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ZenBook 3 Review: A Design Marvel Constrained By The Software

A bit steep at one and half lakh rupees.

23/11/2016 12:48 PM IST | Updated 23/11/2016 3:24 PM IST
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It is not often that your friends look at your laptop and go, "Whoa!" or, "That's not a MacBook! I thought it was one." But the Asus ZenBook 3 is quite likely to elicit such a response. Asus has really put in some serious design efforts this year with the ZenBook 3 and the Zenfone 3. Clearly, both have been fashioned by a talented and dedicated set of minds. Priced at ₹1,47,999, the laptop is launching in India today.

The first thing you notice about the laptop is how ridiculously thin it is. At 11.4 mm, it has surely secured a spot among the world's 5 thinnest laptops. While the top spot goes to Acer's Swift 7 at 9.98 mm, in real terms it doesn't make any difference.

ZenBook 3 comes in a couple of variants that have some differences internally. I am using the golden coloured Asus ZenBook 3 - UX390. Personally, I fancy the Navy Blue option but gold didn't feel too flashy or out of place, even growing on me a bit.

The overall make of the 12.5-inch ZenBook 3 is brilliant. You could stare at the unopened laptop for a while without feeling tired. Inside, the keyboard is shallow like the MacBook and the touchpad is fairly large with a fingerprint sensor at the top right. While some might find the keyboard design too unfamiliar initially, you get used to it quite quickly and typing is really easy and fast after that. The touchpad is pretty responsive to taps and clicks. The fingerprint sensor, which is a part of Windows Hello, is kind of hit and miss. If you are used to the accuracy of smartphone sensors, you wouldn't enjoy it. The sensor is only one of the ways to unlock the system.

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The 12.5 inch full HD display is not really a consistent performer either. It is not as good as the MacBook's retina display although it does have a 82 percent screen to body ratio which is impressive. It is also not a touch screen, which is quite the norm in a laptop this expensive, such as the Surfacebook.

The laptop is super light at 910 grams, making it very easy to use anywhere. Despite being so portable, the only catch is that it comes with a single USB C port and a headphone jack. Which means that you have to adopt the #donglelife. Thankfully, Asus provides a mini dongle with USB A, HDMI and a USB C port. And, USB C has been a rising trend as we saw it in the newest MacBook Pros as well. Right now, the only hope is that more manufacturers will make USB C compatible accessories.

I have been a Windows user all my life but for the past 8 months, I have been using the Mac, which suits the work I do -- writing, photo editing and media consumption. Some of the Mac apps have been built in a great way. So, when I started testing ZenBook 3, I was full of anticipation about what the new Windows 10 update has brought to the table.

But, as soon as I installed some of the apps, I got to find out that the Windows App Store is very open. The Netflix app I downloaded couldn't stream the content at a good bit rate. The App Store showed me a mobile FIFA app, which gave me an error while installing. Later, I discovered the same app in my app drawer, but obviously the lack of touch screen made it unusable. Windows still hasn't quite understood what should be shown to the user and what shouldn't.

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The Asus ZenBook 3 uses the latest gen Intel i7 chip that is used for low voltage machines. Accompanying it is a 16 GB LPDDR3/2133 RAM. The laptop's performance is truly top notch. I barely got a chance to blink while switching between tasks. I ran multiple browsers and applications simultaneously and never had a problem in toggling from one to another.

However, if you are hoping to game on this laptop, don't. First of all, you'd need a wireless mouse and secondly, the performance of the laptop while gaming is not satisfactory. I installed Dungeon Master 5 and Asphalt Airborne and I found the games lagging many times. Also, you wouldn't enjoy playing games with a shallow keyboard such as this.

Media consumption on this laptop is a gleeful experience. I mostly used the laptop speakers and they proved to be above par every time. The only exception would be in very loud surroundings. The ZenBook 3 features four speakers, tuned by Harman/Kardon. There are two clear audio speakers on the panel above the keyboard and the other two speakers are located on either side of the touchpad. These 5-magnet speakers are for driving the bass. While you can't expect a laptop to give you speaker- system grade sound, the set up is quite impressive.

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On the display front, you can switch between different modes such as vivid, normal or eye care. The colour, contrast, and the brightness change according to the selection. I found myself consuming a lot of content on Hotstar, Netflix, and YouTube because of the great media combination.

Now, when talking about a portable laptop, one pressing question tends to be the battery life. Asus has a 40 Watt/Hour Lithium-Polymer battery, which, the company claims, lasts for 10 hours. I found myself using it for 6-7 hours without charge on full brightness. Which is not bad, given the sleek design but it is also not as promised. USB-C charging does act fast, and you can expect your battery to be fully charged in a couple of hours.

All in all, ZenBook 3 is an amazing laptop in terms of design but some of the software and performance parameters might pull you back from buying it. Also, if you are looking to spend over 1 lakh rupees you'd probably want to get a Surface or the new 13-inch MacBook pro. By no means is this laptop a dud. But I do feel that to be an attractive buy it should have been a little more affordable.

The Asus ZenBook 3 is the MacBook alternative Windows fans have been waiting for

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