Laptops come in different shapes and sizes these days. One form factor that is getting more and more popular is super thin and light metal build laptop with 12″ display. ASUS ZenBook 3 UX390UA is one such laptop that is made for those who need a powerful laptop but are always on the run. This super thin and light notebook is powered by Intel Core i7 Kaby Lake chip and has enough juice underneath to please the most. But power ain’t everything, right? How is the overall performance of the UX390UA, read on!
The ASUS ZenBook 3 UX390UA we got has rose gold color. The craftsmanship is impeccable. The first time I held this one, I was in awe. The weightlessness and the 11.9mm thin body made me say ‘damn, this thing is gorgeous’! I am not really a fan of rose gold color but this subtle tinge of rose gold color made me fall in love. Strength of the aluminum chassis is evident when you hold a really small notebook. There is absolutely no flex whatsoever.
Press on the lid or on the keyboard or on under side and you will not see any flex. It is really surprising given that this ultrabook is just 11.9mm thick and weighs 910 gram. Open the ultrabook display, hold it up using one corner of the base and you will know how good the build quality is. This is mainly due to the use of premium, aerospace-grade aluminum — lighter than standard laptop alloy but 50% stronger. The display is protected by Gorilla Glass 4 layer (though there is no touch screen capability).
The display is 12.5″ in size and the deep black bezels around the display goes really well with the subtle rose gold color. It looks even better when you are using it under white light source. The display has golden edge highlights but it looks better on black color shell. The black variant also comes with subtle gold keyboard backlight that matches the border highlighting. The webcam is placed above the display in usual position and its so tiny that it stays invisible unless you look for it. Two microphones are placed on either side of the camera. The hinges that connects the display part to the base are also of very good quality. The problem though is that you cannot open the laptop with one hand. This is because of the weight and the really tiny gap where we usually place thumb to pull the display up. The hinges are tight with very less flex so you will not feel the display wobble that much when you are typing (when the ultrabook is placed on the lap). This is commendable as light weight laptops tend to have lot more display wobble while fast typing.
The ASUS ZenBook 3 UX390UA keyboard has 6 rows of keys and is edge to edge with barely any space left on either side of keyboard. Dual harman/kardon speakers are placed above the keyboard and the trackpad is aligned to the base, not to the keyboard. A fingerprint reader with support for Windows Hello is placed on top right corner of the trackpad. The ASUS ZenBook logo is placed below the display and harman/kardon name is etched below the keyboard (below the direction keys on bottom right corner). The bottom of the ZenBook is very clean and is in line with other ZenBooks that we reviewed. To upgrade hard drive, you have to remove eight screws that hold the bottom panel. Two more speakers are placed at the bottom. The total of four speakers are powered by a four channel amplifier.
There is a 3.5mm jack on the left side of ASUS ZenBook 3 UX390UA and a USB Type-C port on the right side. This port doubles up as charging port. Yes, the ZenBook comes with a single port for all data/power needs. This is very much in line with the MacBook and you will need an adapter if you want to connect multiple devices.
With the ASUS all-in-one USB-C Universal Dock (to be purchased separately), you also get all the ports you need, including an SD card reader, LAN, VGA, HDMI, standard USB 3.0 and USB-C port for charging. A USB Type-C charger is provided in the bundle and the charging is pretty quick.
In short, ASUS ZenBook UX390 comes with ‘gold standard’ build quality, looks gorgeous, feels awesome, is lightweight and insanely thin.
The ASUS ZenBook 3 UX390UA comes with a FullHD 12″ IPS display panel. The display is very good but not as good as the ones that we have seen on other ASUS notebooks. ASUS should’ve provided a touch screen display, given that this laptop will be priced at a premium. Touchscreen on a 12″ display makes more sense than touchscreen on a 15″ or 17″ display. The display is rated to produce 72% of NTSC color gamut and has 1000:1 contrast ratio. Thanks to the anti blur coating, though the display is glossy, there isnt that much of reflection of light. Placing the laptop facing a light source can cause lot of glare but switch to slightly yellowish tinge and the glare will be lot less.
Using ASUS Splendid utility, you can pick one of four available modes for display. Normal mode gives a pleasant color output that is also more color accurate compared to other modes. Eye Care mode turns on bluelight filter and is highly recommended when you are using the ZenBook at night. The level of filter can be adjusted in this mode. Vivid mode makes the display a little bit more vibrant. The four mode is ‘manual mode’ but the only option available here is to change color temperature and nothing else.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The ASUS ZenBook 3 UX390UA’s achilles heel is its keyboard. The key travel is extremely low. I type without looking at the keys and I let my fingers find the key by touch. The problem with this keyboard is that the keys are too flat, minimal response and with very very low gap between keys. I can easily hit 90wpm on keyboard but I could barely touch 80 and even while I am writing this review, there are many times that I had to go back as I keep missing lot of keys.
Apple had received a lot of negative feedback when they created the butterfly mechanism low travel keys for the Macbook and ASUS should’ve considered a more traditional keys. Yet, even though Apple’s new keypad has just 0.5mm key travel, compared to 0.8mm travel of this one, the butterfly keys on MacBook are better and easier to get used to . A notebook that is 14mm thick with extremely good keyboard is any day better than a notebook that has 12mm thickness and below average keyboard. I said this in previous ZenBook review. The power key should not be part of the keyboard. The placement of power key is wrong! There were times when I pressed the power key when I actually wanted to press ‘delete’.
The ASUS ZenBook 3 UX390UA trackpad on the other hand is very good. The glass surface is super smooth to touch and touch sensitivity is very good. If you tapping over pressing the trackpad for left/right click action, this trackpad is very good. If you prefer pressing the trackpad to register click, it is a bit hard, especially at the center. My suggestion is to press at lower left side for left click and lower right side for right click instead of using one finger click at center or two finger click at center. Given that the lower half goes in with much less force would mean that you do not have to press hard for clicks. Parm rejection works in flawless manner. Unless you use your finger on trackpad, the pointer will not move.
The built in fingerprint reader on top right corner of trackpad sticks out like a sore thumb. The placement is wrong! The touchpad supports handwriting via ASUS Touchpad Handwriting application. I tried for few minutes and it was absolutely bad! The application should not be there in the first place. Writing using finger is easy on trackpad but the app keeps on moving the pointer to the center of the area. Also, though there are options to move back, up and down or use predictions, the pointer is locked to the input area and if you press ‘esc’, all your input is wiped off. I am really wondering the purpose of this application!
ASUS has rated the ZenBook 3 UX390UA to have up to 9 hours of battery life. At 90% of display brightness and on Wi-Fi, with lot of web browsing and video playback, I was able to squeeze out around 5 hours of battery life. The power setting was in ‘balanced’ mode. Turn down the brightness a bit, set the power mode to ‘power saving’ and it will get closer to 9 hours. The best part about this laptop is that you can charge it to 60% battery capacity in just 49 mintes. This is thanks to fast charging tech built into the USB Type-C charger/laptop.
This is where the ASUS ZenBook 3 UX390UA really excels at. I was playing a 1440p video in one window, streamed via YouTube and used Internet Explorer with couple of tabs open on the other window. There was no stutter, thanks to the Intel Core i7 7500 Kaby Lake chip. The ZenBook got a bit warm but never felt hot. This is extremely good performance for a laptop that is so thin and lightweight. Not even a MacBook can match the performance of the ASUS ZenBook 3 UX390. The heat disspation is very good, thanks to the new state of the art components like liquid crystal polymer fan impeller that is just 0.3mm thick, a copper alloy heat pipe. At first I wondered where exactly the air outlet is. After thorough inspection, found that it was neatly hidden between the two hinges of the base (aligned to the ASUS ZenBook logo).
The audio quality of ASUS ZenBook 3 UX390UA is very good thanks to four speakers and four channel amplifier. Even at near to max volume, there is no distortion from the speakers and even though the shell is aluminum, the audio output from speakers did not cause any unwanted metal vibration. ASUS says that the speakers generate true surround sound that envelops you but do not fall for that. The speakers are much better than those on other laptops but are still no way close to dedicated speakers. Talking about surround, there is nothing surrounding you when you play music/videos. Its just plain sound but loud speakers.
There are not many laptops out there that are similar to the ASUS ZenBook 3 UX390CA. ASUS created this laptop to directly compete with the 12″ MacBook. The design is similar, the ports are similarly placed, even the keyboard feels similar. Is it better than the MacBook? Well, yes! The ZenBook is much more powerful (thanks to Kaby Lake Core i7 chip), has better sounding speakers, has similar build quality and Windows 10 is amazing for thin and light notebooks! The only area where MacBook has an edge is the battery life. So, if you are looking for a Windows OS laptop that can take on the MacBook, this is the one that you should consider. The keyboard is the achilles heel and if you are not exactly ‘lover of long travel keys with good gap between keys’, you will be happy with the keyboard. Else you will take really long time to get used to it. And every time you use a keyboard that is more mainstream, you will feel sad!
For those who want a daily driver laptop and not really keep on size etc, ZenBook 3 UX390CA will still work out. The main concern for this laptop is the lack of ports. With just a USB Type-C port and a 3.5mm jack, regular users cannot connect that many peripherals. ASUS has a solution to this problem, the Universal Dock. The ASUS Universal Dock has an SD card reader, audio ports, USB Type-C port, USB 3.0, LAN, VGA and HDMI ports. Using the dock, you can even setup a dual monitor desk. Pitch in a wireless keyboard and mouse, you have a perfect desktop.