It’s been a while since Asus last updated their top-tier Zenbook, but that’s changing as of July 2017 with the Zenbook Pro UX550 series.
This is a 15-inch laptop with a compact build, premium features and the latest in terms of hardware at this point: Intel HQ processors, DDR4 RAM, NVMe storage and Nvidia GTX 1050/1050 Ti graphics.
With a starting price of around $1200, the Zenbook Pro slots right in the middle of its niche as an alternative for the Dell XPS 15, Lenovo Yoga 720 and perhaps the HP Spectre x360 15. Buyers should expect good value for the money, distinguished aesthetics, solid performance (with some exceptions) and good battery life, but there’s more than meets the eye about this laptop once you start nitpicking, which I believe you should at this level.
We spent a few days with a Zenbook Pro UX550VD test-unit and we’ve gathered all our impressions below, with the good parts and the annoying quirks. Read on for the whole story.
Update: We also reviewed the higher tier Zenbook UX550VE in another article, if you’re interested in the Core i7 / GTX 1050 Ti configuration.
Specs as reviewed
|Asus Zenbook Pro UX550VD|
|Screen||15.6 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, IPS, matte, non-touch|
|Processor||Intel Kaby Lake Core i5-7300HQ CPU|
|Video||Intel HD 620 + Nividia GTX 1050 4 GB GDDR5|
|Memory||8 GB DDR4 (soldered)|
|Storage||256 M.2 NVMe SSD (80 mm)|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC (tri-band Intel AC 8265), Bluetooth 4.2|
|Ports||2x USB 3.0 Type-A, 2x USB Type-C with Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, mic/headphone, microSD card reader|
|Battery||73 Wh, 120 Wh charger|
|Size||365 mm or 14.37” (w) x 251 mm or 9.88” (d) x 18.9 mm or 0.74” (h)|
|Weight||4.05 lbs (1.84 kg) + 1.19 lbs (.54 kg) for the charger|
|Extras||backlit keyboard, VGA camera, quad-speakers, available in Royal Blue and Matte Black|
The Zenbook UX550 series includes a few different configurations in two main families, the UX550VD (with Nvidia 1050 graphics, the one we have here) and the UX550VE (with Nvidia 1050 Ti graphics). All are available with various screen choices (FHD and UHD, matte or touch) as well as multiple CPU (i5-7300HQ, i7-7700HQ), RAM (up to 16 GB) and storage (M.2 80 mm NVMe) options.
Design and first look
Design wise the new Zenbook Pro UX550 is up-to-date with today’s trends, with a lighter, thinner and especially more compact build than its predecessors, as you can tell by the small bezels around the screen. The Dell XPS 15 is still the norm in terms of size, but this Zenbook is just millimetrically bigger.
However, while the XPS is sharp and angular, the Zenbook is more round, with the bottom and hood tapering towards the extremities, which make it somewhat more comfortable to grab and carry around. The entire outer shell is metallic, with a textured finishing on the lid and a simple smooth finishing on the interior, sides and underbelly. It feels nice to the touch, but show smudges and dust extremely easily, so you’ll have to wipe it clean often. They’re especially visible on our test unit, available in the Matte Black color scheme. Asus will also offer a Royal Blue version and both look stunningly beautiful and just different than anything else available out there.
The dark design is complemented by machined beveled edges around the interior, which don’t actually feel as sharp as on some other laptops with a similar trait. They’re still a little uncomfortable in daily use if you have the laptop on a small desk, as in this case the wrists have to lean on them, but otherwise they didn’t bother me. Keep in mind the crude metal will dent and scratch in time, especially if you forget to take off your watch while using the laptop (which i do often).
There’s also a shinny Asus logo on the lid, backlit by the screen’s panel, so there’s no way to switch it off or control it manually. That aside though, the aesthetics are clean and upscale, with no flashy elements or annoying details. You should peel off those ugly stickers on the palm-rest though, and I do have to mention the rather bright status LEDs placed on the front lip and the fact that the Power key is always lid as well by a tiny LED. Both are rather annoying when watching a movie in a dark room.
The build quality is pretty solid, but not really up there next to the XPS’s. There’s a fair amount of flex in the lid cover, but since there’s no impact on the panel when pressing on it hard, I’d say it’s not much of an issue. The warping in the keyboard deck is harder to accept though on a premium laptop. The fact that the Zenbook UX550 gets a plastic internal chassis (with metal sheets on top) bares the blame for that, and as a result the build is not as strong or as rigid as on a full unibody design. There’s a clip here showing the flex of a final retail unit bought in store, and it’s pretty much the same with our test unit.
This aside, I also have a nit with the fact that the bottom panel does not attach flush to the main-frame, leaving some sharp edges towards the front corners. The lateral edges are just a little taller than they should be, and hence this happens. Details in the pictures below. Now, I’d say this won’t really bother you with daily use (unless you’d grab the laptop from the front corners, which you probably won’t), but is still one of those fine details that Asus should have fixed on their premium offer, as it’s a known flaw with most Zenbooks.
This Zenbook Pro UX550 is fairly practical otherwise. The rubber feet on the underbelly keep in firmly anchored on a desk, the palm-rest is spacious and those metal edges rarely bite into the wrists when typing. The screen’s hinge is very strong, in fact too strong to allow to lift the display single-handedly, at least on our unit. Hopefully it will loosen up in time. As a side not, it can keep the screen just 1 cm on top of the main body without closing it, which might be useful in case you’ll want to game while having the notebook hooked to an external monitor and external peripherals, but don’t want to completely close the lid and fully expose it to the hot interior. The screen can also go back to about 150 degrees, which is good enough for desk use, yet a little limiting on the lap.
I’ll also mention that the UX550 gets four speakers, two firing downwards and two upwards, flanking the keyboard, as well as webcam and mics placed on top of the screen. We’ll talk about these and the intake/exhaust system more in a dedicated section further down.
As far as the IO goes, the only thing I miss on this laptop is a full size card-reader, cause otherwise it gets 2x USB Type-A and 2x USB Type-C ports (with full speed PCIe x4 Thunderbolt 3 capabilities), a full-size HDMI port, a headphone jack and a card-reader. There’s no LAN, but you can find USB to LAN adapters if wired Internet is a must. And there’s also a microSD card-reader, but like I said, I would have found more value in a proper SD reader.
So all in all, the Zenbook Pro UX550 looks and feels nice to use. But it’s an expensive computer and as a result my expectations would be to at least match the other premium laptops in terms of build and overall quality, and the truth is it doesn’t. It lacks an unibody construction and as a result there’s some noticeable flex in the main-deck and the lid. On top of those, potential buyers would also have to accept the stiff hinge hand and those sharp uneven bits on the underbelly. None of these are deal breakers for me, but at this point I feel this laptop needs to compensate for them in some other ways if it were to be a viable option in its niche. We’ll see if it does that in the next sections.
Aside from that flex on the lid, the screen is actually well built, with a sturdy frame and well crafted bezels that don’t pinch the panel. As a result, there’s not a lot of light bleeding around the edges on this sample, but there is some towards the lower corners. It’s visible in a completely dark room with a black background, but is not pronounced enough for me to notice with actual everyday use, not even when watching movies and having the black bars beneath the content. Quality control is unfortunately a lottery these days, as some people online are complaining about more intense bleeding on their devices. My advice is to make sure you buy from a place that allows easy returns, there’s a fair chance you’ll draw a short straw here.
As far as the actual panel goes, we got to test the base-level variant with the FHD matte screen and a Chi Mei N156HCe-EN CMN panel. It’s a pretty good option, in fact the same Lenovo puts on the 15-inch Yoga 920 or Gigabyte on the Aero 15, but is not as good as the FHD panel Dell puts on the XPS 9560.
You’ll find details below, taken with a Spyder4 sensor.
- Panel HardwareID: Chi Mei CMN15E8 (N156HCe-EN);
- Coverage: 98% sRGB, 71% NTSC, 75% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.4;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 310 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 850:1;
- White point: 6700 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.36 cd/m2.
The gamma and gray-scale levels are slightly distorted out of the box, which you can fix by calibrating the screen, but otherwise there’s not much to complain about here. Of course, there are brighter panels out there, as well as panels with a wider gamut coverage, but for the entry level pick this one is not bad at all.
On top of that, Asus offers a few other panel options for the UX550 series, with FHD and UHD resolutions and optional touch. I’d reckon the base configurations will get the FHD models, while the UHD options will only be paired with the higher specked models. We’ll update with details on these other choices when available.
Keyboard and trackpad
We get to this section knowing there’s some flex in the keyboard deck, which usually has a negative impact on the typing experience. It does, somewhat, but I could probably let it slide if it weren’t for a few other small issues that I noticed with this keyboard.
First of all, the layout needs some time to get used to, as it adds an extra row of function keys on the right, with the top-right key being the Power button. Normally, you’d have the Delete key there on a standard similar layout, so you can understand the frustration of putting the computer to sleep when actually trying to delete something. That’s why I advise you to immediately disable this key the first time you boot into Windows. You’ll also struggle with Enter and the arrows until you get accustomed with these changes. At that point you might however actually appreciate having dedicated keys for Home/End and PgUp and PgDn, but it will take a while.
There’s also no NumPad with this layout, which some might miss, but I for one don’t, and the design leaves for some short, but nicely spaced arrow keys.
As far as the typing experience goes, initially I wasn’t very fond of it. In fact I found it poorer than on the XPS 15 and 13 (my ultraportable of choice). The keys put more resistance than those on the XPS and don’t feel as shallow, but they’re also spongy and mushy, and as a result you must make sure to hit them in the middle to actuate properly, otherwise they can depress a fair amount (i’d say about 1/5 of their travel) when hit on the sides without actually registering a click. They deliver good response and feedback if you hit them accurately.
As for the stroke depth, Asus says it’s 1.5 mm and I don’t have a way to measure it, but it really doesn’t feel any longer than on the XPS, which supposedly only gets only 1.2 mm of travel. I’m not saying these keys don’t travel 1.5 mm, I’m just saying it doesn’t make a difference with typing, at least not for me.
Anyway, while I struggled with this keyboard at first, several thousands of words later I can actually type fast and fairly accurately on it. I had to adjust my style though and even so, I can’t really say the experience is better than on the XPS; it’s just average, but for different reasons. The Lenovo Yoga 720 is much better to type on than both though.
I’ll also add that this keyboard is backlit, with white LEDs and three intensity levels to choose from. The illumination is activated by swiping fingers over the touchpad. It’s also fairly quiet to type on. Initially, some keys somehow squeaked in a way that annoyed me, but that stopped after a while, so if you notice anything similar give them a little time to break in. I was talking to Doug about this and he asked what causes the squeaking and the truth is I couldn’t single it out, the rubber dome somehow sounded different when actuating some of the keys. And then, because it faded after a while, I just couldn’t look more into the matter.
For mouse Asus went with what looks like a glass-made clickpad, placed in the middle of the palm-rest. It’s spacious and a little recessed into the frame, so easy to find with your fingertips.
It also worked very well during my time with the Zenbook UX550, with swipes, taps and gestures. I didn’t ran into any issues with it and didn’t have to tweak it any way. That’s very important, because you can’t really tweak the sensitivity or response as this is an Asus TouchPad with very limited settings. Even those options that are available in Windows on laptops with a regular Microsoft Precision surface are hidden here. So you either like it out of the box, or there’s nothing to do about it. Luckily, I liked it.
The clicks are fairly good too, flexible enough and just a tad loud. You can click on the entire surface, but you’ll have to press harder the higher you go. There’s also a finger sensor integrated within the clickpad in its top right corner, which works well with Windows Hello.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
The Zenbook UX550 is available a multitude of different configurations and what we have here is the base UX550VD model, with a Core i5-7300HQ processor, Nvidia GT 1050 4GB graphics, 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB NVMe SSD. Higher end models include up to 16 GB of RAM, bigger SSDs, the Core i7-7700HQ processor and Nvidia 1050 Ti graphics.
The base model usually offers the best value for the money and allows for later upgrades, if necessary. With the UX550 you can access the components fairly easily by removing the back panel, which is hold in place by a few Torx T4 screws, all visible around the sides. There are no screws hidden beneath the rear rubber feet like with most other Zenbooks. Inside though you’ll notice that not only the CPU and GPU are soldered on the motherboard, but the memory as well. That means there’s no way to add extra RAM and that’s why I would advise to get a configuration with 16 GB of memory if you plan to keep the laptop for a few years.
The SSD and Wireless chip can be upgraded if needed, and you also get access to the battery in case you’ll ever need that.
So how does this basic configuration perform? As long as you clean the fair amount of bloatware that comes preinstalled, you won’t have issues with daily activities like browsing, watching multimedia content, editing documents, listening to music and so on. Chrome can get greedy though and if you have 20+ tabs open and multitask between several different apps, you’ll find out that 8 GB of RAM are not enough, hence the recommendation to go for 16 GB. If you keep activities to a more casual level this basic version should do fine by you, but at this point you could also consider a laptop built on a more efficient and cheaper Core U platform.
I’d reckon you’ll buy a Core HQ for multitasking, more demanding loads and for some gaming. And here’s where I should tell you to take the info in these next paragraphs with a grain of salt, as our review unit is a pre-release sample and not a final retail model, which means some things might be different on those units you will buy in stores.
Knowing that, we didn’t notice any issues with more demanding loads in Photoshop or Lightroom, and the benchmark results are pretty solid as well. However, the Core i5 CPU in this test sample struggled to reach its maximum single-core Turbo Speed of 3.5 GHz, thus some of the single-core results are under what they should be. Multi-core performance on the other hand was just what is expected from the platform(Core i5-7300HQ, 8 GB RAM):
- 3DMark 11: P7126;
- 3DMark 13: Sky Driver – 13240, Fire Strike – 4856, Time Spy – 1627;
- 3DMark 13 Graphics: Sky Driver – 17587, Fire Strike – 5484, Time Spy – 1538;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 3152, Work Conventional – 3274;
- PCMark 10: 3816;
- GeekBench 3 32-bit: Single-Core: 3500, Multi-core: 10243;
- GeekBench 4 64-bit: Single-Core: 4306, Multi-core: 11587;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 55.97 fps, CPU 5.88 pts, CPU Single Core 1.46 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 85.47 fps, CPU 518 cb, CPU Single Core 116 cb;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 165.96 fps, Pass 2 – 34.31 fps;
- x264 HD Benchmark 5.1 64-bit: Pass 1 – 55.12 fps, Pass 2 – 12.69 fps.
I’ve also added some pictures of the CPU/GPU speeds and temperatures in everyday activities…
… as well as in benchmarks and games (plugged-in and on battery).
And here we come to gaming. We’ve added some results below.
|FHD High||FHD Ultra|
|Shadow of Mordor||56 fps||43 fps|
|FarCry 4||48 fps||35 fps|
|Grid: Autosport||117 fps||62 fps|
|Tomb Raider||89 fps||49 fps|
|Bioshock Infinite||86 fps||56 fps|
There’s nothing unusual about these numbers, but diving through the HWInfo logs I noticed that despite the fact that the CPU and GPU average temperatures of a little under 80 C in games, our sample struggled to maintain consistent Turbo Boost CPU speeds in some of the more demanding titles (Witcher 3, Far Cry 4). The frequencies dropped to as low as stock clock speeds of 2.7 GHz in those cases after 30+ minutes of use. That’s not considered throttling, but it’s still a sign that the platform couldn’t always get the best out of the CPU. The GPU has a stock-clock of 1354 MHz and averaged around 1450 MHz with continuous gaming, so there’s no throttling here either.
As far as stress testing goes, the CPU is capable of maintaining its Turbo speed of 3.1 GHz in continuous 100% loads, but it throttles down once the GPU kicks in as well. In fact, both the CPU and GPU throttle down when pushed to full-loads with Prime95 and Furmark, as you can see in the pictures below.
So all in all, performance is solid with this laptop, with slight issues in demanding games. The CPU’s behavior is something to look into though, given this review unit gets the cooler and more efficient Core i5 CPU without HyperThreading, and the same chassis will also accommodate a Core i7 and the GTX 1050 Ti graphics in some configurations. You should further research how those are going to fare in this chassis, and I’ll update with more details once available.
Like I mentioned earlier, there’s a chance more mature drivers and an BIOS will improve behavior and performance, as from what I can tell based on this sample there’s still a headroom of at least 10 degrees for the CPU to run at full blast before reaching dangerous temperature levels (of 90+ Celsius) and having to dial-down in speed. The fact that it dialed back earlier on this sample doesn’t tell anything about how the retail units will perform, but is a heads-up to keep an eye on other reviews and impressions, preferably from users who actually bought the final products, before drawing conclusions.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
Even with those said above, I still have to argue that Asus could have done a better job designing the intake and exhaust on the Zenbook UX550. First of all, let’s flip the laptop upside down and notice there’s no admission grill on top of the heatpipes like on the Dell XPS 15, Lenovo Yoga 720 and pretty much all other ultraportable laptops with similar specs. Instead, there are two oval intake grills on the sides, which provide some airflow to the fans, but are not imo ideally placed or sized. That’s one aspect to keep in mind.
The other is the exhaust. Most laptops with this kind of design blow hot air out though some grills between the main body and the hinge, and this one is no different. They’re designed to direct the flow of hot air down towards the table, but the screen’s hinge actually covers the exhausts when the laptop is open and leaves up a space of about 2 mm for the air to go through. As the pictures below show, there’s a lot more space available when the screen is closed on top of the laptop (or nearly closed) and much less when the screen is up in the normal position you’ll actually use it in.
These two elements combined have in my opinion a negative impact on the airflow and as a result, on the laptop’s overall cooling capacity.
The actual cooling solution inside is pretty standard. Asus claims there are three heat-pipes but I only see two of them covering both the CPU and GPU, with a larger one hooked to the radiators on both sides and a thinner one only hooked to the radiator near the GPU. I find this design a little weird as I don’t understand why they didn’t hook them both to the two fans, but perhaps there’s something I’m missing.
Anyway, with all these technicalities out of the way, you should know that our test unit ran cool with everyday use, but the fans inside are active pretty much all the time, even with the most basic of activities. They’re audible in a quiet room and have a somewhat high-pitch whistle, yet you’ll hardly notice them in a normal environment, as we measured noise levels of up to 38 dB at head level (in a perfectly quiet room with a measured base noise of 33 dB, for scale). Unfortunately we also noticed a fair amount of coil whine and electric noise, which you’ll again hear in a quiet environment from a normal use distance. It’s not loud, but is there and is annoying.
The fans ramp to 44-45 dB in demanding loads, which is about average for a mid-range gaming laptop. A few other reviews claim lower noise levels of around 40 dB, so take our findings with a grain of salt and further look into the matter as the final retail units might actually run quieter.
Outer case load temperatures are about average, with the upper back-side getting to mid 40s. Details below.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in EDGE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing Far Cry 4 for 30 minutes
Both the Dell XPS 15 and the Lenovo Yoga 720 run a few degrees warmer with similar loads, but you have to consider that our review unit comes with the Core i5 processor and the Nvidia 1050 graphics. The Core i7 models and especially the UX550VEs with GT 1050 Ti graphics will run hotter.
Connectivity wise there’s Wireless AC and Bluetooth 4.2 on this laptop. Asus went with one of the newer Intel tri-band 8265 chips which is a pretty solid performer. Speeds drop at 30 feet with two walls in between, but not to the point where the connection gets sluggish or is no longer usable. I also haven’t encountered any disconnects or drops, so I have nothing to complain about the wireless performance.
The speakers are a big upgrade from the older Zenbook UX510 and probably the best in the segment. Asus went with four of them, two placed on the underside and two on the interior, flanking the keyboard, and they’re both punchy and loud, at up to 85 dB at head level. The sound coming out of these speakers is clear and rich, with a fair amount of low end and no distortions, not even at maximum volumes. You will feel some vibrations in the palm-rest at volumes above 50% though, but I quickly got to ignore them during my time with the laptop.
The webcam on the other hand is mediocre, as Asus only went with a VGA camera on this laptop. The results are… well, what you see in that picture above: mushed and pixelated. The camera in flanked by two microphones that do a fair job in calls.
There’s a 73 Wh battery inside the Zenbook UX550, which is pretty hefty given its overall size. Paired with the entry-level (and more efficient) hardware configuration and FHD screen, the battery life you can squeeze on a single charge is not bad at all. We set the screen’s brightness at roughly 120 nits – 40% brightness in our tests below:
- 8.9 W (~8 h of use) – text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 8.7 W (~8 h 20 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 6.0 W (~12 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 8.6 W (~8 h 30 min of use) – 4K fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 14.1 W (~5 h of use) – browsing in Edge, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 48 W (~1 h 30 min of use) – gaming on battery, High Performance Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON.
That aside, Asus pairs the Zenbook UX550 with a fairly chunky and heavy 120 Wh power brick, that weighs .54 kg with the included cables (European version). The charger is able to quickly charge 60% of the battery in 50 minutes, and as a result a full load takes about 1 h and 45 minutes.
Price and availability
This laptop is not widely available at the time of this post, so take the info below with a grain of salt.
From what we know so far the base Zenbook UX550VD is going to start at about 1200 EUR over here, with the UX550VE at about 1250 EUR, both with a Core i5 CPU, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD and FHD matte screen. That should translate in around $1200-$1300 for the US.
Higher end models with Core i7 processors, 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB SSDs should go for around 1700 EUR for both the VD and VE models.
Normally I would suggest getting the i5 configuration, but in this case you should primarily focus on a configuration with 16 GB of RAM, since there’s no way to upgrade that.
Follow this link for updated configurations and prices at the time you’re reading the article, or this one if you’re interested in the UX550VE model with GTX 1050 Ti graphics.
There are two main alternatives you could consider over the Zenbook UX550 in its niche of premium 15-inch laptops with Core HQ processors and Nvidia 1050 graphics: the Dell XPS 15 and the Lenovo Yoga 720 15. I’ll have a more detailed post on the three in a few days, but until then, here are a few things that set these apart.
The Dell XPS 9560 remains imo the top-pick in the segment, but it’s not without flaws and quality control issues, as you’ll find from our review, so make sure you buy from places that allow returns or inspect it in person before buying, if possible. It’s more sturdily built than the Zenbook, it gets a brighter FHD screen and is available with either a 56 Wh battery and space for a HDD, or a 97 Wh battery. The XPS 15 is however about $150-$200 more expensive than the Zenbook and the difference is even bigger in Europe. It also has some flaws of its own, like throttling in demanding loads (this article helps fix that), coil whine and a rather average set of speakers and keyboard.
The Lenovo Yoga 720 15 is a 2-in-1 convertible with a touchscreen and is also more affordable than both the Zenbook and the XPS, with the base Core i5 models starting at around $1000 as of late July 2017. As you’ll find from this article, it gets a very nice keyboard and a decent screen (same panel as the Zenbook UX550 tested here, but a glossy touch variant), but the build quality is only “good enough”, the trackpad is rather erratic, the IO rather limited and performance is still an issue in continuous loads.
The Zenbook UX550 sits between these two in terms of pricing and build quality, it gets the aesthetics and color choices on its hand, the punchy speakers, the slightly cooler shell in demanding loads and the good battery life. On top of all these, the Zenbook UX550 also gets full-speed PCi x4 Thunderbolt ports, while the other two only get PCIe x2 TB3. You’ll find more details about Thunderbolt 3 in this article.
There are also a few other portable 15-inchers you could consider, just a tad bigger and heavier, but also more powerful, like the Asus Vivobook Pro N580, MSI GS63 and Gigabyte Aero 15 with Core HQ processors and GTX 1050/1060 graphics. On the other hand, if you don’t necessarily need the power of an Intel HQ platform, your money would be well spent on some of the Core U 15-inch ultraportables, like the Asus Zenbook UX530, Lenovo Yoga 730-15 or the LG Gram 15.
All in all, the Zenbook Pro UX550 is a pretty solid multimedia laptop in its high-tier premium niche, although it’s not without flaws and not necessarily the best pick in the category. It could be a best value pick for some, but I can’t say that for sure until we get the exact configurations and prices in each region. Some of the early buyers are somewhat disappointed though (details in here and in here), and the truth is I’m somewhat disappointed myself, this laptop could have been so much better with a few tweaks. It’s not perfect as it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a pretty good notebook anyway.
When we draw the line, there are many things Asus did well on this notebook. I doubt anyone can argue with the looks, and the unique Black and Blue color schemes make it even more attractive for potential buyers. The matte screen is also pretty good, just be aware that light-bleeding can be a lottery. The list of strong points also includes the punchy speakers, the fairly large battery, the clickpad and even the IO, although the lack of a full-size card-reader could be missed by some.
As far as performance goes, this laptop puts a Core HQ platform and GTX 1050/1050 Ti graphics inside a thin body, so while it handles everyday tasks smoothly and coolly, it comes to no surprise that it can run into hiccups with continuous demanding loads. That’s why I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this for gaming, the Zenbook UX550 is mostly an all-round notebook with gaming abilities, just like the other thin-and-light alternatives in its niche.
And that brings us to the list of aspects that can be improved on this laptop. For starters there’s the cooling design with limited intake and exhaust cuts, as well as the fans’ behavior with daily use, when they’re constantly active although they wouldn’t have too. Then there’s the coil whine noticeable in quiet environments. Then we get to the small flaws in build quality and the flex in the chassis and lid, which takes a toll on the typing experience as well. The keyboard is in fact one of my major nits with this Zenbook: it’s spongy and overall worse to type on than any of the keyboards Asus puts on its modern Zenbooks, including those ultra-thin UX390 and UX370 models, which makes absolutely no sense to me. And then there’s also the fact that the memory is soldered on the motherboard, which forces users to buy higher end configurations. Last on the list is the crappy VGA webcam that shouldn’t exist in this day and age, but is not actually something that I personally care much about.
In the end, it’s up to you if the Zenbook Pro UX550 strikes a balance that you can accept between its strong points, its quirks and its price. I’d say it does if you greatly value aesthetics and look for a good-value product. Otherwise, if you’re just after the best specs for your buck, the Lenovo Yoga 720 15 is much more affordable and a convertible, while the Dell XPS 15 is better built, gets a brighter screen and larger battery for about $100-$150 extra in the US ( in Europe the XPS is at least 200 EUR more expensive for the same configuration).
I would also advise you to look for other opinions and user reviews before taking the plunge on this laptop, as there are still some questions that we can’t answer based on our test-unit, like how well does the i7/1050 Ti configuration perform, how hot/loud it gets and how good are the other screen options.
We’ll wrap this up here, but the comments section is open for discussion, so don’t hesitate to post your impressions, feedback and questions about the Zenbook Pro UX550 below.