ASUS 2018 ZenBook Series hands-on: Their lightest and sleekest ever! (Updated)
ZenBook 13, 14, and 15
The ZenBook story
Updated on 14 December 2018: Added details on local availability and price.
Originally published on 30 August 2018:
In the blink of an eye and seven years have gone by. That’s how old the ZenBook series is today. Introduced in 2011, we have seen numerous iterations of ZenBook notebooks but they have all been bound by a common focus on cutting-edge design and technology. Take the ZenBook UX301 from 2013 for example, which has panels protected by Corning Gorilla Glass for a super resistant finish. Or the ZenBook UX305 from 2014, which has a special ceramic-coated aluminum finish that gives it a finish that is unlike any other notebooks. Each new ZenBook pushes the boundaries of what’s possible with technology and design, and the newest 2018 ZenBook notebooks are no different.
The latest ZenBook notebooks were designed to be amongst the most compact in their class and yet they sacrifice little on the performance and functionality front. Let’s take a closer look at them now.
The ZenBook 13, 14, and 15
First and foremost, the new ZenBook 13, 14, and 15 were designed to be amongst the slimmest and compact notebooks in their class. This is achieved through what ASUS calls a ‘four-sided frameless NanoEdge’ display. Take the ZenBook 13 for instance, the bezels on the display are a mere 2.8mm, which gives it an amazing screen-to-body ratio of 95%. In the flesh, the display looks mighty dramatic. But more importantly, it also meant that ASUS was able to reduce the overall footprint of the notebook. Incredibly, the ZenBook 13 will take up less space on a desk than an A4-size piece of paper. In the flesh, the ZenBook 13 and 14 are remarkably small and they are very light. The ZenBook 13, in particular, is so small that I can scarcely believe that it comes with a 13-inch display. I wish I had brought a measuring tape with me to the event.
In absolute terms, the ZenBook 13 and 14 are just 1.19kg, whereas the ZenBook 15 is 1.69kg. You will find very few competitive notebooks that are lighter. As for thickness, ZenBook 13 comes in at 16.9mm, the ZenBook 14 at 15.9mm, and the ZenBook 15 at 17.9mm. They aren’t the thinnest notebooks around but that’s the trade-off for having the kind of I/O connectivity options that the new ZenBook notebooks provide. More on the ZenBook notebook’s I/O connectivity below. Another point worth mentioning is that these new notebooks meet the demanding MIL-STD-810G standard for reliability and durability, which means they are pretty rugged and should be able to stand up to the rigors of daily use very well.
Yet despite the thin bezels, ASUS has managed to keep the webcam above the display for all of the new ZenBook notebooks. In their research, they found that 76% of notebook users activate their webcam at least once a month and that 79% of them would prefer them to be on top of their screens. Some brands, in the pursuit of thin bezels, reposition the webcam to the bottom of the display, which results in very unflattering camera angles. The cameras on the new ZenBook notebooks are even Windows Hello capable so you can log in to your systems in a jiffy.
Another highlight of these notebooks is their connectivity. Sacrificing slimness, these new notebooks have just about all the ports that the casual user would need. The ZenBook 13 and 14 come with the following ports:
- USB-C (USB 3.1 Gen 2 - 10Gbps)
- USB Type-A (USB 3.1 Gen 2 - 10Gbps)
- USB Type A USB 2.0
- Full-size HDMI
- microSD card reader
- Audio combo jack
The larger ZenBook 15 has the same ports but swaps the slower USB 2.0 Type-A port of its smaller siblings for a faster USB 3.0 port and the microSD card reader for a full-size SD card reader. That said, the lack of Thunderbolt 3 support is glaring especially since the new ZenBook notebooks all have USB-C ports.
The smaller ZenBook 13 and 14 have an interesting trick up their sleeves. As we all know, 13 and 14-inch notebooks have keyboards that do not have number pads. Some users, however, are especially reliant on the number pad for their work. ASUS’ solution is to have virtual number pad for the ZenBook 13 and 14 integrated into the touchpad. Simply called the 'NumberPad', the virtual number pad can be invoked on the trackpad by a simple press of a small button on the side of trackpad, allowing users to quickly input numbers just like they would with a number pad. The clever bit is that users do not need to disable number pad to continue using the trackpad normally. Thanks to clever finger rejection technology, the trackpad is able to intuitively discern whether or not users are trying to use the virtual number pad or navigate using the trackpad. I spent a good couple of minutes trying it out and I found it to work fairly well. There is a bit of lag as the trackpad tries to figure out your intentions but thereafter it is business as usual. It is a nifty piece of technology, especially for users who cannot do without a number pad.
Under the proverbial hood, these three notebooks will be powered by Intel’s newest Whiskey Lake 8th generation Core processors that were just announced just yesterday. Core i5 and Core i7 options are available for all three models. They can also be equipped with up to 16GB of memory and up to 1TB PCIe SSD. Furthermore, ASUS will also offer discrete graphics options on these notebooks. The smaller ZenBook 13 and 14 can be equipped with the GeForce MX150 while the larger ZenBook 15 can be spec’d with the GeForce GTX 1050 Max-Q. The discrete graphics options from NVIDIA will give these notebooks a significant graphics boost over Intel’s integrated graphics solutions.
Based on first impressions, these three new ZenBook notebooks look mighty promising. They are compact and light, powered by the newest processors, and have good I/O connectivity options. They seem like they could be very good all-round notebooks for a lot of people.
Here's an overview of their prices:
- ASUS ZenBook 14 (S$1,598)
- ASUS ZenBook 14 (with NVIDIA GeForce MX150) (S$1,898)
- ASUS ZenBook 15 (S$2,098)
The local configurations see all three notebooks outfitted with an Intel Core i7-8565U (1.8GHz, 8MB L3 cache) processor. The base ZenBook 14 model will have just 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM, while the other two will come with 16GB. The former will also have a smaller 256GB PCIe SSD, but the other two more expensive models will have a larger 512GB drive.