[Review] Great for Work (and a Game or Two): The ASUS ZenBook 14 (UX425EA)
ASUS ZenBook 14 (UX425EA)
The pace at which ASUS churns out ZenBooks is honestly terrifying. Barely 3 months after we reviewed the last ZenBook 13 (UX325), ASUS has popped out yet another baby which was promptly handed to us - this time, it's the ZenBook 14 (UX425EA).
But instead of rolling our eyes and going 'oh it's you again', this time we were pleasantly surprised, cause this latest iteration of ZenBook featuring Intel 11th Gen processors and integrated Iris Xe graphics is apparently strong enough to play games with - with some limitations of course. So, y'all office workers who are still gamers are heart should be excited to be able to sneak in a game or two on your 'work' laptop.
Same classic ZenBook design
The latest refresh of the ZenBook series is pretty much identical to its predecessors, featuring the same concentric circle design on the lid, as well as classy diamond cut edges for a sophisticated finish.
Other features making a return are the edge-to-edge keyboard, handy ScreenPad, IR camera with Windows Hello, as well as ASUS' signature Ergolift edge.
In terms of connectivity, you'll get the same selection of 1 USB-A port, 1 HDMI port, 1 Micro-SD card reader, as well as 2 USB-C ports - though the latter has been updated to support Thunderbolt 4 with speeds up to 40 Gbps (yay!)
The lack of a 3.5mm jack has not changed, however ASUS has once again provided a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box, so there's still that option if you haven't transitioned to the world of wireless audio yet.
One thing I did notice however, was that the hinge on this round's ZenBook was much squeakier, which cheapened the feeling overall - however, it might just be my particular review unit suffering from this, so remember to test yours out if you're looking to pick one up. In any case, apart from the audible hinges, the build quality was still great with an all-metal body except the narrow plastic bezels. It's also MIL-STD-810G certified, so that should lend some assurance.
You can play games on this...kinda
No discrete GPU, no problem. The jump from last generation's Iris Plus to Iris Xe integrated graphics has certainly yielded some results. Although you're definitely not going to be playing triple A titles any time soon, you'll probably be able to enjoy a game or two of Dota and CS:GO.
Turning on Dota at highest graphics settings resulted in frame rates around 60-70...at first. After a prolonged gaming session on performance mode in a non air-conditioned room, I started to noticed some pretty severe frame rate drops which can probably be attributed to temperature. The same happened in CS:GO, with the first few matches yielding around 60-65 fps, then steeply dropping to 25-30 occasionally for a second or so, severely hampering play.
However, turning the settings all the way down to emphasise performance over graphics remedied this situation. Dota on lowest settings played a smooth 100-115fps, while CS:GO yielded 70-80 fps, albeit with the occasional dip. I'd recommend playing on the lowest settings with V-sync enabled for the best experience.
If you're not a glut for graphics (in which case you should just buy a gaming laptop), the new ZenBook 14 held its own against the two mainstream esports titles tested.
In terms of heat, the surface of the laptop did not heat up much at the areas your fingers and palms would normally be placed. The main hotspot was along the top of the keyboard, where the exhaust vent is placed. One thing to note is that the vent expels air towards the screen, but most of the heat is absorbed by the plastic bottom bezel, so I wouldn't worry too much.
In terms of noise, it's pretty quiet and easily covered up by the down-firing speakers, so you won't need to use earphones just to block out the fan noise. However, laptop speakers are laptop speakers, so if you want better audio quality, you might want to carry a pair around anyway.
Great as ever for productivity work
If you're mainly going to use this for light work or office work, you'll find that it's more than sufficient.
The keyboard is pleasant to type on, and the huge touchpad is silky-smooth and houses the ScreenPad as well.
Brightness levels are actually pretty decent, and could hold its own pretty well under daylight. As for the 67Wh battery, it lasted slightly over 3.5 hours under load, and much longer with casual use - light work and general browsing netted 6-7 hours with the brightness turned up. It should last even longer if you're just watching videos or idling intermittently - ASUS claims a 21-hour battery life on 1080p video playback.
In case you're dropping a bit low on battery, it also supports fast charging and will be topped up to 60% in just 49 minutes.
The webcam isn't great but will suffice for conference calls, and the mic features ASUS AI noise-cancelling technology, which has proven time and again to be extremely effectively at cutting out unwanted disturbances (like vacuum cleaners and crying children, now all the more common as we work from home).
Buy or no buy?
ASUS has taken a great package and stepped it up even further with the upgrade to Intel's 11th gen processor and integrated Iris Xe graphics. Already a great machine for working on the go, the ZenBook has been made even better with the capability to sneak in a game or two. Although it won't be going head to head with gaming laptops any time soon, it's more than sufficient to keep your inner gamer happy between bouts of work.
There are few downsides, most of which are forgivable or has already been remedied with an alternative solution - the lack of a fingerprint sensor has been made up for with Windows Hello facial recognition, and a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter has been provided in the box (though this means you will have 1 less USB-C slot to play with).
The creaky hinge may just be a lemon from the production line, but is still worth taking note of when purchasing one.
Overall, it's a nifty little device that is great for productivity and still fits into a handbag.
For more info, you may check out the official product page here.