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Home > Laptop Reviews > Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA-DH51 and -XH74

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Asus ZenBook 3 (UX390UA)

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating starrating starrating star

What's Hot: Madly thin and light yet rigid. Fast! Great looking, lovely IPS display, good trackpad, closer to normal keyboard than 12" MacBook.

What's Not: Casualties of the size and weight: only 1 USB-C port and headphone jack. No touch screen option.

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Reviewed October 27, 2016 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

Asus ZenBook 3

It would be easy to say "honey who shrunk the ZenBook?" Sure in some ways the 12.5", 2.0 pound ZenBook 3 is an impressively miniaturized version of their higher end 13.3" ZenBook models. But the UX390UA ZenBook 3 is more than that: it's a 12" MacBook competitor, and that means Asus had to match a high set of standards. It's the best machine they could make in an insanely light 12.5" package. Four incredibly good sounding speakers? Yep. A very bright and high contrast full HD display with excellent color? You got it. Intel Core i5 and i7 CPUs in a size where competitors only manage the lower power and slower Intel Core M? Yes! You want 16 gigs of RAM, a fast PCIe SSD and an aluminum chassis rigid enough to slice cake? It's yours, as is a fingerprint scanner that works with Windows Hello for biometric login.

 

The Basics

This is an ultra-ultraportable that's meant for those who want the thinnest and lightest laptop possible. Like the 12" MacBook, it's designed to complement a desktop or more powerful laptop at home or work, but unlike the MacBook, it has the horsepower to be your main machine thanks to Intel 7th generation Kaby Lake Core i5-7200U and Core i7-7500U processors with Intel HD 620 graphics. Ports are every bit as miserable as the MacBook--there's just one USB-C Gen. 1 port and a headphone jack. The top of the line $1,599 Core i7 mode with 16 gigs of RAM and a 512 gig PCIe NVMe SSD comes with a small USB-C dock with pass-through USB-C for charging only, a USB 3.0 standard A port and HDMI. Our $1,099 Core i5 model with 8 gigs of RAM and a 256 gig SATA M.2 SSD doesn't come with that dock, so you'll have to buy docks or dongles as needed to suit your setup. The laptop has multi-stage white keyboard backlighting, a very good glass trackpad, Intel 8260AC WiFi with Bluetooth and a webcam above the display. A faux leather envelope style slip case with microfiber interior is included. It's available in gray (our model), rose gold and royal blue, all with gold accents for the logo and a gold line that wraps around the sides of the display half.

Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA

 

Design and Build

This is a very rigid 11.9mm (0.47") thin aluminum unibody Ultrabook. It's no less stiff and sturdy than the MacBook and it's much more convincing than the very flexy LG Gram and even the Samsung Notebook 9. The lid has Asus' usual spun aluminum finish and the gray color is complex with hints of silver and plum. The hinges are firm and resist bounce, even on a bus, yet you can open the lid with one finger. Definite premium vibe throughout.

The bottom is affixed with Torx T5 screws, and there's no army of maddening plastic clips. They're not needed, the bottom aluminum panel mates perfectly and cleanly with the frame. Once the bottom panel is removed you'll have access to the battery (a stacked cell arrangement like the MacBook to increase volume while using less space), M.2 SSD and wireless card. RAM is soldered on board and isn't upgradable. There are no uneven seams or sharp edges except the lid logo, whose edges are rough enough to grab fibers off of a cleaning rag.

 

Heat and Noise

Despite the fast Core i5 inside our $1,099 model, the laptop's fan is rarely on when unplugged. It doesn't get hot to the touch, in fact it doesn't go beyond warm on the bottom when doing productivity work, photo editing and streaming video. The keyboard, wrist rest and trackpad don't exceed body temperature, and the only hot spot when it's working hard is above the keyboard between the top stereo speakers. When plugged into AC, the fan is often running, though the fan is so small that it doesn't make a lot of noise. Impressive stuff! Note that the Core i7 model with the faster PCIe NVMe SSD may have a warm spot on the bottom since NVMe SSDs run considerably hotter than the SATA M.2 SSD in our unit.

Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA

 

Performance and Horsepower

Expect performance similar to any other dual core, 15 watt Intel Core i5 and Core i7 Ultrabooks on the market. This is one of the first models to ship with Intel's 7th generation Kaby Lake CPUs that offer 2-3 percent faster performance for CPU and up to 10% faster performance for the integrated Intel HD 620 graphics (there's no room for dedicated graphics in this tiny thing). Intel continues to focus on reducing heat and power consumption for their dual core laptop processors rather than amping already ample performance.

RAM is faster than usual for DDR3 at 2133 MHz (custom for the ZenBook 3), and it's dual channel for both 8 and 16 gig models (this boosts integrated graphics performance). The M.2 SSD is socketed and upgradable, so if you want a higher capacity or faster SSD, you can do that yourself.

Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA

We did note some thermal throttling (likely why surface temperatures aren't high) when pushing the laptop hard by running multiple benchmarks over the course of an hour or editing 4K video in Adobe Premiere Pro while also computing a big spreadsheet in the background. That's asking a bit much of a small laptop, and I suspect most of you won't be pushing it this hard. When playing Civ VI (which ran well), we noted occasional dips in clock speed during a 2 hour play session.

 

Deals and Shopping:

 

Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA Video Review

 

Benchmarks

Asus ZenBook 3 benchmarks

Keyboard and Trackpad

The news can't be good here, right? The laptop is even thinner than the 12" MacBook, and that Mac has very low 0.5mm key travel and a butterfly key deisgn that's an acquired taste (one I never came to enjoy). The Asus has a slightly higher key travel of 0.8mm, and normal laptop key travel is 1.3 to 1.6mm. That 0.3mm difference between the MacBook and ZenBook 3 was enough to get me on board. The keyboard is something you'll have to adjust to, but there's enough movement, with traditional laptop feel, that I've managed to type this review without grumbling. The only thing that does bother me is that the trackpad isn't centered under the spacebar, which throws off my hand location. It's a usable, though not ideal keyboard if you're a long form writer like me, and likely just fine for those who don't type at great length.

Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA

The glass trackpad is large and it works accurately and predictably in terms of tracking, taps and two finger gestures for scrolling and zooming. Asus uses their own drivers, and surprisingly, given their once checkered history, it's all good. The only thing I'm not loving is the slippery surface--my finger moves quickly over the glass, perhaps too quickly.

 

Display

I see hundreds of laptop displays each year, and I'm picky since I do content production and am an avid photographer. This is a very good looking display that calibrates well with a colorimeter (Asus' standard color settings are too cool, as are most laptop manufacturers). It's very bright at 340 nits and has good black levels of 0.48 at max brightness. That works out to a very good 710:1 contrast ratio. Gamma is a little high at 2.4 (2.2 is ideal) and the native white point of 7600K is too high (toward the blue), but is correctable via calibration. Asus' Splendid Color utility offers several color presets, and the only one that's close to accurate and pleasing is the Normal setting. There's also a function that improves contrast and dynamic range for video, and it's very effective when watching movies--the look is still natural but very sharp and clear. Subjectively, this is a great looking display with vibrant colors (full sRGB and 75% Adobe RGB) and lively gradations from dark to light. It looks even better than the metrics indicate. It doesn't make me envy the MacBook's lovely display, and it's a bit more dynamic looking than the also very good HP Spectre x360 late 2016 model.

Full HD 1920 x 1080 is the only available resolution, and this is a glossy panel that will reflect light. There's no touch screen option, as is the norm for extremely thin and light laptops (to reduce thickness and improve battery life since there's no room for a capacious battery). Though it's currently necessary due to technological limitations, it's a shame because I'm so tempted to reach the short distance to touch the screen on these small laptops, and Windows 10 makes touch rewarding.

Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA

 

Battery Life

Battery life must be poor when you have such a tiny laptop and Intel Core i5 and i7 CPUs, right? Not so much! Perhaps Intel's Kaby Lake is that good at conserving power or Asus has worked some magic here, because our little Core i5 ZenBook 3 UX390UA averaged 7.5 hours on Balanced mode with brightness set to 150 nits (around 33%) in a mix of productivity and streaming video tests. We use MS Office, email, stream an episode of The Wire and edit a few photos in Adobe Photoshop CC in our tests.

Asus includes their usual small, square power adapter with 6 feet of cord length, which is shorter than the usual two piece cord length included with most laptop power bricks, but not insanely short. The notebook has a 40 Whr battery, which is on the lower end of normal for a 13.3" Ultrabook--impressive given how much smaller and lighter the ZenBook is compared to those laptops.

Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA

 

Conclusion

I think you can tell that I like the Asus ZenBook 3 UX390UA quite a lot. If you've lusted over the 12" MacBook but are a Windows person, or if you've looked at the LG Gram laptops and found their lack of rigidity disconcerting, this could be the ultraportable for you. The Asus is every bit as well made as the MacBook, with an extremely rigid and well finished aluminum casing. The quad stereo speakers are louder and clearer than many larger laptops--in fact the ZenBook 3's speakers are louder and fuller than the 15.6" Asus ROG GL502 high end gaming laptop's speakers and are more clear for dialog than the HP Spectre x360's quad speakers. Performance is the same as any 13.3" Ultrabook, though we did note some thermal throttling under heavy, sustained load, but happily temperatures are surprisingly low.

The keyboard's not for everyone though; 0.8mm travel is very low, so I suggest you try one in person if you're a long form typist. I find it easier and more normal feeling than the 12" MacBook keyboard, but this is a somewhat subjective experience. The display is excellent in terms of color, contrast and brightness, but the lack of a touch screen is the price we pay for miniaturization. I can understand if you miss that feature, I know I do. But overall, Asus did a wonderful job of engineering a very high quality ultraportable.

Price: $1,099 for Core i5, 8 gigs RAM, 256 gig SSD. $1,599 for Core i7, 16 gigs RAM, 512 gig SSD

Website: www.asus.com

Related Reviews:

12" MacBook Review (2016)

Asus ZenBook UX303UB Review

Asus ZenBook UX305 Review

Lenovo Yoga Book Review

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Review

Late 2016 13" MacBook Pro Review

 

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Specs:

Display: 12.5", 1920 x 1080 IPS display (non-touch). Intel HD 620 integrated graphics. Video out via USB-C.

Battery: 40 Whr Lithium Ion rechargeable, sealed inside (requires bottom cover removal to service). USB-C charger included.

Performance: 2.5GHz Intel Kaby Lake 7th generation Core i5-7200U and 2.7 GHz Core i7-7500U processors. 8 or 16 gigs DDR3 2133MHz RAM, soldered on-board (not upgradable). 256 gig M.2 SATA SSD or 512 gig M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD.

Size: 11.65 x 7.52 x .47 inches. Weight: 2.0 pounds (910g).

Camera: VGA webcam.

Audio: Four built-in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack.

Networking: Intel 8260AC dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth.

Software: Windows 10.

Expansion and Ports: 1 USB-C Gen.1 port and 3.5mm audio.

 

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