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Asus ZenBook 14 (UX433) Review: Hands-on

Asus has revamped the ZenBook line with a whole new design - we take a look at IFA 2018, including the new lighter build, redesigned hinge, and light-up numpad that's actually built into the touch pad.

PRICE WHEN REVIEWED
  • To be confirmed
The latest version of the Asus ZenBook only came out in the UK this summer, but the company isn’t wasting any time getting an updated version out, using IFA 2018 to unveil a huge redesign to the whole ZenBook line.


Along with a total design revamp for all three new models - 13in, 14in, and 15in - the two smaller versions also include one very novel new feature: a numpad built into the touch pad. We went hands-on with the 14in model at IFA, and here’s what we found out.

PRICING AND AVAILABILITY
We’re waiting on full confirmation of the release date and price of the new ZenBook models, but don’t expect to see them until later in 2018 - or even perhaps early 2019.

This year’s previous ZenBook 13 model started from £999/$999, so we’d expect to see similar pricing in the new line - naturally with more expensive starting points for the larger screen sizes.

DESIGN AND BUILD
The ZenBook line has had a massive design overhaul since the models that were unveiled at CES earlier in 2018, and the ZenBook 14 now features smaller bezels, a new hinge, and a more premium finish than any previous ZenBook.

Thanks to the new bezels and other design tweaks this is a seriously compact laptop, with a 92 percent screen-to-body ratio and a body that’s smaller than most 13in laptops, let alone rival 14in models, measuring 31.9x19.9x1.59cm. It’s pretty light too, weighing 1.09kg with the optional anti-glare display, and slightly more at 1.19kg with the standard screen.

It's a little thicker, at 1.59cm, but that's still fairly slim. This is clearly thicker (and in fact heavier) than ultra-slim models like Acer's revamped Swift 5 and Swift 7, but it also packs more ports and power into the space, so this is almost certainly a smart trade-off for most users.

The lid has the same spun metal finish as most previous models - the best indicator that this is still a ZenBook - while the rest of the body has an anodized metal finish available in either Royal Blue or Icicle Silver (pictured).

Whichever colour you opt for, there’s also a rose gold trim across the Harman Kardon speakers, which sit immediately above the keyboard. We suspect some people might not like the interruption to the design, but we’re fans. It’s a subtle touch that breaks up the body, while drawing attention to the next major design change: the hinge.

All three of the new ZenBook models now feature Asus’s ‘ErgoLift hinge’, which is a fancy name for a simple hook design that helps lift the back of the laptop up as you open it. That both puts the keyboard at a more comfortable angle for typing and handily improves both cooling and audio performance according to the company.
KEYBOARD AND TRACKPAD
The keyboard in the ZenBook 14 is nothing special - it’s a pretty standard laptop keyboard with a fairly unobjectionable typing feel and a shallow action - though Asus has done a nice job of keeping it low and flat against the body of the laptop.

More interesting is the touch pad, which pulls double duty as a replacement numpad too. Most of the time it’s just a standard touch pad, but press down on the top-right corner and a full numpad - complete with basic mathematical functions - illuminates across the surface.

It will then serve as a full numpad within calculator or spreadsheet apps, letting you quickly tap out sums as necessary. Activating it takes enough pressure that you’re unlikely to do it by accident, and typing on it is quick and easy - though obviously lacks any sort of tactile feedback.

It’s a feature that will either be a complete irrelevance or an absolute lifesaver for you, mostly depending on how much time you spend in Excel, but luckily you can simply turn it off and forget it was ever there if numbers aren’t your thing.

SCREEN
The slim-bezelled NanoEdge display looks great, and it’s welcome to see the slimmed down design finally reach the ZenBook models. On the 13in and 14in models it comes in Full HD, though if you opt for the larger ZenBook 15 you can get a 4K version if you prefer.

It’s always tricky judging displays under tradeshow lighting, which is rarely much like what you’ll experience at home, but it seemed bright and colourful given the circumstances. We’ll run it through some more vigorous testing when we get a model in for a full review.

CORE SPECS AND PERFORMANCE
In terms of core specs, you get your choice of an Intel i5-8265U or i7-8565U processor - both 8th-gen - backed up by a separate Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU. It’s hardly the most powerful graphics card around, but we’re pleased to see Asus sticking with the discrete GPU in such a portable device.

Other than that, you get a choice of 8GB or 16GB DDR3 RAM, and 256GB/512GB/1TB SSD storage, which is nothing to sniff at. Naturally we couldn’t test performance at the show, but this should breeze through day-to-day stuff and comfortably cope with creative work like image editing or light video processing too.

CONNECTIVITY AND AUDIO
The ZenBook laptops have usually been pretty strong here, and we’re glad to see that the ZenBook 14 doesn’t disappoint.

Asus is continuing its commitment to proper ports even in an ultrabook, with the obligatory USB-C backed up by two USB-A ports, HDMI, a headphone jack, a MicroSD card slot, and the power socket. That’s a lot of connectivity for such a slim laptop.

You also get a 3D IR camera which Asus says should help use your face to login even in low light - placed in the top bezel of the screen, you’ll be glad to hear. Then there’s voice recognition to use with Alexa or Cortana, along with Bluetooth 5.0 and dual-band 802.11ac gigabit-class Wi-Fi.

As for audio, the speakers once again come from Harman Kardon in a setup Asus has called ‘SonicMaster’, so you can tell they think it’s good. We haven’t tested the sound ourselves but it should be pretty good - by laptop standards at least.

BATTERY LIFE
Battery life is another thing we can’t really test at IFA, but Asus is promising up to 14 hours, which is in line with recent models. It’s not quite up there with battery champs like the XPS 13, but it should be more than enough for most people.

SPECS
  • Windows 10 Home or Pro
  • 14-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) display
  • 8th Generation Intel Quad Core i5-8265U processor or Intel Quad Core i7-8565U processor
  • Nvidia GeForce MX150 with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM
  • 8GB or 16GB RAM
  • 256GB or 512GB or 1TB SSD
  • 50 WHr battery (built-in)
  • 2x USB-A 3.1
  • 1x USB-C 3.1
  • 1x HDMI
  • 1x 3.5mm headphone jack
  • microSD card reader
  • Full size, backlit chiclet keyboard
  • Numpad built into touch pad
  • SonicMaster audio system from Harman Kardon
  • Windows Hello compliant fingerprint reader
  • 3D IR HD camera
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • 15.9mm x 319mm x 199mm
  • 1.09kg (with anti-glare display) or 1.19kg (with standard display)
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