ASUS ZenBook S is a success, almost perfection (Australian review)

ASUS ZenBook S follows the Buddha saying, “Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up because you will lose the ability to learn new things. Move forward with your life.”

The 2018 generation of ASUS Zenbooks are one step closer to perfection. They were pretty damned good anyway.

Reviewing an ASUS ZenBook always makes me sad because I know that I will have to give it back at the end of the review. Without a doubt, there is nothing to compare to the absolute drop dead sexy looks and design cred ZenBooks have. I covet one!

This review could well apply to any 2018 model with the Intel 8th generation Core CPU – flip, hybrid or now the Zenbook S.

Review: ASUS ZenBook S model UX391UA

Australian website here

Note that the review unit is an engineering sample and not yet available here for retail sale.

ASUS ZenBook S

 

What is an ASUS ZenBook S? Well S is for slim!

  • It is a clamshell design laptop – not a 360° flip or a 2-in-1 tablet
  • Windows 10 Pro (Home option)
  • MIL-STD 810G standard. That covers drops, temperature, and vibration
  • Zen design is unique. The review unit is a most wonderful Deep Dive Blue (option Burgundy Red) with the characteristic svelte Zen spun metal chassis
  • Size 31.1 (W) x 21.3 (D) x 1.29cm x 1.05kg
  • The review unit has a 13.3-inch, 4K UHD, 331 ppi, 16:9, full-backlit, glossy touchscreen with a massive 85% screen to body ratio
  • It runs an Intel Core i7-8550U, 1.8/4Ghz (option i5-8250U 1.6/3.4GHz) with Intel UHD Graphics 620
  • 16GB (8GB option) memory and 1TB PCIe SSD (512GB option) storage
  • 2 x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C 3.1 Gen 2); 1 x USB-C 3.1 Gen 1; Wi-Fi AC (Intel 8265 2 x 2 MU-MIMO); and Bluetooth 4.2
  • 50Wh battery for up to 13.5 hours use. USB-C, 20V/3.25A (65W) fast charger
  • Supplied with a leather sleeve and pen/stylus

ASUS ZenBook S

A beautiful 4K touchscreen without peer

This 4K IPS screen has 100% sRGB (about 75% Adobe RGB) and a range of colour profiles for photography, drawing and more. It has a full 178° viewing angle. There are options for 1920 x 1080 (glossy or anti-glare alternatives).

The screen tilts to 145° which is great for desktop use but can be slightly limiting on an aircraft fold-out table or lap use.

When I read ‘glossy’ it immediately screamed fingerprint magnet – and it is. Glossy screens need non-reflective background behind you. If a direct light source like a window is behind you, it will show.

But you quickly forget this when you see the very small 5.9mm bezels (85% S-T-B-R), the amazing colour and brightness levels.

With ASUS Vivid adjustments and its Tru2Life video technology, this is the laptop for 4K streaming.

ASUS ZenBook S

All metal case and hinge

The case is entirely metal – there is not a trace of cheap, nasty plastic. There is no flex or any hint of anything but a solid MIL-STD build.

The ‘ergolift’ hinge lifts the keyboard by 5.5° and allows for ventilation underneath. Cooling is via a ‘liquid-crystal-polymer fan’ with 71 blades offering 13.4% more airflow and a 5° temperature improvement over previous ZenBook models.

During tests, the maximum underside reached 45°. This is warm but not uncomfortable on your lap.

Ports – It’s Thunderbolts are go!

On the right side are two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C 3 3.1 Gen 2 ports. GadgetGuy has an article here on what that all means. These ports provide up to 40GB/s speeds (shared), support for USB Power Delivery 3.0 (5V to 20V and up to 100W).

Thunderbolt 3 is perfect to attach Thunderbolt docks (GadgetGuy reviews here) and will support up to 2 x 4K screens (as the Intel UHD Graphics 620 supports that).

They also support charging from any USB-C Power delivery device like Belkin’s 45W charger albeit at a lot slower rate. Belkin’s charger provides 9V, 12V and 15V/3A  to charge compatible devices like the MacBook, Pixel Chromebook, Samsung Galaxy Tab/Book, ASUS, Dell, Lenovo, HP and any USB-C smartphones.

On the left side is a USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 (5Gb/s) port. It may seem odd but there are times all you need is a passive dongle (supplied) to run things like an extra HDMI screen or USB-A port.

A 3.5mm audio jack is on the right side of the screen base.

ASUS Zenbook S

There is no microSD slot, but USB-C dongles usually offer that.

It is a good keyboard

GadgetGuy is a sticker for good keyboards – it can make or break your ownership experience. Perhaps it is because we write the equivalent of a trashy paperback novel (word count, not the quality of content) each week.

There are some keyboards I cannot abide. Mainly those with a very shallow 1mm throw and low actuation pressure. It is like typing on a hard desk. That is why we have invested in tools to test keyboards.

There is an external quest for thinner notebooks. It seems the keyboard is where it can shave a few micromillimeters off. In fact, Apple came unstuck on its 2015 and later MacBook and Pro using its own designed 1mm throw butterfly switch.

The ASUS has a 1.2mm throw and a 35g actuation – this is pushing the limits too. This means you get the sensation of a small keypress and sufficient ‘debounce’ to get some feedback that you have pressed a key.

The backlit keyboard has three levels of lighting

In typing tests, it initially achieved 70% speed, and 75% accuracy compared 100/98 on my favourite Logitech G6713 mechanical keyboard. By comparison, the Microsoft Surface Book chiclet 1.5mm throw keyboard achieves 85% speed and 90% accuracy. If you want to read more about mechanical keyboards, look here.

After a few hours typing this review I found it a competent keyboard. No War and Peace epics on this, please.

The glass trackpad has an integrated fingerprint sensor supporting Windows Hello. It has intelligent palm-rejection and Precision Touchpad (PTP) technology that supports up to four-finger smart gestures. You can swipe the cursor from top right to bottom left in one movement – no need for a mouse.

The supplied active pen/stylus appears to be a more generic HID device that a digitiser device. It supports 1024 levels of pressure and 10-300g pressure at up to a 45° angle. The two buttons are eraser and right-click function. Battery life from an AAAA is about ten months.

Performance

The power-efficient Intel Core i7-8550U, 1.8/4Ghz (option i5-8250U 1.6/3.4GHz) has a PassMark of 8332 (7658). What this means is that you don’t lose much if you buy an i5 version.

The Intel UHD Graphics 620 chip supports three displays up to 4096 x 2304 on HDMI and DisplayPort. In other words, two external panels. It is similar in performance to a GeForce 920M. It’s not a gamer’s GPU but does fine for any web-based games.

ASUS ZenBook S

Wi-Fi AC, 2×2, MU-MIMO from Intel’s 8265 chip achieves the maximum of 867Mb/s from a D-Link A5300 router 2 metres away. It also has some other ASUS smarts to maintain Wi-Fi connectivity.

The Samsung 1TB PCI NVMe SSD is an incredible performer. It uses PCIe 3.0 and has four lanes. It is blisteringly fast. Well over 3x most PCIe SSD.

ASUS ZenBook S

Speakers – Harmon Kardon certified, Golden Ear Sound

Hiding under all the marketing hype is a typical Realtek codec capable of 24-bit/48,000Hz sound.

ASUS calls it a SonicMaster down-firing stereo system with surround sound and a smart amplifier. In tests, it achieved 78dB, not overly loud but fine for personal use.

ASUS ZenBook S

Sound signature was mid-based with recessed bass kicking in at 226Hz. Treble fell off the cliff at 10K. I am not a fan of the mid-signature. It’s great for voice and Skype.

During testing we used the Ice EQ presets including music, movie, game, speech and record. Presets audibly but not significantly changed the sound signature. See the peak graph below.

ASUS ZenBook S

Connection to Sony WH-1000M2 Bluetooth headphones reveals a flat signal from 20Hz-20kHz. It is not natively high-res audio.

Summary: Fine for YouTube clips, occasional movies, and Skype. It delivers much more when using a Bluetooth headset or speaker.

In some markets, it will support Amazon Alexa.

Battery

For the i5 model, ASUS claims 13.5 hours at 71% screen brightness, and Wi-Fi enabled.

On the i7 unit, an HD loop clip at 75% gave 11 hours. This is pretty good – most laptops cannot get more than 8 or 9 hours.

Using the ASUS quick charger, the battery goes from 0-100% in about 1.5 hours. Fast charge means 60% in 49 minutes.

Mic and Camera

It has a dual mic for Skype. The front camera is a .9MP, [email protected] Colours are good, but it’s not useful for anything but Skype.

GadgetGuy’s take – the ZenBook S (or any 2018 ZenBook) is the one to lust after

Sorry Dell XPS 13, HP Spectre et al. you are just ‘plain Janes’ in comparison. They may use many of the same components underneath the bonnet, but ZenBook S brings them all together so very well.

It is a thin, light, excellent performer and the 4K screen is sublime.

Pro

  • A 1kg powerhouse
  • Innovative hinge lifts the keyboard
  • ZenBook envy/desire/lust – it has an emotive appeal
  • 4K IPS screen is a top performer
  • Competent keyboard (despite only a 1.2mm throw)
  • Runs cool with quite fans under normal use
  • 13.5-hour battery life (in practice all day of office use)

Con

  • Standard VGA webcam is OK
  • Can get hot under load

Ratings

  • Overall: 4.8 out of 5
  • Features: 5 out of 5 – Has every feature and then some
  • Value for Money: 4 out of 5 – We don’t know the price, so the value will depend on similar Dell, Lenovo and HP pricing
  • Performance: 5 out of 5 – One of the fastest SSD and overall performance in this category
  • Ease of Use: 5 out of 5 – Its Widows 10 – what more do I need to say
  • Design: 5 out of 5 – drop-dead gorgeous and desirable

Price

TBA but expect around A$2,000-2,500 if not more for the i7 as tested. Entry level i5/8/512/1080p model should be well under $2,000

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