Asus ZenBook 3 review

Svelte, portable, powerful

TODO alt text

Our Verdict

The Zenbook 3 looks the part of a slick and powerful ultra-portable laptop, only with a mushy keyboard and odd fingerprint sensor placement.

For

  • Crystal clear display
  • Lightweight and very portable
  • Reliable fingerprint sensor

Against

  • Weird fingerprint sensor placement
  • A single USB-C port

These days, the best Ultrabooks seem to keep getting thinner, lighter and more powerful – and the Asus ZenBook 3 is a perfect example of the progress Ultrabooks have made in the last few years. Who wouldn’t want a more portable notebook that’s powerful enough to handle most everyday tasks? It’s a compelling sales pitch made by the likes of Apple’s MacBook and the Dell XPS 13.

And, while you’ll have to pay a premium for these thin and light beauties, it’s worth it to not have your back screaming at you at the end of the day for hauling around a massive 15-inch laptop.

There will also be some inevitable compromises when going with an ultra-portable notebook, however. Ports have a tendency to vanish and battery life will usually take a nosedive. This is certainly true for the Asus ZenBook 3, but we can’t help staring at its beautiful display after frantically checking to make sure we didn’t leave it on a desk somewhere.

Spec Sheet

Here is the Asus Zenbook 3 configuration sent to TechRadar for review: 

CPU: 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U (dual-core, 4MB cache, up to 3.5GHz with Turbo Boost)
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620
RAM: 16GB SDRAM (LPDDR3, 2,133MHz)
Screen: 12.5-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080, LED backlit, 60Hz)
Storage: 512GB SSD (PCIe Gen 3x4, NVMe)
Ports: 1x USB 3.1 Type-C, 1 x combo audio jack
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1
Camera: VGA (480p) webcam
Weight: 2 pounds (910 g)
Size: 11.65 x 7.52 x 0.46 inches (29.59 x 19.1  x 1.17 cm; W x D x H)

Price and availability 

In the US, the ZenBook 3 starts at $1,599 (about £1,499, AU$1,598) with the specs we tested in this review. In Australia, the specifications are similar, save for memory. Instead of the same 16GB that ships elsewhere, the Australian model ships with 8GB, and you can find it for AU$1,995.

Even before the discounted pricing, the ZenBook 3 is priced under Apple’s MacBook with better specs, although it’s nearly double when compared to the Dell XPS 13. 

If you’re looking for a deal, we here at TechRadar have you covered. Right now you can pick up a ZenBook 3 with a Core i7, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD for just $883 (about £670, AU$1,199) on eBay in the US. 

Design

In may respects, the ZenBook 3 is quite similar to Apple’s MacBook. It’s incredibly thin, has a full metal housing, and on the right side of the frame is the single USB-C port. That same port is used for charging, connecting external accessories and anything else you would otherwise need a port for. Frustrating, to be sure. On the left side is a combo 3.5 mm audio jack. 

In the top-right corner of the touchpad is where you’ll find a fingerprint sensor for signing into the ZenBook 3 using Windows Hello. The placement is odd, and can get in the way when dragging your finger across the pad. It doesn’t have a direct impact on the functionality of the touchpad, however it does break up the otherwise smooth surface and just feels out of place. 

We recently took the ZenBook 3 along on a trip from Colorado to New York, replacing a MacBook Pro with TouchBar for the brief trip. On several occasions, we found ourselves opening our backpack and triple-checking to make sure the ZenBook 3 wasn’t left behind.

At just 11.7mm thin, the ZenBook 3 is deceptively light. Looking at its size, and considering its metal housing, it’s easy to expect it to have a reassuring weight to it. And, then you pick it up, and realize that, at only 2 pounds, it’s one of the lightest laptops out there.

Asus ZenBook 3 review

Mushy keyboard

Having used Apple’s butterfly mechanism keyboards, we’ve become accustomed to being able to lightly press a key and have it quickly bounce back with minimal effort. For the ZenBook 3, Asus tried to mimic this same feel of the keyboard – only the end result is, for lack of a more elegant term, mushy. 

The keys don’t quickly spring back into place, nor do they have an equal level of resistance. In other words, the keys feel soft and lead to inaccurate typing before mastering the learning curve.

Dongle life

With a solitary USB-C port on the ZenBook 3, doing something like syncing photos and charging the device at the same time isn’t possible without a USB-C hub. Asus offers a series of accessories that allow you to charge and connect multiple devices to your shiny new computer simultaneously. But, it’s yet another thing you have to buy and then worry about carrying around with you.

As USB-C continues to creep into numerous products we use on a daily basis, not being able to connect more than one item to a laptop at a time is still a limitation.

First reviewed September 2017