Review: Asus Zenbook 3 UX390 notebook computer
4.2Overall Score

Price (RRP): $2699
Manufacturer: Asus

Screw balancing cost and performance and convenience and size and style. The Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA notebook computer is all about prestige. These days a notebook gets prestige by looking gorgeous and being slim. Which is precisely what this computer offers. Although a fair bit of performance has been tossed in as well.

Features

So first, the style and slimness. It excels on both fronts. The “aerospace grade” aluminium case is finished in deep blue, similar in tone to the bluing of a gun, although without the deep lustre. The underside is matt, while the top has a machined look, the lines visible by not perceptible to the touch. This very attractive look is highlighted by a gold-coloured ASUS in the centre, and a gold edge to the display.

It gets into sub-half inch thickness category very comfortably, measuring 11.9mm. Closed it’s 296mm wide and 191.2mm deep. In other words, an A4 sheet of paper will overlap it. The weight is 910 grams.

The ZenBook comes with a very attractive stitched sleeve cover, too. The kind of thing you’d pay $50 to $100 for separately.

Naturally it runs Windows 10. In Australia it comes, apart from the processor, with a fixed configuration, take it or leave it. I’d suggest taking it, since that configuration includes a 512GB solid state drive, 8GB of RAM and either an Intel Core i5 7200U or i7 7500U processor. The review unit was the latter. The former has an RRP of $2499.

The display is twelve and a half inches in size with full HD (1920 by 1080 pixel). It’s not a touch screen. This is a traditional notebook. Graphics are provided by the processor integrated Intel HD Graphics 620, so of course there’s support for additional monitors. The glass of the display is made from the robust Corning Gorilla Glass 4. Asus says that the screen contrast ratio is 1000:1 and that it can reproduce 72% of the NTSC colour space.

There’s rather less space at the bottom of the display area than there is typically with notebook computers. In fact, it makes the screen look wider than the usual 16:9 ratio, but my measurements confirmed that it had the normal aspect ratio.

What didn’t have the normal aspect ratio – if I can use the term – was the keyboard. At first I thought it was a full size keyboard, but after my fingers took a while to adjust, producing in the interim a higher than usual number of typos, I made a closer inspection. The keyboard is actually 4.3% wider than a regular keyboard, but also less deep. But the main typing problem I had was with the depth. From the top of the number keys to the top of the space bar was 67.5mm on this computer compared to 75.5mm on my desktop and a neat 75mm on my Surface Pro 4’s type cover and 74mm on a MacBook Pro. That’s a ten per cent reduction.

Asus Zenbook 3 overlaid with MacBook Pro, centred on G and H keys. Yellow numbers are Asus. Note they are wider but with less height

All that became a bit weirder when I looked at Asus’ website, which was boasting about the ZenBook 3’s keyboard:

The best ultraportable laptop doesn’t deserve a keyboard that’s an afterthought, and with ZenBook 3 it’s been engineered into the design from the start. The full-size backlit keyboard stretches from edge to edge, with just a 2.1mm bezel at each side, and has a key pitch (the distance between the center of each key) of 19.8mm, the same as most desktop keyboards.

Magnifying glass and ruler in hand, I started investigating keyboards. Five of the five desktop keyboards in my home had a key pitch of 19.0mm, not 19.8mm. Two MacBooks, a Mac wireless keyboard, a Toshiba and a Samsung laptop, all 19mm. From the US Government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration: “Generally, the horizontal spacing between the centers of two keys should be 0.71-0.75 inches (18-19 mm).” Only the Asus Zenbook 3 had a 19.8mm keyboard pitch.

I wonder where Asus got 19.8mm from?

The webcam is VGA resolution and does not support Windows Hello face recognition logon, but there’s a fingerprint scanner in the corner of the touchpad, so you can get fast logon that way. (Truth be told, this is probably faster than face recognition anyway.)

The computer has just two connections: a 3.5mm socket for headphones and a single USB Type-C port. It uses the latter for all wired digital connectivity and for charging. Bundled with the computer is an ASUS USB Type-C hub, with a USB Type-C socket (which you can charge through while using the other connections), a USB Type-A socket and a HDMI display output.