At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Asus unveiled the new ZenBook 13. This, the company’s latest attempt to surpass its ultraportable rivals, is set to go toe-to-toe with the talented likes of the Dell XPS 13, Huawei Matebook X Pro, HP Spectre 13 and Apple’s 13.3in MacBook Pro. The burning question: Has Asus done enough to set the Zenbook 13 apart from the rest of the pack?
Asus ZenBook 13 (2018) UX331UN review: What you need to know
Asus’ new 13.3in Windows 10 laptop has had a ground-up redesign, but the big news isn’t obvious from the outside: it now has a discrete graphics card, the Nvidia GeForce MX150. With a Core i5 8th generation processor alongside, a blisteringly fast fingerprint sensor, and speakers tuned by Harman Kardon – all for quite reasonable £1,099 – it’s clear that Asus is aiming to snatch the ultraportable top spot for its own.
READ NEXT: Best laptops of 2018
Asus ZenBook 13 (2018) UX331UN review: Key specs
- Display: 13.3in Full HD (1,920 x 1,080), 16:9 aspect ratio
- Processor: 1.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i5-8250U
- GPU: Nvidia GeForce MX150
- RAM: 8GB LPDDR3
- Storage: 256GB M.2 SSD
- Connectivity: Dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi (2×2), Bluetooth 4.2, Fingerprint reader, 2x USB 3.0 Type-A, 1x USB 3.1 Type-C (Gen 2), 1x 3.5mm jack, 1x HDMI, 1x microSD card reader
- OS: Windows 10 Home 64-bit
- Dimensions (WDH): 310 x 216 x 13.9 mm
- Weight: 1.12kg
Asus ZenBook 13 (2018) UX331UN review: Price and competition
The new ZenBook 13 can be found for £1,099 at John Lewis. That’ll net you a Full HD display, an Intel Core i5-8250U processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a discrete Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics card with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM. If you want a snappier Core i7 8550U processor and don’t mind ditching the discrete graphics card, the fingerprint reader and the new design, then there’s the £1,000 Asus UX430UA, too.
At this price, there’s no shortage of competition. The Dell XPS 13 at £1,249 is a prime example, and while it bumps up the storage with a faster 256GB PCIe SSD, it lacks the Zenbook 13’s discrete graphics card.
If you’re after similarly sleek, powerful alternatives, and don’t mind forgoing the discrete graphics of the Zenbook 13, then there are plenty of options: there’s the as yet unreleased Huawei MateBook X Pro at £1,309; the new HP Spectre 13 at £1,399, that has a 4K touchscreen display; and, finally, there’s the 2017 MacBook Pro at £1,199, which features an older 7th generation Core i5 processor, 128GB of SSD PCIe storage and a higher resolution display (2560 x 1600).
Asus ZenBook 13 (2018) UX331UN review: Design and features
From a design standpoint, the Zenbook 13 has had quite the makeover. You can opt for Slate Grey, but our review unit came in the far more striking Royal Blue finish. Gentle curves and anodised metal stretch around the chassis, the trackpad encircled with a silver trim, and the glossy coating across ZenBook 13’s lid looks stunning.
At 13.9mm thick and weighing in at only 1.12kg, it’s easy to lug around with one hand. However, you’ll probably want to don a pair of gloves before getting too close – the glossy lid attracts a lot of fingerprints.
With its slender design, one might expect a limited number of ports – but that’s anything but the truth. Asus has squeezed in two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, one USB 3.1 Type-C (Gen 2), HDMI, microSD and a 3.5mm jack. Unlike the Dell XPS 13, Huawei Matebook X Pro, HP Spectre 13 and Apple’s 13.3in MacBook Pro, there’s nothing missing. And as for wireless connectivity, there’s dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi (2×2) and Bluetooth 4.2. Bravo, Asus.
The party doesn’t stop there, though. There’s a blisteringly quick fingerprint sensor at the bottom right-hand corner of the keyboard for fast sign-in, which is aided by the integration of Windows Hello. Oh, and there’s a webcam, too.
Last but by no means least, there are a set of Harman Kardon-tuned stereo speakers that are located underneath the laptop, on either side of the trackpad. I found that setting the laptop to ‘Music’ mode through the pre-installed AudioWizard app resulted in the best audio quality. The speakers are loud enough for a small room and sound surprisingly accurate, too. They can’t eclipse the quad-speaker design of the Huawei MateBook X Pro, but the Asus is still far better than many of its peers.
Asus ZenBook 13 (2018) UX331UN review: Keyboard and keypad
The ZenBook 13’s trackpad is superb. The palm rejection works flawlessly, and I liked the fact that you can left-click anywhere on the pad – except, of course, the designated right-click area at the bottom right-hand side.
The keyboard is similarly refined. It’s fully backlit with white LEDs, and as the keys have 1.4mm of travel, there’s plenty of feel and feedback – you can touch type on the laptop quickly and efficiently, and with a minimum of noise.
Asus ZenBook 13 (2018) UX331UN review: Display
The laptop has a 13.3in Full HD matte display with a 16:9 aspect ratio. The ultra-thin 6.86mm bezels make sure that the display takes centre stage, too.
It all looks good on paper, but when tested with the i1 DisplayPro calibrator, its IPS panel was somewhat of a letdown. The panel only covers 84.5% of the sRGB colour spectrum, which by comparison to all its rivals that achieve between 90-96.2%, means colours look a bit dull.
Colour accuracy isn’t great either, with an average Delta E of 3.64 and maximum of 9.85 (lower is better), it’s not the most colour-accurate laptop I’ve tested. It’s miles behind the Huawei MateBook X Pro’s Delta E figures of 1.27 and 2.53, and also inferior to the Dell XPS 13 (2018) that achieved 2.49 and 7.95 in the same test.
Arguably its biggest shortcoming is brightness. With a peak brightness of only 314cd/m², it’s quite dim, especially under bright ambient light conditions. Here, the XPS 13 manages 454cd/m² and the Matebook X Pro a staggering 488cd/m².
There are no such issues with contrast, with the Asus’ panel delivering a ratio of 1117:1. However, even here it lags behind its rivals from Huawei and Dell, both of which achieve contrast ratios of over 1500:1.
Asus ZenBook 13 (2018) UX331UN review: Performance
Performance is impressive across the board. Our review unit housed a 1.6GHz (3.4GHz boost clock) quad-core Intel Core i5-8250U and 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM, and the pairing whipped up a score of 75 in the Expert Reviews media benchmarks. That’s one measly point away from the Huawei Matebook X Pro’s Intel Core i7-8550U, and well ahead of most of its competitors.
In the graph below, the Core i7 in the Dell XPS 13 (2018) helps it push out front with an impressive score of 96. That’s the same CPU found in the Matebook X Pro, but if you’re wondering why they don’t score the same, it’s due to thermal throttling – the Huawei’s cooling simply can’t coax the most out of the Core i7 chip.
^ Asus ZenBook 13 (2018) UX331UN benchmark results
By comparison, the Asus’ cooling is excellent for a slimline machine: it gets to around 90°C across all four cores under full load. Here, the Core i7 in the Dell XPS 13 (2018) rises to a worryingly high 100°C. As for fan noise, the Asus remains relatively quiet, and although the fans can be heard under full load they’re not obnoxiously loud.
In synthetic benchmarks, such as Geekbench 4, the Asus ZenBook 13 manages a single-core score of 4,178 and a multi-core score of 14,253. That’s extremely impressive, given that Dell’s Core i7 XPS 13 managed scores of 4,744 and 15,047.
Only the 256GB SSD lets the side down: it scored 476MB/s read and 369MB/s write speeds in the AS SSD sequential benchmark. That’s very, very ordinary compared to the Dell XPS 13’s 512GB NVMe SSD that managed a staggering 2,224MB/sec and 444MB/sec in the same tests.
The Asus’ discrete Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU allows it pull away convincingly in the graphics benchmarks, however. In the GFXBench Car Chase benchmark, the Asus managed an impressive onscreen score of 54fps. By comparison, the Dell XPS 13 (2018) that relied on Intel’s UHD Graphics 620 achieved just 31.9fps.
^ Asus ZenBook 13 (2018) UX331UN battery results
At 8hrs 26mins in the strenuous Expert Reviews battery benchmark, the ZenBook 13 will last you around a day or so – as long as you keep the screen brightness below 50%. Put into context, you can use it to watch a few movies on a long-haul flight or use it to tap out a day’s worth of lecture notes. And even if you do run dry, the fast-charging feature replenishes 60% of the battery’s capacity in just 50 minutes or so – which is seriously handy when mains sockets are in short supply.
READ NEXT: HP Spectre 13 review: The ultraportable king
Asus ZenBook 13 (2018) UX331UN review: Verdict
It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s hard to deny the Asus ZenBook 13’s appeal. At £1,099 you get a lot of laptop for your money – and the discrete graphics puts it in another league compared to much of the competition.
Shortcomings such as the sub-par display performance and unimpressive SSD are reason enough to consider its rivals carefully before buying, but otherwise, there’s much to like here – and quite a bit to love, too. From its standout performance to the connectivity options on offer, the Asus ZenBook 13 is one of the best value for money 13.3in laptops on the market.