The ZenBook lineup is Asus’ premium tier of laptops, with the focus generally being on style and portability. Our last outing was with the ZenBook Flip UX360A, which turned out to be a surprisingly affordable 2-in-1 laptop with good performance and features.
Today, we’ll be checking out the the smallest and newest member of the ZenBook family, the ZenBook 3 UX390UA, which also happens to be a direct competitor to Apple’s 12-inch MacBook. This near-tablet-sized laptop is designed to be extremely portable and yet not compromise on performance. Although this particular model caters to a niche audience, it’s still a premium Ultrabook which means comparisons to the Acer Swift 7, Dell XPS 13 and HP Spectre 13 are bound to arise.
So, as stunning as the ZenBook 3 may look, is it really worth up to Rs. 1,47,990, which is what this particular variant commands? Let’s find out.
The main chassis of the Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA is constructed out of aerospace-grade aluminium which gives it strength while keeping the laptop quite light. It weighs just 910g which means you’re barely going to feel it in your bag. Asus throws in a sleeve to store the UX390UA in to protect it from scratches.
It’s also pretty slim at 11.9mm. We got the Royal Blue version for review, is not a colour you see too often on laptops. However, the gold trim isn’t really doing it any justice. Just the blue would have looked lovely, but the gold makes the overall look a bit gaudy, in our opinion.
The 12.5-inch screen on the Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA has Corning Gorilla Glass 4 and and a full-HD resolution, which feels sufficient for this screen size. You’ll can take the help of Windows scaling to have icons and menus looking just right if you find the native resolution uncomfortable at this size. The display offers a contrast ratio of 1000:1 and brightness levels are pretty good. We didn’t encounter any backlight bleeding and the metal lid provides ample protection with nearly zero flex.
Just like the MacBook, the Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA only features a single USB Type-C (USB 3.1 Gen 1) port and one headphones-and-mic combo socket. Mercifully, the laptop does ship with a dock that features a Type-C port, HDMI, and a USB 3.0 (Type-A) port. Using this, it’s possible to charge the laptop while using an external drive or monitor. The ZenBook 3 is also compatible with a Universal Dock that’s expected to hit the market in the second half of this month at Rs. 13,000.
We would have liked to see at least one more Type-C port on the laptop itself, and it’s also a little disappointing that the one that’s present is not the latest USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gbps) spec but tops out at 5Gbps, which essentially is USB 3.0. While this shouldn’t have a huge in common use cases, the newer standard does ensures more bandwidth for docks and future peripherals.
Asus has made maximum use of the available area to fit in a well-spaced-out keyboard. The chiclet keys are backlit and you can choose from three levels of intensity. The arrow key cluster feels cramped as the Up and Down keys are squished. The typing experience on the Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA isn’t the greatest due to the very shallow travel. It’s alright for composing brief messages but this is certainly not a writer's keyboard.
We appreciate the generous trackpad that also has a little fingerprint sensor for Windows Hello authentication. The latter works well as we rarely had a misread. One of the big highlights for us is the fact that Asus has managed to cram not just two, not three, but four speakers into the base of the ZenBook 3, which is pretty crazy. There are two right above the keyboard, while the other two are on the bottom. Harman Kardon has lent its expertise here and the results are pretty remarkable.
The bottom of the laptop is completely sealed so upgrading or servicing it will require a trip to a service centre. There are holes on either side of the Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA for air intake, while exhaust is pushed out at the hinge. In the box, you get the dock, sleeve, and a charger.
A laptop this thin and small usually calls for Intel’s Core M-series of chips, which are SoCs that don’t require active cooling. However, in an effort to keep performance levels up, Asus has stuck with the U-series of CPUs and our top-of-the-line Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA test unit sports the new Kaby Lake Core i7-7500U CPU.
In addition, there’s 16GB of DDR3 memory running in dual-channel mode, and a 512GB Toshiba M.2 PCIe Gen3 SSD. You also get Bluetooth 4.1, dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac and a VGA webcam. Sadly, there’s no option for higher storage capacities in India at the moment, and having such a low-res webcam is a bit of an odd choice.
The Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA ships with Windows 10 Pro 64-bit along with the usual trial apps like McAfee LiveSafe and Office 365. There are a host of apps from Asus like Splendid for adjusting the screen colour profile; SonicMaster for tweaking the audio; and GiftBox, which curates a bunch of popular apps from the Windows Store.
The ZenBook 3 also gets a feature called Asus Touchpad which enables handwriting recognition on the trackpad. The languages it recognises depend on which packs you have installed in Windows, and you can switch between them. It recognises letters, numbers, special characters and even words of up to three letters. The feature works well once you get the hang of it but a wider trackpad is needed for it to be more useful.
Our test unit had some bugs in the software, and even after updating all software and drivers, they didn’t seem to go away. For instance, the audio driver kept intermittently crashing and we got a BSOD error every time we ran the memory bandwidth test in SiSoft SANDRA. This could be an isolated issue with our test unit but it’s still something that shouldn’t happen.
Apart from this, we managed to get all our everyday work done, which usually involves some light photo editing, working on documents and lots of open Chrome tabs. The Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA got through all of this without ever feeling like it needed more power. The new Kaby Lake CPU in the ZenBook 3 offers a minor speed bump over its predecessor, which shows in the benchmarks. In Cinebench R15, we got a CPU score of 312 points and OpenGL score of 38fps, while in PCMark, we got scores of 3316, 4111, and 3198 in the Home, Creative, and Work test suites respectively. All numbers point to a healthy improvement in performance over the previous generation.
There’s a single exhaust fan which gets audible when the laptop heats up (like during charging) but it isn’t distractingly loud. It stays off when you’re on battery power or running less intense tasks. The base of the laptop always runs a bit warm even if you just have it on and doing nothing. Due to its size, the Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA doesn’t offer the widest range of comfortable typing positions. We found it best when used on a desk.
Another thing we noticed is that the keyboard keys on our test unit didn't have a uniform feel. Some were slightly wobbly while others were more recessed than they should have been. This might sound like nitpicking, but if you think about it, it is indicative of what could happen over time.
The ZenBook 3 makes for a very good multimedia tool. HD and 4K videos play just fine and audio quality is excellent for a laptop this size. Thanks to the two additional speakers on the top, you can easily use it on a soft surface like a bed without worrying about muffling the sound.
The 40Wh battery delivers great performance too. It managed to last 4 hours and 14 minutes in the Battery Eater Pro test, which is the longest time we’ve recorded for any premium Ultrabook yet. With actual usage, we were easily able to push out 8-9 hours on a single charge.
The Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA is a wonderful laptop to have if you travel a lot, but like most niche products, it comes at a steep price. If your usage is not too heavy, then Asus offers a less expensive variant at Rs. 1,13,990 which features a Core i5-7200U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SATA 3 SSD.
From a utility standpoint, the ZenBook 3 has limitations in terms of physical connectivity and a keyboard that’s not meant for very serious typing. If you can live with these compromises, then the ZenBook 3 is worth considering, especially if you’re looking for a Windows alternative to Apple’s 12-inch MacBook.
Price (MRP): Rs. 1,47,990