Announced last June 2016, the ASUS ZenBook 3 UX390A is the company’s flagship ultra-portable laptop to combat the growing category of 12″ laptops or mainly the Apple Macbook 2016.
Fast forward today, we got to experience the ZenBook 3 UX309UA over the holidays and used it to its potential. This Core i7 portable laptop is definitely a head turner and lovely machine at the same time.
Before we continue to the review, here are the specifications
ASUS ZenBook 3 UX390UA
- 12.5-inch (16:9) LED-backlit FHD (1920×1080) 60Hz Glare Panel with 72% NTSC
- Corning Gorilla Glass 4
- Intel Core i7 7500U Processor
- Integrated Intel HD Graphics 520
- 16 GB LPDDR3 2133MHz SDRAM
- 512GB M.2 SATA
- Wi-Fi 802.11 n / ac| Bluetooth 4.2
- Gold Label & White Illuminated Chiclet Keyboard
- 0.3mp Web camera
- 1 x Combo audio jack, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C
- 4 x Harman Kardon Speakers
- Fingerprint scanner for Windows Hello
- Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
- 296 x 191.2 x 11.9 mm
- 2-year ASUS Global Warranty
Design: Prestige at 1st look
The ZenBook DNA lives on even with the ZenBook 3, even after 5 years since the 1st ZenBook was launched. The tapered edges, circular “zen” spun finish and even the ASUS logo at the middle.
The main difference with the UX309UA is its size, at 12.5″ it’s even smaller in footprint than the previous 11.6″ ZenBook UX21A 4 years ago. Competing directly with the Macbook 2016, the ZenBook 3 achieved something its competitor couldn’t do and that is having a Core i7 processor inside.
The Zenbook 3 is also the 1st notebook of its kind of having a dark blue color and gold accents for looks, there is an option for a rose gold variant but it is not available in the Philippines.
Diamon cut edges of gold plating can be easily seen on the sides of the lid, ASUS made sure that the ZenBook 3 takes attention at far and even more when close to it. Simple details of “ASUS ZenBook” are taken into consideration, giving it a very premium design that isn’t overpowering.
At 910g the ZenBook 3 is also one of the lightest laptops we have held in our hands, it’s even lighter than the Acer Swift 7 that we just reviewed recently. It might not be the thinnest, but its thinness isn’t noticeable as compared to similar machines like the Swift 7 or HP Spectre. Perhaps if you are currently using a machine line a Macbook Air or a laptop without a CD-Rom drive then you’ll notice the difference.
The 1920x1080p IPS display is bright and crisp, colors are great and displays accurately. Overall the screen is pleasant to watch especially when a 1080p screen is squeezed into a 12.5″ screen for more pixels per inch. As compared to the Macbook’s 2k resolution screen, were glad that ASUS opted not to follow as it will only eat up more battery and the UI will be too small to navigate on.
Opening the laptop is a joy, you can open with one hand for easy access as compared to other ultraportables that can’t do the same. The same color can be seen on the keyboard with keypads having a gold accent print for distinction. Keyboard placement is standard and a bit cramp and travel distance will bother you at first as it’s a bit shallow than average.
On the left, we have a combo jack for the audio and microphone, while on the right is one USB Type-C port without thunderbolt functionality.
We felt that ASUS could have done more in this division by not just “Following / Copying” Apple with the Macbook, they could have complemented users more with another USB-Type C port that can be easily placed beside the audio jack.
The backlit keyboard, on the other hand, is superb, it can light up the laptop well at dark conditions with an awesome glow of Gold / Light blue color.
On the performance division, the ZenBook 3 outshines any Core m3 or Y-series processor laptops in its similar form factor. With the Core i7-7500U processor, 16GB RAM and 512GB storage, we were able to do the majority of everyday tasks flawlessly.
Games like League of Legends, Dota 2 are playable with respectable 55 – 65fps at low-medium settings. It’s not gamer levels, but it gets the job done for a quick play after a hard work into a project.
Light photoshop is also good, we were able to resize photos from 20MP in size down to 2k with ease. This is thanks to the PCIe 3.0 storage of the ZenBook 3, so everything loads faster when needed.
The need for more graphics
Where does the ZenBook 3 start to struggle? Well, we rendered several videos with this laptop including the ZenFone 3 Zoom which is a 3 1/2 minute video with 720p resolution. It took us 15 minutes to render the video at medium settings.
We understand that the ZenBook 3 isn’t a laptop for heavy usage, but for its price and premium branding performance, you can’t avoid sometimes pushing it to the limit. Apps load longer when there is the need for graphics, it’s like the processor can process everything but it lacks graphics processing to load into your screen.
The problem is similar to the Acer Swift 7 where we were able to do a majority of the basic tasks but struggles to even load photoshop files and process basic adjustment such as levels, resizing or more.
Of course, a considerable amount of heat is generated at the middle part of the laptop at heavy use. Despite ASUS’ marketing of a fan that can manage heat properly, we think ASUS’ tests are meant for non-tropical countries as compared to Philippine weather than is hotter and more humid.
The ZenBook 3 will get hot, to the point that it is uncomfortable to place in the lap and you’ll need a table to use it. Mostly this happens when playing games, processing videos or even having a ton of chrome tabs opened.
The struggle for dongles
ASUS provided a USB type-c dongle for HDMI display, 1 x USB 3.0 and a type-c port to charge the device while using other interfaces. This is the life of the laptop especially for almost non-existent usb type c countries like the Philippines.
We wished that ASUS could have done a step further by again, providing more ports. Simply put that ASUS doesn’t need to copy the Macbook in complete form but be ahead of it. ASUS did went beyond in processing power, but the Core i7 processor proved that it can only do so much when the bottle neck is the graphics itself.
We high recommend to get a bluetooth mouse should you get one to avoid using the USB port. We always encounter switching USBs when using the mouse and flash drives when transfering files.
Trackpad & Fingerprint Sensor
The trackpad is made of glass, generously big for the laptop’s size. It’s accurate with minor problems of palm rejection which we encounter in a lot of new laptops lately. The fingerprint scanner is another story, registering our finger was very easy with windows hello. But unlocking the screen with our finger proved to be a daunting task, we always encounter a reject especially if our finger is smudgy. Often, we just skipped the fingerprint scanner and used our password as we were too annoyed of getting rejected fingers.
Battery & Portability
Overall you’ll have a gorgeous nylon textured sleeve to protect the ZenBook, a tradition for all ZenBooks over the years. A small 2.37A / 19V adapter and the USB Type C hub will be your arsenal when you are with the ZenBook 3.
ASUS advertises a good 9 hours of battery life with the ZenBook 3, in our experience a full on gaming gives us 2 LOL games averaging 50 mins each before looking for a charger.
Light usage gives us around 5 hours of battery, with medium brightness and of course wi-fi connectivity. This is way far from ASUS advertised battery life, but perhaps the hot body contributes a factor why it can’t reach more than 6 hours in our experience.
The ZenBook 3 has a total of 4 speakers by Harman Kardon, considering the small size the speakers produce sound with great warmth. It’s ample enough for great music listening, single game playing or even youtube video watching as we were able to watch the whole season 4 of House of Cards. It’s definitely one of the best speakers we have heard on ASUS’ lineup of laptops.
Conclusion: The best ultra-portable yet
The ZenBook 3 is undeniably one of the best ultra-portable laptops we have experienced, it has the power and multimedia features fit for a premium laptop. Although as a 1st generation device, it has its own weakness of short battery life, shortcomings in the fingerprint scanner, single USB type-c port and even thermal management.
Php79,995 is the retail for the ZenBook UX309UA, no other configuration is available in the Philippines so think wisely. But, if your work for a laptop doesn’t require frequent graphics demanding to process then the ZenBook 3 is definitely the best contender for an ultra-portable.
We award the ZenBook 3 for being the best notebook we have tried on a small form factor, it may have some hiccups but nothing that would be a deal breaker for buying this beauty.