As the best Ultrabooks get thinner, lighter and more powerful every year, the Asus ZenBook 3 is a great example of the progress they’ve made. Who wouldn’t want a faster laptop that can handle everything you throw at it? It’s a compelling sales pitch made by the likes of the Apple MacBook Air and 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.
Ultrabooks that are as thin and light as the Asus ZenBook 3 inevitably come with some compromises. Ports have a tendency to disappear, and battery life can take a nosedive. The Asus ZenBook 3 definitely fits in here, but all this is outweighed by the aesthetics – we still find ourselves staring at the beautiful screen after checking our bags in a frenzy 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.
However, because the Asus ZenBook 3 is about a year old at this point, you should be able to find refurbished models for heavy discounts all over the internet. You can find it for less than the new MacBook Air, for stronger hardware.
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.
While we were working on this review, we took the Asus ZenBook 3 on a trip from Colorado to New York, replacing a Macbook Pro with Touch Bar for the brief trip. There were several times that we frantically opened our backpack, triple-checking to make sure we didn’t leave it behind somewhere.
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.
So, the ZenBook 3 is pretty similar to the MacBook in this respect. It’s very thin, has a full-metal chassis and a single USB-C port on the right side of the laptop. That port is used for charging the Asus ZenBook 3, connecting external accessories and everything else you may want to connect – frustrating, to be sure. 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.
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.
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