The ZenBook 3 is one of those laptops that, on paper, has everything. It’s 1.1kg yet includes a 14in screen. It contains some of the world’s fastest components. Many would also consider it stylish. So why does it only get three stars? Find out in our Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe UX490UAR review.
A very special spec
In terms of a spec sheet, this machine has it all. An 8th Gen Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and superbly fast solid-state-drive is normally enough to guarantee sparkling performance.
Sadly, it doesn’t deliver. And I’m pretty sure the reason is the cooling system. It’s all very well having a processor that can hit 4GHz in bursts, but if it has to put the handbrake on to keep temperatures down then you might as well have a slower chip and save money.
Consider its Geekbench 4 scores. With a Core i7-8550U and 16GB of RAM, I’d expect a single-core score of around 5,000 and multi-core result in the region of 15,000. Instead, the ZenBook 3 managed only 4,699 and 11,907. To make sure I wasn’t being unfair, I tested it multiple times. No change.
Something old, something new
Here’s another problem. If you’re charging more than £1,000 for a laptop, you need the mod cons. That includes a Windows Hello-compliant camera so people can log in with their face.
Asus doesn’t include one. In fact, it doesn’t include a decent webcam at all: you get a VGA camera that would have looked old-fashioned four years ago.
What’s frustrating about this is that so many other things Asus has done with this latest ZenBook are fantastic. The quad speakers are sparkling. They don’t distort, they play music well, they have enough bass boom for movies.
Thunderbolts of applause
I’m also a fan of any laptop that includes Thunderbolt 3 ports, and the ZenBook includes two. Make no mistake: Thunderbolt is the future, and as more external drives and monitors include this port you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. For instance, you could hook up one 4K display running at 60Hz on either side of the ZenBook to create a killer workstation setup. And when it was time to get up and go, you’d disconnect a single connector.
We’re also starting to see some nifty travel adapters, with the Kingston Nucleum being my pick so far. It’s compatible with less flexible USB-C 3.1 ports as well, and the ZenBook has one of those too. That gives you three forward-looking ports on one slender machine.
Asus is kind enough to include an adapter. This isn’t overladen with ports – just an old-style Type-A, HDMI and a power passthrough – but it’s a welcome inclusion.
Elsewhere, things are standard fare. The keyboard is generously sized with no annoying function doubling, and while I prefer keys with a bit more feedback it’s absolutely fine. The same can be said for the Precision Touchpad, which supports all of Windows 10’s gestures. The only oddity is the fingerprint reader Asus squeezes into the top-right area of the pad, but I found this didn’t get in the way in practice.
The 14in screen is a nice example of its type too. Photographers won’t get excited by its 80% sRGB gamut coverage, but at 337cd/m² it’s bright enough for most scenarios and has excellent viewing angles. There’s no touch support, but as the screen only bends back to around 120° (this is no 2-in-1 convertible) that isn’t a problem.
Where the ZenBook still wins out is its weight and size. 1.1kg is so little you will wonder if you remembered to pack it, and while it’s quite wide and deep at 307 x 212mm, the slender 14.9mm thickness is ample compensation.
It lasted for a smidgeon over eight hours on battery when playing back a video at 80% brightness, which is a respectable amount. Even better is that Asus claims it will charge back up to 60% capacity in 49 minutes, and as the charger only weighs 215g it’s no hardship to chuck it into your bag.
Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe verdict
So where does this leave us? If Asus was charging around £1,000, I could forgive its rough edges. As it is, there’s no way I’d recommend anyone spends almost £1,400 on this laptop at this specification. You’re wasting your money, because the processor will never realise its full potential.
There are cheaper models that are more tempting. In particular, Amazon is selling an 8GB/256GB/Core i5-8200U version for £1,049. Even so, I’d take a hit on the screen and buy the £850 HP Envy 13 instead.
If you do decide to buy a ZenBook 3, make sure you don’t accidentally end up with last year’s model. These are called the Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe UX490UA, and don’t have the R suffix. The other giveaway is that they include seventh-generation Core processors.
My final points are aimed squarely at Asus. Because this isn’t far away from being a great laptop. One, make sure the processor is sufficiently cooled – or just don’t produce a Core i7 version. Two, upgrade the blessed webcam. Three, simplify your naming structures – it’s way too easy for people to buy last year’s model by mistake.
Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe verdict
Features & design
Battery life & portability
Value for money
Tantalisingly close to a brilliant laptop, but its price and pace let it down