ZenBook is an awfully good name for the laptop we consider today. Careful meditation will come in handy when pondering whether to fork over a stratospheric $1,599 for a 12.5-inch ultrabook.
Asus offers its latest ZenBook 3 in two incarnations, both in the same 12.5-inch chassis. The $1,099 cheapie model offers stripped-down specs, while paying $500 more for the upscale version gets you all the bells and whistles: Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, and a high-end 512GB SSD.
At a hair under two pounds and 13mm thick, the ZenBook 3 dallies in the category occupied by the Microsoft Surface and Razer Blade Stealth—machines with very small screens which are designed to represent the ultimate in portability. The catch with the ZenBook is that it isn’t a convertible tablet; it’s a standard laptop, without a touchscreen.
The high-end specs make up for the loss of touchability, and benchmarks in general showcase impressive but not earth-shattering performance, at least on a pound-for-pound basis. It’s particularly apt with graphics considering its size, turning in better performance than you expect to find from machines with an integrated GPU. As well, its five hours and 15 minutes of battery life even flirts with that of the Surface Pro. The 12.5-inch screen boasts a 1920 x 1080 resolution, which would normally be a bare minimum in today’s climate, but which works well enough on a screen this small, provided you aren’t trying to watch 4K video. That said, it is outclassed by nearly everything else on the market in this size category. On the plus side, the screen is plenty bright and the colors are vivid, to boot.
Flaws? Geez, where to begin? I hate the touchpad, which tracks decently but which has mushy, floppy buttons in the bottom corners. If you’re not a tap-to-click type, this alone is so frustrating it makes the machine a no-go. Even worse though is the keyboard, which is both mushy and extremely flat, to the point where it can be hard to tell whether you’ve actually pressed a key or not, particularly when you’re trying to type rapidly.
And an even bigger issue than all of this is its connectivity ports. The Zenbook features a headphone jack and just one USB-C port, end of story, which makes my complaining about the two USB-C ports on the Acer Swift 7 look silly by comparison. Sure, USB-C is the future, and it will be used for everything from charging to external display connections to peripherals. The problem is that Asus gives you just one port with which to do all that stuff. A dongle is included that expands that single USB-C port by turning it into one HDMI, one standard USB port, and one USB-C port. Sounds good, but you plug the power adapter into that USB-C port and you’ve still got limited connectivity, and no easy way to expand it. That may be OK for very casual use, but you’ll have to find a third-party adapter (with a spare USB-C port) if you want to connect more than one USB device at a time.
5/10 – Recommended with reservations.