It’s been a while since Asus actually released completely new ultraportables. Their Skylake models to date were actually upgrades of Broadwell and even Haswell chassis, but that’s going to change in the second part of 2016 with the newly announced Zenbook 3 and the Transformer 3 series.
The Zenbook 3 is a thin and light clamshell ultraportable with a 12.5-inch screen and Intel
Skylake Kabylake Core i5 and i7 hardware inside. It weighs around 910 grams and is a competitor for the Apple Macbook, Samsung ATIV Book and the HP Spectre 13, some of the sleekest and lightest laptops available these days.
It was initially unveiled at Computex 2016, alongside the Transformer 3 series which we covered in another post, and will be available in stores later this year, starting at $999.
This post gathers my impressions on the Asus Zenbook 3, based on the specs, the details and the pictures and videos available online. It’s not going to ship for a few months (Q3-Q4 2016), so there are a few things you should know before deciding if this one is worth the wait.
Of course, my final judgement is reserved for a future review, but until that happens, this article will help you understand what hides beneath the fancy words in the press release and what to expect from this Zenbook.
Update2: More details on the available configurations and up-to-date prices are available over here.
What we know so far
Like I said earlier, the Zenbook 3 is a clamshell ultraportable. As a result, it gets a 12.5-inch display, and some of you will find this too small for daily use. Personally, I’ve been a sworn fan of 12.5-inch laptops in the past, using one for a very long time, but after I switched to the XPS 13 I started to enjoy the benefits of a slightly larger screen, which I now prefer as long as the whole package remains compact.
|Asus Zenbook 3 UX390UA – official page
|Screen||12.5-inch, 1920 x 1080 px resolution, IPS panel, non touch, Gorilla Glass 4|
|Processor||Intel i5-7200U / i7-7500U CPU, dual-core|
|Video||Intel HD graphics|
|Memory||4 GB DDR3 1866 MHz or 16 GB DDR3 2133MHz|
|Storage||M.2 SATA or PCie SSDs|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC, Bluetooth|
|Ports||1 USB 3.1 Type C, headphone/mic combo|
|Operating system||Windows 10|
|Size||296 mm or 11.65” (w) x 191 mm or 9.3” (d) x 11.9mm or .47” (h)|
|Weight||0.91 kg or 2.00 lbs|
|Extras||Available in three different colors, forwards facing quad-speakers|
Update: Looks like the Zenbook 3 will only be available with Intel Kabylake Core i5-7200U and Core i7-7500U processors, Asus updated the hardware specs on the official page and cut of the Skylake CPU options.
Of course, in this case the package is even smaller and a lot thinner and lighter, and I’d reckon a fair share of you are willing to trade in a slightly smaller display for all these.
The Zenboook 3 weighs just 2.00 lbs (910 g) and is about .46 of an inch thick (11.9 mm), without considering the rubber feet. That’s only 1 mm thinner than the Zenbook UX305CA/FA and a few mms thinner than many other portable notebooks, so it’s not going to be something you’ll really notice in daily use. The weight is a solid selling point though. In fact, the Zenbook 3 is just as light as the Apple Macbook and lighter than the HP Spectre and the Samsung ATIV Book, whom it rivals with in terms of looks and build-quality.
The entire case is made from aerospace-grade aluminum alloy, according to the press release, which is tougher then regular aluminum. Hopefully this is a strong unibody design and the chassis is made from the same stuff as well. The initial impressions speak well of the craftsmanship, so I’d expect Asus to have nailed it here. That aside, the Zenbook 3 is going to be available in three different colors: Royal Blue, Rose Gold and Quartz Grey. It’s good to have options.
However, back to the Macbook we mentioned earlier, Asus decided to mimic their single-port approach and only put a single USB 3.1 Type-C port on this computer. In other words, the Zenbook 3 is only 1 mm thinner than the Zenbook UX305CA/FA, which offered at least a half-decent IO, but only gets a single USB 3.1 Type-C port on the right edge. Yes, on the right edge, and it’s not Thunderbolt 3 compatible either.
In all fairness, I understand why Asus had to go with a limited IO: they were limited by the amount of space inside the case. After all, they decided to put Core i5 and i7 processors, which are fan cooled, inside a very thin body, without sacrificing the battery size (there’s a 40 Wh battery on this thing). But at least they could have went with a pair USB 3.1 ports that would have allowed us to charge the laptop while having it connected to an external hub of accessories at the same time.
As a side note, Skylake laptops actually require a separated controller to add Thunderbolt 3 compatibility, so there probably wasn’t enough room for one here, hence the single port. If it helps in any way, it looks like Asus are going to include an adapter with a full-size USB port, HDMI output an USB 3.1 port with this laptop, and they’re also going to offer another one that also includes a card-reader, which you’ll have to buy on the side.
Still… if you decide you can live with a single port, and I’d reckon a few of you will judging by how many actually bought the Macbook, there are a bunch of other aspects you should know about the Zenbook 3.
It’s built on Core i5 and Core i7 Intel Kabylake processors, like I mentioned before, with 4 to 16 GB of RAM, based on what we know right now. There might be no option for 8 GB of RAM, we’ll get back to that in a second.
Having a Core i platform inside means that this laptop is going to be fast, especially since it’s also paired with PCIe storage. But it also means thermals, acoustics or both could be an issue, and Asus must balance the fan’s speed and thermals properly to make this work. A slow spinning fan is going to lead to throttling, a fast fan is going to lead to a lot of noise. We’ll see, all we do know for now is that they went with a very thin fan (3 mm), but hopefully they’ll get it right.
That aside, a Core i processor will require more energy than a Core m CPU. The Zenbook gets a 40 Wh battery, so I’d expect about 4-5 hours of daily use and 6-7 hours of video playing, especially since they only went with an IPS FHD normal-gamut screen which is not going to be very energy-hungry. This isn’t a touchscreen from what I can tell, but it’s glossy nonetheless, as it’s covered with a layer of Gorilla Glass 4. Why? Beats me… BTW, looks like the battery gets fast-charging, as Asus claims it can charge to 60% in around 50 minutes, which is a versatile feature for a road-warrior notebook.
The keyboard and trackpad are two other aspects we should touch here. The layout looks pretty solid, with proper sized and spaced keys, and the drop is 0.8 mm according to the official info available, which is better than the Macbook (0.4 mm), yet still shallow. In comparison, the XPS 13’s keys depress 1.2 mm and they still feel shallow, so this keyboard is probably not going to be ideal for heavy typists. For the cursor they went with a glass-surface touchpad with gestures support and an optional fingerprint-reader integrated with Windows Hello for secure authentication.
Oh, and you might have noticed the grills on top of the keyboard. These hide a set of speakers and hopefully the sound quality will be able to at least match the Macbook, which is surprisingly capable in this field.
Pricing and configurations
Now, one final aspect to mention here is the pricing policy. From the little we know right now, the Zenbook 3 UX390 is scheduled for the second part of 2016 (Q3 2016) and will be available in three configurations:
- Core i5-6200U processor, 4 GB of DDR3 1866 MHz RAM, 256 GB M.2 SATA SSD – $999;
- Core i7-6500U processor, 16 GB of DDR3 2133 MHz RAM, 512 GB M.2 NVMe SSD – $1499;
- Core i7-6500U processor, 16 GB of DDR3 2133 MHz RAM, 1 TB M.2 NVMe SSD – $1999.
More details on the available configurations and updated prices are available via this link.
The entry level configuration is fairly affordable, considering how sleek this laptop actually is, at $999. However, it only gets 4 GB of RAM, which is non-upgradeble.
The mid-level configuration is already prohibitive at $1500. Yes, it offers plenty, but it costs a lot of money. I’d reckon Asus only put 4 GB of RAM on the base model to force you to get one of the other versions, but the $500 price bump is huge for the average-user, which BTW might not even need a 512 GB NVMe SSD or 16 GB of RAM or a Core i7 processor.
In other words, unless Asus puts 8 GB of RAM on their base model, or at least offer another version in between the first two (Core i5 / 8 GB RAM/ 256 GB SSD for let’s say $1099), the average consumer won’t have a lot of reasons to buy this Zenbook 3. And when you only aim at a narrow niche of potential buyers that care more about the looks than the practicality, you’re not going to sell a lot of units. Especially when your potential buyers have the Macbook as a very similar alternative.
I was pretty pumped out when I first found out about this new Zenbook.
But then I noticed the IO. It’s possible to live with a single port and rely heavily on wireless connections, but it’s not pleasant. Apple kind of pull it through with their Macbook, but in my mind this approach steers many potential users away, myself included.
And then I noticed the screen, which for me is a deal-breaker, but might not matter that much for you. I tend to use my laptop on the road a lot, in bright-light, so I do prefer matte panels. I understand a glossy finishing on touchscreens, of course, but I don’t think the minor increase in colors or image quality (due to the fact that anti-glare filter adds a certain amount of graininess on matte screens) is enough to justify it on non-touch panels, like in this case.
And then I looked at the configurations and noticed that the base model only gets 4 GB of RAM and the next “best thing” is $1500.
On top of these, I do have my concerns about the typing experience and the cooling performance.
So for now, I can summarize that the Zebook 3 UX390UA is a Macbook with Windows.
I do hope I’ll get my hands on one of these Zenbook 3 for a proper review somewhere in near future and I’ll hold my final judgement till then. Right now though, there are at least a few aspects that bother me here, which might not mean that much taken individually, but weigh a whole lot when judging the entire package. Hopefully Asus will at least tweak the configs and prices by the time this gets in stores, cause nothing can be done about the others.
Either way, I have to admit I was hoping for more from this new Zenbook. Zenbook releases of the past looked good, but were primarily practical and more affordable than the competition, especially in the US. This Zenbook 3 emphasizes on premium aesthetics, but lacks on the other two fronts, so I don’t think is going to rival the Zenbook UX305UA or the UX305CA in sales. It just shows that Asus can make a good looking and expensive ultraportable, but that’s not enough to make me wanna buy it.