A while ago we reviewed the Asus Zenbook UX430 series which, although not without flaws, I believe includes some of the better ultraportables money can buy these days if you’re on an mid-range budget ($1000 to $1200).
But although the UX430s are thin and light, Asus took the high-end 14-inch ultraportable concept even further with the Zenbook UX490UA line (also known as the Zenbook 3 Deluxe). I’ve spent some time with a pre-release version of this laptop and I’m going to share my findings with you below.
First of all, the UX490 is in many ways a larger peer of the UX390 (reviewed here), a premium laptop with a metal and glass unibody construction, Intel Kaby Lake hardware and modern features like NVMe storage, a fingerprint-reader and Thunderbolt 3 ports. It’s also thinner and lighter than most other similar devices out there (0.51″ and 2.42 lbs), but at the same time expensive, with base models starting at around $1700 from what we know so far (to be confirmed, or updated later).
Regardless, if you’re after a premium computer that looks stunning, weighs very little, is built well, performs smoothly and gets a slightly larger screen than what most competitors are offering, the Zenbook UX490UA might be the one for you. Read on to find out where it shines and where it fails.
Specs as reviewed
|Asus Zenbook UX490UA|
|Screen||14.0 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, IPS, matte, glossy|
|Processor||Intel Kaby Lake Core i7-7500U CPU (Core i5-7200U also an option)|
|Video||Intel HD 620|
|Memory||up to 16 GB LPDDR3 (soldered)|
|Storage||up to 1 TB M.2 NVMe SSD (80 mm)|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC (dual-band Intel AC 8260), Bluetooth 4.1|
|Ports||1x USB 3.1 gen 1, 2x Thunderbolt 3, mic/headphone|
|Battery||46 Wh , 65Wh USB-C power adapter|
|Operating system||Windows 10|
|Size||329 mm or 12.95” (w) x 210 mm or 8.27” (d) x 12.9 mm or 0.51” (h)|
|Weight||2.42 lbs (1.1 kg)|
|Extras||backlit keyboard, HD camera, available in Royal Blue and Quartz Gray|
As of late 2017 there’s also a newer configuration of this laptop with a quad-core Intel Core i7-8550U processor, 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB NVMe storage. It goes for $1699 in the US at the time of this update, but you can follow this link for more details and up-to-date prices at the time you’re reading the article. You can also read this article for more details on how these quad-core KabyLake-R processor compare to the older dual-cores, or this one for a longer list of thin-and-light notebooks built on this platform.
Design and first look
I doubt anyone could argue the Zenbook UX490 is a looker and a very carefully crafted machine.
We got to play with the Qaurtz Gray version, but Asus will also sell it in Royal Blue. The blue variant looks extravagant and makes the laptop rather unique, as there are no other dark-blue ultraportables out there that I can think of (except for a few other Zenbooks). It does show smudges fairly easily though, which the gray version does a much better job at hiding.
Both variants get a few golden accents, like the chamfered edge around the screen and the logo on the lid. I’m not a big fan of such blingy details, but I actually think the gold and gray match quite nicely here. Judge for yourselves. You can actually check out the UX390s if you can’t find the UX490s in your area yet, they are available in similar color schemes.
As for the choice in materials, the UX490 is entirely made out of aluminum, with an unibody construction. Asus emphasizes on the fact that space-grade aluminum is used for the construction, which is supposedly 50% stronger than the standard aluminum alloy. Not going to argue with that, but I still believe the brushed lid will scratch if not treated well (use the padded sleeve included in the pack). The soft interior should handle hassle better, but the edges might still dent from your watch’s buckle, something I’ve actually noticed recently on my XPS. Should have been more careful.
The UX490 does feel very strong and very well built though. There’s a little flex in the hood and the keyboard, perhaps expected from such a thin laptop (0.51″ in its thickest part, at the back), but the construction is otherwise top notch. The laptop gets no sharp corners, edges and nits, and even the back panel attaches perfectly smooth to the main frame.
Back to that unibody construction, you’ll best see it when you’ll open the laptop to get to the internal components. Keep in mind that only the SSD and the Wi-Fi chip are upgradeable here, but otherwise getting inside is much easier than on most other Zenbooks, as the back is hold in place by just 8 Torx T5 screws and easily comes off once those are out of the way.
Most of the interior (pictures down below in the Hardware section) is occupied by the battery, yet there’s a fair amount of unused space towards the front, between the speakers, as the laptop gets too slim at that point to fit anything there. As a result, there’s just a 46 Wh battery inside, which is small for a 14-incher and one of the reasons this laptop weighs so little (2.4 lbs). I believe a more rectangle case design (like on the Apple Macbook and the Asus Pro series, for instance) would have been a smarter choice than the edge shape that Asus uses on their Zenbooks, as it would have allowed that front space to be filled with extra battery cells. Just my2c.
Anyway, we’ll talk more about the battery later. For now, let’s see how practical this device is in daily use. The screen can be easily lifted with a single hand and there’s a crease on the front lip for your gingers to grab it from. The hinges are smooth, rather small, but quite firm. They keep the screen well in place and allow it to lean back to about 145 degrees. The screen is also not top heavy and doesn’t tilt the laptop on its back at the maximum angle, yet the balance gets fragile at this point.
The interior is spacious and well made, with a full-size keyboard and large trackpad in the middle, as well as some speaker cuts in the top corners. This laptop gets fours speakers, two placed on top of the keyboard and two more on the underbelly. Speaking of that, flipping the laptop upside down you’ll notice the smooth metallic bottom with four small rubber feet, the speaker cuts on the front and two more meshes on the sides, probably meant for air-intake. How air is pushed through he grills behind the hinges, like on most other Zenbooks.
The screen is covered in Gorilla Glass 5 in order to make it tougher, but that has a negative impact on how this laptop will feel in bright environments, where users will have to accept the reflections and glare. While we’re talking about the screen, we should also remind the compact format of the UX490. The bezel around its screen is not as narrow as on the Dell XPS and Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon lines, yet it’s smaller than on most other laptops and as a result, while this computer packs a 14-inch screen, it’s about the same size as the 13-inch Asus Zenbooks.
One final aspect to mention here is the connectivity, which as expected on such a slim device, is a little limited, but still a huge improvement from the 12-inch Zenbook UX390. There are two USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 ports on this laptop, and at least one of them supports full-speed PCIe x4 lanes. Unfortunately I don’t have a Core and couldn’t test compatibility with it, but that means you can hook up two 4K monitors if you want to, external graphics and other TB3 peripherals, something professionals will surely appreciate.
There is also an extra USB 3.1 Type-C gen 1 port, a headphone/mic jack and some very discrete status LEDs, all placed on the laterals, towards the back. On top of these, Asus actually includes adapters in the pack. Some retail version will come with a mini-dock, but ours just came with USB-C to USB-A and USB-C to HDMI adapters. So you’ll only need to spend extra for some sort of card-reader.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard on the UX490 types well once you get used to its feedback and rather limited travel of around 1.2 mm. That’s similar to the Dell XPS 13, yet the stroke puts a little more resistance on this Zenbook and the keys are a little larger, do overall I believe the typing experience is a little better than on my XPS. The keys are also properly spaced, plus they’re backlit (with three intensity levels to choose from).
It took me a little time to get used to the layout on our test model, which is the European one with a small Shift key and tall Enter. Those caused most of my typos and I believe my accuracy would have been better with the American layout. Speaking of the layout, the Power Button is still part of the keyboard, the top right-key.
However, my only real complaint here would be the fact that the keys are fairly noisy on this laptop, and that could not appeal to those of you looking to type in quiet places.
A large trackpad sits beneath the keyboard, slightly lowered into the frame and smoother than the palm-rest around it. It’s a glass surface made by Elan, with Microsoft Precision certification and drivers, which leave little room for tweaks. None were actually needed though, as it performed well in my tests, with no noticeable issues with regular swipes, gestures or taps. I didn’t notice the jumpy cursor that I’ve encountered on the UX390, and even the physical clicks worked as they should, posing the right resistance and clicking the right way.
Asus also integrates a fingerprint reader in the top right corner of the trackpad, useful for quickly logging into Windows. I’ve only used it sporadically and worked well, but keep in mind this implementation is similar to the one of the UX390 and users complained about some issues with the sensor on that series.
I’ve mentioned earlier this laptop gets a layer of Gorilla Glass 5 on top of its screen, which translates in glare and reflections in brighter environments. Unfortunately, that’s also corroborated with a rather dim panel and not the one used on the Zenbook UX430, at least based on this preview unit.
It’s not a bad screen by any means, as it offers good contrast, viewing angles and color reproduction, but a maximum brightness of under 300 nits is just not enough for a glossy display on a premium laptop launched in 2017 in my opinion. It’s true other manufacturers go for glossy screens as well, but on the Macbooks for instance the brightness in much improved. So while I’m not a fan of the Gorilla Glass coating, I can understand the reason behind using it on such a thin laptop. What I can’t though is the 300 nits panel.
More details below, taken with a Spyder 4 Elite:
- Panel HardwareID: AU Optronics AUO383D (B140HAN03.8);
- Coverage: 99% sRGB, 71% NTSC, 75% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.2;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 293 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 800:1;
- White point: 7100 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.36 cd/m2;
- Average DeltaE: 1.03 uncalibrated, 0.62 calibrated.
The calibrated color profile is available here, if interested.
Now, as long as you’ll keep the laptop indoors in dimmer environments, the glossy finishing and low brightness panel combo won’t be an issue, yet that’s hardly a consolation. I’d be paying a lot of money for this laptop, I sure wish to use it comfortably whenever and wherever I might want.
As a side not, I must disclose I’ve always been a fan of matte laptops, so I am perhaps a little biased here. I still stand behind my arguments above, but perhaps you should go ahead and test this laptop (or the UX390, whose panel is actually 10% dimmer) yourselves and find out if the screen is good enough for your needs.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
Our test sample came with an Intel Kaby Lake Core i7-7500U processor and Intel HD 620 graphics, 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB NVMe storage drive.
The only thing you could add on top is a larger SSD, as 1 TB options will also be available. The storage can be easily upgraded, as you can see from the pictures below, and getting to the internals only requires a Torx T5 screw-driver.
This laptop performs well in daily tasks and even in more demanding chores like Photoshop and games. It does come with a fair amount of bloatware, and you’ll want to get rid of it or do a clean Windows install just to squeeze the best performance.
Now, since out sample is an early pre-release unit that did not function at the best of its abilities, I’m not going to get in depth on benchmarks and performance under load. What I can tell you is that the CPU did not run at full-speeds under load on this sample, but it’s way too early to draw any conclusions based on this aspect alone.
I do have concerns about potential throttling in games, demanding loads and benchmarks, based on how the retail Zenbook UX390s perform in similar conditions and the fact that the UX490 shares its internal design with its smaller counterpart. But again, let’s not jump ahead and wait to see how those final retails units are going to perform.
– to be updated
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
There’s a fan inside this laptop and it’s active pretty much all the time, which comes to no surprise, as Zenbooks are known for their aggressive fan profiles.
The fan on the UX490 is very thin (3 mm, based on Asus’s press releases) and small though, so while it always spins, it’s not very obvious with daily use, unless you’re in a quiet room. Based on my measurements, daily use noise is at about 38 dB at head level in a environment with an ambient noise of 33 dB, both measured with an iPhone app. High load noise jumped to about 45 dB though, cause when playing games the fan will have to spin much faster, thus it will become noisier.
As for external temperatures, the exterior remains cool with daily activities, few parts going close to 35 degrees Celsius, and even high-load temperatures aren’t that high, given the slim shape of this laptop. However, keep in mind the CPU throttled on our sample in games, so expect the final retails to run hotter if they’re not going to throttle as quickly.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in EDGE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing Need for Speed Most Wanted for 30 minutes
There’s Wireless AC and Bluetooth 4.1 on this laptop, and Asus opted for an Intel AC 8260 chip. It performed well right near the router, and while the speeds dropped at 30 feet with two thick walls in between, I didn’t notice any sluggishness or buffering with daily use. Still, due to its metallic construction, this computer won’t be the best option for environments with dodgy wireless signal.
When it comes to the speakers, there are four of them on the UX490, branded by Harman Kardon. Two of these speakers are placed on top of the keyboard and the other two on the belly, as already mentioned earlier. The sound quality is pretty good, but you must make sure you choose the Music profile from the included Audio Wizard app, it makes a lot of a difference. The volume wasn’t that high though on our test sample, around 80 dB at head level, measured with our iPhone app, which is just about average for an ultraportable.
As a peculiar observation, I noticed that the top speakers acted as the right channel and the bottom speakers as the left channel on our test unit, and that lead to skewed stereo effects in games and movies. Hopefully just a drivers issue with this pre-release sample though.
Last in this section we’ll have to mention the webcam, which is pretty much useless. Just like on the Zenbook UX390, Asus went with a crappy VGA camera here, and the results are… well, what you can see in that picture above.
There’s a 46 Wh battery inside the Zenbook UX490UA and while that’s not that bad, it still is just 6 Wh bigger than the battery on the 12-inch Zenbook UX390. I understand there was no more room inside the frame for extra cells due to the thin profile, but that’s sacrificing practicality for aesthetics and just not a practice I can agree with. I also understand a smaller battery helps reducing the laptop’s overall weight, but again, I’d rather have longer battery life and a few grams of extra weight.
Still, here’s what you can expect to get from the Zenbook UX490UA in terms of battery life, judge for yourselves if it’s enough for your needs or not:
- 7.2 W (~6 h 20 min of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 6.7 W (~6 h 45 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 6.2 W (~7 h 20 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7.4 W (~6 h 10 min of use) – 4K fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 13.4 W (~3 h 25 min of use) – heavy browsing in Edge, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON.
This laptop comes with a 65 Wh charger and a full-recharge takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes. There’s no Quick-Charge technology implemented as far as I can tell. The wall plug is integrated withing the power brick, with non-retractable prongs, like on most other modern Zenbooks.
Price and availability
The Zenbook UX490 is available in stores in some parts of the world, with a starting price of $1699 in the US and around 1700 EUR in Europe.
The base model comes with a Core i7-7500U processor, 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD, which means that more affordable Core i5 variants might also be available at some point.
As of late 2017 there’s also an updated configuration with the quad-core i7-8550U KabyLake-R processor, 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB SSD, with a similar list price of $1699. That means you’ll find the dual-core model discounted, but I would recommend going for the quad-core anyway.
Follow this link for more details at the time you’re reading the article.
The Zenbook UX490UA is definitely not a laptop for everyone, yet I can’t tell for sure who is it for based on my experience with this early sample, mostly because I don’t know how the final retail units will perform under load. Aas a compact laptop with fast hardware and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, this could in theory be an option for professionals looking for performance on the go. I’m looking at coders, photographers and maybe graphics artists, albeit the screen could potentially strike it out for those latter two categories.
Professionals aside, the Zenbook UX490 should also appeal to those of you just looking for a stunningly looking ultraportable with the power to handle everyday activities smoothly. But would that justify paying the high price when you can get the same everyday experience, bar the premium aesthetics, from much cheaper notebooks?
Potential buyers should also consider the competition, and that includes devices like the Zenbook UX430 series (more affordable, just a little thicker and heavier, similar specs, better 14-inch matte screen), the Asus Pro B9440 (more affordable, thin and light, better 14-inch matte screen) the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (even more compact, with a larger battery and a better 14-inch matte screen), the Dell XPS 13 (smaller, larger battery, more affordable and available in more configurations) or the Apple Macbook Pro 13 (more powerful, better screen and larger battery). We’ll get in depth on these options in a separate article.
So to draw the line, I believe the Zenbook UX490 is one of those products created for publicity and not that much for people to buy. It shows the world what a thin, light and powerful laptop Asus is able to create, the press will write about it and as a result those articles will put the Zenbook brand deeper into people’s mind. But in the end they won’t probably buy this particular Zenbook, cause once potential buyers will start looking beyond the surface they’ll notice the average battery life, average screen brightness and average performance in demanding scenarios. And there just shouldn’t be anything average about a computer that costs $1700 an up.
That’s how I feel about this computer, let me know what you think about the Zenbook UX490 series in the comments section below and stay close for future updates once the final retail units will be available in stores.