ASUS Zenbook 3 UX390 Review – A Laptop With It’s Own Class

Laptops are getting much sleeker and compact, reassuring the word ‘laptop’ and at the same time making it euphonious. Ever since Apple introduced the 12” inch MacBook, the Gold standard in this segment, companies are trying their best to beat it. The latest offering from ASUS, the ASUS Zenbook 3 just took this competition to the next level. In fact, ASUS Zenbook 3 is a laptop with its own class and it looks damn sexy as well. The closest competitors for Zenbook 3 are; Apple’s 12” inch MacBook and HP Spectre. I got a chance to do hands-on with Zenbook 3 and this is a comprehensive review of the same.

ASUS Zenbook 3 Review

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ASUS Zenbook 3 Design

The ASUS Zenbook 3 comes in three vibrant colors; Royal Blue, Rose Gold, and Quartz Gray. The Royal Blue is one of the most popular colors as per the public poll. The gold accent, however, is a like it or hate it deal. My review unit was the Rose Gold and it looks stunning and shimmers under any type of lighting.

The laptop looks premium; all credits to the high-quality aluminum chassis. The Zenbook 3 is sturdy and lands one step below MacBook in terms of build quality. You can easily open the lid using one hand and the base won’t come off from the desk. The keyboard is a bit cluttered which you will get adopted quick. The trackpad is big and has an integrated fingerprint scanner at the top right corner. The buttons, however, felt spongy and lacks the positive ‘clickiness’. The keyboard has backlit, which can be adjusted to three levels of intensity. The typing experience is not so good, as the key travel is very less. Again, for some people, this may be a good fit.

To accommodate the thin profile, Zenbook 3 has compromised on the number of ports. In fact, the laptop has one headphone jack on the top left side and a USB Type C port on the top right side. There is no Thunderbolt 3 support but, ASUS supplies an adaptor out of the box. The 12.5” inch 1080p display is further protected with Gorilla Glass 4. The color reproduction is good and the display is bright enough. Though the display resolution is only 1080p compared to the 2304 * 1440 in 12” inch MacBook, at normal viewing distances you won’t be able to make out the difference.

The laptop comes with 4 speakers. Two on the top of the keyboard and two under the laptop. The Harman/Kardon branding is nicely emblazoned below the keyboard area. The speakers sounded far better than expected and it was loud enough too. There are negligible distortions when you pump up the volume but still, sounds solid. The gold accent looks a bit gaudy for my style, wish they could have painted it with something else or left as such. The Zenbook 3 is compatible with the companies new Universal Dock. As far as the ventilation is concerned, there are holes on either side of the laptop for air intake and the hot air will be vented out near the hinge.

ASUS Zenbook 3 Specification and Performance

When you pay a fortune for something you obviously will expect something back. The case with Zenbook 3, which cost more than a lakh in India, is not anything different. On paper, the specs sound amazing but, does it hold when you put it for actual testing? Well, I will say yes!

For starters, the laptop performance was great. The Intel Core i7 7500U Processor which is based on KabyLake architecture rather than Skylake is an added advantage. The advantages of putting Kabylake is that; the laptop is more energy efficient, support for hardware encoding and decoding for certain video codecs and the clock speed is slightly faster than the ones which are based on Skylake.

Specs sheet will look like this;

  • Intel Core i7 7500U Processor
  • 16 GB LPDDR3 2133MHz SDRAM Onboard Memory (test unit was of 8GB RAM)
  • 5” display with 1080p resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio
  • Integrated Intel HD graphics
  • 512GB Toshiba SSD
  • Backlit Keyboard
  • VGA Web Camera
  • ASUS SonicMaster Premium Technology
  • 6 Cells 40 Whrs Polymer Battery
  • Weights only 910g including battery
  • Windows 10 Home edition.

If you go through the specs again, I know the exact point we all get bit disappointed. Yes! There is no dedicated graphics option instead, you have to settle for the integrated graphics provided by Intel. A major downside is the Web Camera. Come on! Its 2017 and people started recording in 8K and yet, ASUS decided to keep the VGA (640p) sensor for the web camera. Is it some sort of joke ASUS? The Harman/Kardon powered speakers are fabulous except for the small distortions at high notes. The laptop is interestingly lightweight and it’s just 910g.

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The ASUS Zenbook 3 is blazing fast for the day to day activities. The 512 GB SSD takes most of the credit for the ultra-fast 1400MB/s data transfer rates. Professional video and photo editing is a breeze, at least for some time. The single fan, for cooling the machine, gets turned on when you push it to the limits and the fan sound is bit audible. For normal functions, the laptop will remain silent.

Gaming is not fun as you would expect from a laptop fitted with Core i7 processor. You can play most of the games but need to compromise on the visual detailing. Means, you must run at low game settings. Since there is only a small fan to put out all the heat from the high-end chip, the heating is bit of a problem. In my test, after pushing the laptop to its limit, I could notice a temperature of up to 50 degree Celsius on the mid portion of the keyboard.

Once the CPU gets heated up another major issue we faced was the CPU throttling. If you render videos and play high-end games for a long time may experience performance issue because of this. The laptop can take everything but, not for a long time or in other words, it’s not a machine which can be used dedicatedly for high-end performing purposes.

ASUS Zenbook 3 Battery Life

When an electronic device gets slimmer the battery life of the device also gets slimmer. However, ASUS has managed to fit in a battery which gives 9 hours of battery life on paper. In reality, on my usage, I got a graph which was plummeting. Or I would say, rather had troughs and crests. Again, this depends on the type of usage.

I tested the average use scenario by running a 2-hour long movie on loop. The movie ran 3 times full-length and had failed to pass 20-25 minutes’ mark on VLC for the 4th time. This means; you will get 6 hours 30 minutes’ battery life if you go with normal usage and brightness at 50%. On the other hand, the PCMark Benchmark results show a battery life of 3 hours. This is a huge letdown for many users including me who love the convenience of portability. I don’t know whether I have messed up with the battery settings but, this should not be the figure you would expect on a laptop which cost you a fortune.

ASUS Zenbook 3 Fingerprint Sensor

One of the best features on Windows 10 systems is the Windows Hello sign-in. The fingerprint sensor on Zenbook 3 is placed inside the trackpad, aesthetically and the conveniently positioned sensor is very fast and reliable. Just open the lid and place the finger on the sensor, within a matter of less than a second the system gets unlocked and ready to use.

To Conclude…

ASUS Zenbook 3 is a perfect Windows alternative for Apple 12” inch MacBook. When MacBook remains as the Gold Standard in terms of performance, durability, build quality and battery life; Zenbook 3 can be positioned right below it.

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The KabyLake core i7 is a great processor and process anything we throw at it. However, the slim profile of the laptop results in less ventilation and the single fan alone is not enough to handle the giant. The CPU throttling happens if you use the laptop under heavy performance for a long time and this sometimes can be disappointing.

The sound quality is good and has a tiny bass to it. The gold accent on all three colors is not for everyone. The gold color is very prominent in the blue variant. There are headphone jack and USB Type C port. This is very inconvenient at many times. Though ASUS provides the adapter to cover up this issue, for me, it is not a good solution. The webcam on this laptop is very poor and resolution reminds me of my first Nokia camera phone.

The alternatives to consider are Apple MacBook and Dell XPS 13, HP Spectre (if you looking for Windows). The thing I love about Dell XPS 13 is the InfinityEdge screen. Though XPS 13 is bit thicker and heavier, the display is stunning and the battery life is much better compared to Zenbook 3. The HP Spectre matches the look and feel of Zenbook 3 is also a great option to consider.

The highlights include; the laptop weights only 910g offers extreme portability. The choice of options to pump up the specs is a great deal but, I would suggest you stick with the i5 Processor which is economical and offers better battery life. If you ask me about buying one, I would say; Yes! It is an expensive piece of technology like MacBook and HP Spectre but, at the end of the day, it’s all about convenience and portability.

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