Asus ZenBook 3 review

Svelte, portable, powerful

TODO alt text

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

Over time, the best Ultrabooks keep getting lighter, thinner and more importantly, more powerful every single year, and the Asus ZenBook 3 is a great example. Who doesn’t want a faster laptop that can handle everything you can throw at it? It’s a compelling sales pitch made by the likes of the Apple MacBook Air and the Dell XPS 13.

And, while these thin and light laptops are certainly more expensive, we think it’s worth not having your back yelling at you for hauling around a 15-inch behemoth wherever you go.

When you invest in a thin and light Ultrabook like the Asus ZenBook 3, you’ll have to be ok with some sacrifices. For one, ports have a tendency to disappear and battery life is diminished. Both are true for the Asus ZenBook 3, but it almost doesn’t matter – we still find ourselves staring at the beautiful screen after frantically checking our bags to make sure we didn’t abandon it on a desk somewhere.

Spec Sheet

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 any discounted pricing, the ZenBook 3 costs less than the Apple MacBook while also being more powerful – though it’s almost twice the starting price of the Dell XPS 2017. Then, there’s all the Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals that are surely going to feature the Asus ZenBook 3 – this beautiful Ultrabook is about to get even more appealing after we see some Black Friday laptop deals. 

Design

In many ways, the Asus ZenBook 3 is very similar to the MacBook. It’s insanely thin, has a full metal chassis and on the right side of the frame is a single USB-C port. That same port is used for charging, connecting external accessories and anything else you might otherwise need to connect. It’s definitely frustrating. On the left side is a combo 3.5mm audio jack. 

On the top-right corner of the touchpad is where you can 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 won’t directly impact the touchpad’s functionality, but 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.

Asus ZenBook 3 review

Mushy keyboard

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.

Dongle life

The Asus ZenBook 3 rocks just a single USB-C port, so doing something as simple as syncing and charging your device at the same time is impossible without a USB-C hub. Asus does sell plenty of accessories that will let you charge and connect multiple devices to your fancy ZenBook 3 simultaneously. Still, that’s just another thing you have to buy and remember to carry 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