3 starts at $1,599 (about £1,499, AU$1,598) with the specs we tested in this review. . In Australia, the specifications are similar, save for memory. Instead of the same 16GB that ships elsewhere, the Australian model ships with 8GB and you can find it for AU$1,995.
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.
First reviewed September 2017