[Review] Raising the Bar for Ultra-Portables: The ASUS ZenBook 13 (UX325) Laptop
Bigger isn't always better, as evidenced by ASUS' ultra-portable ZenBook laptop series. Yesterday, they finally lifted the veil on their 2020 refresh of the ZenBook 13 and 14, and we can finally reveal our thoughts on the Zenbook 13 (UX325) review unit we had the pleasure of spending some time with.
Same classic design, brand-new colours
On the lid, we're greeted with the familiar concentric circles surrounding the ASUS logo, akin to the sand in a Japanese zen garden.
The diamond-cut aluminium alloy finish lends a sophisticated air to the machine, and works exceptionally well with the Pine Grey colourway of our unit. For those who prefer paler colours, the Lilac Mist available on the 14" model is also a blessing for your retinas.
Making a return is ASUS' signature ErgoLift hinge, which elevates the laptop at a slight angle to provide better ergonomics and lift some tension off your wrist while typing. It also serves to improve ventilation by creating a gap between the bottom of the laptop and the surface you're working on.
Build-wise, it feels solid as usual despite its reduced weight. The screen is relatively sturdy with very little flex; the keyboard does have a little flex towards the middle, but is unnoticeable during regular typing - as long as you don't press it down willy-nilly, it shouldn't be an issue.
Say hello to Windows Hello
The display is as pleasing to the eye as ever, featuring a 13.3" LED-backlit FHD panel with up to 450 nits of brightness. As with most modern devices, slim bezels are a given; the ZenBook features a NanoEdge display with 2.9mm-thin bezels and still manages to fit an IR camera on the top.
The webcam supports Windows Hello, which means you can sign in via face recognition. For the most part, it worked very well for me - both with makeup and without. While it's occasionally finicky in terms of distance and angle, it successfully logs me in within a second 95% of the time. It also works exceptionally well even in near complete darkness, which is a huge plus as you won't have to fumble around to key in your password.
Display-wise, the panel is brighter than your future at up to 450 nits. It works well under all lighting conditions except the harsh noon sun (pictured above), where it was slightly duller but still very much visible. Overall, the colours were very vibrant, and there were no visible light bleed issues with the panel.
Dedicated function keys and function lock
As befits a laptop for the working class, the latest ZenBook is equipped with a full-sized edge-to-edge backlit keyboard. The keys are well-spaced and have a decent travel distance; typing on it was an extremely enjoyable experience for a laptop keyboard (I'm typing this review on it right now!)
One thing I really like is that it has independent function keys lined up on the right side of the keyboard. While it isn't in the usual configuration (clustered above the arrow keys on a regular keyboard), I still find it extremely helpful as I tend to use them a lot while browsing.
In addition to a function lock key that allows you to access the usual brightness and volume settings by just pressing one key (as opposed to pressing Fn + [key]), the ZenBook also contains handy shortcuts on the rest of the function keys:
F6: Touchpad lock
F7: Keyboard lighting
F8: Display projection options
F9: Lock screen
F10: Toggle webcam
F11: Screen capture
F12: Open MyAsus software
The arrow keys are in an inverted-T layout which makes misidentification less likely, but they are rather small and need time to get used to.
To accommodate the full-sized keyboard, the speakers have been moved to the bottom of the laptop instead. The down-firing design works well with the ErgoLift hinge design, allowing music to bounce off surfaces clearly. Of course, this comes with the usual downside of being less powerful on soft surfaces like your bed (or your jiggly thighs).
No numpad? No problem.
The ASUS NumberPad 2.0 is back and better than ever. If you're unfamiliar with this handy feature, it's basically a virtual numberpad incorporated into the touchpad. It can be accessed by long holding the icon in the top right corner of the touchpad, and its brightness can now be adjusted via the button on the left. Swiping this button will also launch the calculator app, which is super convenient.
What's fascinating about the ASUS NumberPad 2.0 is how it works flawlessly as both a touchpad and numpad at the same time. The surface has been trained to distinguish difference between touches to determine whether to default to the cursor or number typing function.
The touchpad itself ain't no slouch either. While the surface is rather large, it is rather well-placed to avoid most contact with your palms; while I still prefer it to be located in the middle of the typing area, the palm rejection worked so well that I didn't really mind. The smooth glass surface made for superb tracking and was extremely pleasant to use.
The world's thinnest laptop to feature full I/O ports
Now, on to the ZenBook's claim to fame: being the world's thinnest device to house a full range of I/O ports. On top of one USB 3.2 Gen-1 Type A port for your various peripherals, there are also two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt support. For big-screen presentations, there is a full-sized HDMI port, while the microUSB slot should come in handy for most content creators.
While there is no audio jack, a USB-C DAC is included in the package along with a laptop sleeve, so just chuck it in and you're ready to play some tunes on the go.
Most notably, the two USB-C ports on the left also support USB-C Easy Charge, which means you can hook your ZenBook up to a wide range of standard chargers and power banks (5V-20V) if you didn't bring the charger with you. Even non-Power Delivery chargers are supported, albeit at a lower charging speed of 4.5W. This is great if you're in a pinch and need just that little bit of power to survive your emergency meeting.
Satisfying performance as a daily driver
I'm currently using an older ZenBook model as my daily driver due to its portability and excellent battery life, and now I'm itching to upgrade to the latest version, which does everything just that much better.
Powering up and launching programs is super speedy thanks to its SSD storage. Sure, it doesn't bench the fastest results on the market, but for real-world use, there are no tangible delays and should satisfy most users.
While the ZenBook was not designed to be a heavy lifter in terms of performance, it serves the typical office worker well, and can handle light editing tasks on Photoshop with no issues at all. You might be able to squeeze out some Dota 2 or CS:GO games at low settings, but don't expect it to rival the performance of a proper gaming laptop any time soon (that's not what it's built for anyway, you dingus).
What it does excel at however, is battery life. This thing just lasts and lasts and lasts. I thought my current ZenBook was impressive, but it clearly can't hold a candle to its newest sibling. I took this out for an entire day of use, and after 7 hours of writing articles, editing thumbnails, and listening to music, it still had 48% of battery left. While I didn't push it to ASUS' proclaimed 22-hour limit, I'm confident that it will last anyone through a full day of regular use.
The only downside for me is that it only sports 8GB of RAM, which isn't something I'd bet on in the long term, since programs are getting more and more RAM-hungry these days (yea I'm looking at you again, Google Chrome.)
Otherwise, I think the ZenBook 13 is a well-specced device for the working class, offering smooth performance and insane battery life for those who are constantly working on the go.
Buy or no buy?
At RM4,699, ASUS is offering up a near-perfect machine that's worth every sen (in my humble opinion). It offers the perfect balance of performance and portability, along with an impressive array of I/O ports to serve your every need. Although the loss of the headphone jack is a bummer, the inclusion of the USB-C DAC shows that ASUS has anticipated users' needs and provided a way out for those who haven't migrated to the TWS world yet.
On top of that, you'll be getting a damn good keyboard and trackpad, a bright and vibrant display, and a solid and stylish body. The 10th Gen Intel Core i7 processor in our unit was sufficient for the tasks we put it through, although 16GB of RAM would have been a nice plus.
If you're a ZenBook disciple looking for an upgrade, this is something you'll wanna get. If you haven't experienced the joy of having a workstation that fits into your handbag yet, then you should definitely put this at the top of your shopping list.