The Asus ZenBook 13 is a classy Core i5 ultraportable that's priced aggressively.
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Even a slightly cramped keyboard can't keep it from an earnest recommendation. Asus is trying to undercut our laptop Editors' Choices. You won't find frills like a Thunderbolt 3 port or a 4K touch-display option, but you'll find the ZenBook 13 a tempting entry-level pick among light, compact, skinny-screen-bezel ultraportables.
That lid remains, alas, fingerprint-prone.
More cylinders for turbocharging
The company's so-called ErgoLift hinge tilts the keyboard at a 3-degree typing angle when the laptop is opened. That compares nicely to the Dell XPS 13's 0. The ZenBook even beats the Dell's weight by a few milligrams 2. That makes it strictly a productivity machine unsuited for light gaming. The older ZenBook's Windows Hello fingerprint reader has vanished, too, replaced by a p face-recognition webcam centered above the screen.
The camera's images were clear but pale or washed-out in a sunny room. Along with a USB 3. The right edge offers a USB 2. The HDMI port is particularly welcome for connecting a monitor without having to carry a dongle, though Asus puts a different dongle in the box—a USB-C-to-Ethernet adapter, for office workers who'd rather not rely on the I can't elicit any flex grasping the screen corners, but there's a little if I mash the middle of the keyboard.
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The glossy Fine details look sharp, though icons and screen elements border on a little too big with Windows' default percent zoom. Brightness is adequate—not the brightest I've seen, but good contrast yields pleasingly white rather than off-white backgrounds. Colors are nicely saturated, and the off-center screen viewing angles are wide.
The keyboard earns points for dedicated Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys F9 through F12 on the small top row and cursor arrows in an inverted T instead of a row, but some keys are cramped.
The right Shift and Delete keys are tiny, and the latter is next to the power button instead of having the top right corner to itself. The span from A through apostrophe is a quarter-inch shy of the desktop-regulation 8 inches. The F7 key cycles through three levels of backlighting, and a button in a corner of the touchpad turns the latter into an LED-lit keypad for numeric data entry. With the number-pad feature turned off, the touchpad glides and gestures smoothly, but it requires a firmer rap than the gentle tap I'm used to from other laptops.
The keyboard has a shallow but snappy typing feel; after an hour's practice, I was maintaining a good pace, though I never felt like declaring it a favorite.
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The ZenBook's speakers don't get exceptionally loud, though you can crank them to max volume without distortion. Bass and backing tracks are subdued, but the overall sound is okay. Asus backs the laptop with a one-year warranty and provides a carrying sleeve in the box. I ran into one snag when choosing systems for our performance comparison: The other key-comparison ultraportables that have completed PC Labs' benchmark suite which was refreshed a few months back all have Core i7 processors, giving them a head start on the Core i5-based ZenBook.
So, in addition to the Their specifications appear in the table below As it turned out, the ZenBook surprised its Core i7 rivals in our Cinebench CPU test and posted respectable numbers in our other non-graphics benchmarks, as well as winning our battery-rundown runoff.
It makes no pretense of being able to play games, but it delivers ample productivity per dollar.
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The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, Web browsing, and videoconferencing.
The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the PC's storage subsystem.
The result is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better. The Asus trailed the Core i7 trio but easily topped the IdeaPad in the office productivity test, finishing just points off the 4, mark that we consider excellent. Meanwhile, all five laptops' solid-state drives whisked through the storage test. Next is Maxon's CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads.
Zen and the Art of Laptop Design
The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC's suitability for processor-intensive workloads. Call it an outlier, but the Core i5 ZenBook caught a tailwind and edged its Core i7 competitors in this event. We're as stymied as you are and we wouldn't recommend the system for heavy-duty video editing , but everybody loves an underdog. We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image.
We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time lower times are better. The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics can see a boost.
As in PCMark 10, the Asus split the difference between the Core i7 machines and the Lenovo in a creditable performance. The results are proprietary scores.
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ZenBook owners seeking entertainment will have to content themselves with casual or browser-based games and streaming video. Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes.
In this case, the work is done in the company's eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine's graphical prowess. We present two Superposition results, run at the p Low and p High presets.
As you can see, even the GeForce MX systems are far from the minimum-acceptable 30fps at p resolution, while the PCs with integrated graphics barely register on the chart at all at the p setting. There are never any outliers when we run this test.
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode. In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored p file of the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel —with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at percent until the system conks out.
The Dell deserves credit for copping the silver medal despite a battery-sucking 4K screen, but the Asus is in a class by itself, lasting 15 hours in our unplugged endurance test. A long workday or transcontinental flight should hold no terrors for it. Its slightly subpar keyboard keeps the Asus from Editors' Choice contention, but its impressive value makes it well worth a look.
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PCMag editors select and review products independently. We may earn affiliate commissions from buying links, which help support our testing. Learn more. Reviews Laptops. February 12, Copy Link. Pros Low price.
Great battery life. Nearly borderless screen. Touchpad can double as a numeric keypad. Cons Crowded keyboard. No Thunderbolt 3 port. Similar Products. Related The Best Laptops for A tech journalist since the TRS and Apple II days, Grevstad specializes in lightweight laptops, all-in-one desktops, and productivity software, all of which he uses when commuting and telecommuting between PC Labs and a cat-filled home office in Boston.