I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve attended a major tech exhibition like IFA and found myself having to ask if the product I’m looking at is the new or the previous model. Tech companies release way too many products way too quickly. But that’s not an issue with Asus’ new ZenBooks, which are dramatically, hilariously, delightfully smaller than their predecessors. The key to it all? Drastically reduced bezels that turn the previously sizable 13-inch ZenBook into a tiny bijou of a laptop, while the new 14-inch ZenBook has a footprint smaller than the previous 13-inch model. It’s a runaway triumph of an intergenerational upgrade.
The ZenBooks (minus any additional qualifiers like Pro or Flip) are basically Asus’ midrange laptops. Their raison d’être is balancing a high-end look and feel with attainable pricing. They start at $899, though the bottom spec comes with a paltry 4GB of RAM, so I’d definitely advise upgrading the memory and perhaps the storage onboard, as you can never have enough of either. Besides that, most of the big improvements in the new ZenBooks are universal across the line, which includes the ZenBook 13, ZenBook 14, and ZenBook 15.
First and most obvious is the new display: now glossy instead of matte and surrounded by only a few millimeters of bezel on all sides, it offers an improvement in brightness, color, and contrast along with the great advantage of making the entire machine so much more portable. Asus still manages to fit an HD webcam at the top of the screen, which is flanked by infrared cameras that create a 3D image of your face for Windows Hello authentication. I like the ErgoLift hinge, which is subtler than it is on the ZenBook S, but it still lifts up the rear of the keyboard by a few degrees and sinks the display down a little bit, simultaneously ensuring a more ergonomic typing posture and making the screen feel even more bezel-deprived.
Asus is putting Intel’s 8th-Gen Core processors to work across its new ZenBook line, with the maximum spec options including a quad-core Core i7, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Max-Q graphics (on the ZenBook 15), 16GB of RAM, and PCIe storage. The company also keeps almost all the ports of its previous generation in place, only nixing a USB-A port and, unfortunately, the SD card reader. The new ZenBooks can only read microSD memory cards, though they maintain two USB-A and one USB-C port, the latter of which can also be used to charge the laptop.
A less obvious upgrade than the display has been made to the ZenBook keyboard. It’s less plasticky than before, with a metallic look and feel, and it has a backlight for the first time. I enjoyed my time typing on it. The trackpad also works well, and Asus has managed to cram an extra gimmick into it by letting you use it as an optional number pad on the ZenBook 13 and 14. It can work in a dual-use mode, letting you both navigate the Windows interface and tap out numbers when needed.
If it’s not already apparent, I’m impressed with the leap Asus has made from its previous laptop, which now looks desperately dated. The metal construction that wraps around the new ZenBooks is sturdy and reassuring, the keyboard and display are of a good quality, and the port and spec options are respectable. I’d have liked to see a squarer aspect ratio, as the 16:9 1080p panels you can get across the ZenBook line are better suited to watching movies than getting work done, but I figure that a consumer audience might prefer to prioritize light entertainment anyway. Only the 15-inch ZenBook has a resolution upgrade option, going up to 4K resolution, leaving the smaller laptops with Full HD only.
Asus says it will have its new ZenBook laptops on sale in the next month, with prices starting at $899.
Photography by Vlad Savov / The Verge