When you look between computers and smartphones, you might be right in identifying a bit of a gap. Tablets mostly full that space, but at least insofar as Android is concerned, the market is a bit of a mess right now. The few tablets worth having are often close in cost to decent laptop prices, and this makes them a tougher sell. Why pay for a tablet when you can get a laptop at the same price which does more?
One of the big contributors to that decision making process is Asus. As a brand, Asus is contributing to that changing landscape of mobile computing with the Zenbook range and earlier this year we took the Zenbook S UX391 (herein the Zenbook) to Barcelona with us which was a great opportunity to check it out while doing some demanding work.
Personally, I’ve been using Apple Macbooks for a number of years now and honestly love the product line for a number of reasons. They’re lightweight, perform well, have excellent keyboards, great battery life and have good resale value for a few starting points.
However, the specs and feel of the Zenbook have made me start to rethink that given my Macbook is due for replacement later this year.
What is it?
The Zenbook UX391 is a range of laptops from Asus designed to be a premium experience, but still fit in the “ultrabook” realm.
Our review unit was the top tier model, and so it had a 4K touchscreen which is very easy on the eyes. I had the opportunity to check out the Full HD touchscreen model at a local store which was well and truly up to the job on what is intended to be a real workhorse of a laptop. All models have a high res, inbuilt web camera for video conferencing, use with Windows hello functionality and other video connectivity needs.
The two different specs offer either an 8GB or 16GB RAM option, the review unit had 16GB and onboard video. In reality, the 8GB is going to be more than sufficient for most users, but when you get into the more resource intensive applications that users may be utilising, it’s wise of Asus with their product positioning to have a 16GB option.
For desktop connectivity, there’s a number of USB C hubs available which – using a single USB C port on your laptop – give you Ethernet, USB A, SD cards, audio in/out, and even multiple display options. These range in price from $50 or so to $300, but you get what you pay for. Spend more, and you’ll have all the connectivity you could need or want. If you only need to plug in a couple of things, that $50 adaptor will probably do.
Rounding out the connectivity is what can only fairly be described as an “expected” suite of wireless functionality with WiFi and Bluetooth heading the list, but with a little twist – Alexa. Yep, if you’re keen to have a smart assistant on your laptop (I don’t use Cortana and won’t be starting any time soon) then with the software option available on here, you’re in luck. All up, it’s a comprehensive list of connectivity and with the USB Type C connections, you’ll be set for some time to come.
One of the things I particularly liked about this was the hinge design where the screen and keyboard meet. As you open the screen it lifts the rear of the laptop slightly.
This does a couple of things:
- The most noticeable is that it brings the keyboard onto a slight angle which makes typing far more comfortable and possible for longer periods of time.
- This improves ventilation around the laptop, improving performance and the lifespan of your laptop.
- Finally, although most users probably won’t notice this – I did because I docked the laptop a few times to my main screen and found that with the hinge open (it was closed when docked) the sound is significantly better – I’m certain there’s some engineering voodoo going on here, but regardless of how they achieve the sound… I like it, it’s quite impressive when you consider the size of the speakers involved.
In the time I had with the Zenbook I didn’t have any major performance issues. The workload it was under was what would be considered by many a “normal daily workload”. Email at a consistently high level, web surfing, use of the Office 365 suite and some basic sound editing. While it did take me a little while to figure out some of the triggers for battery drain, once I turned much of the resource intensive apps off or minimised their use I was seeing near the 14 hours of battery life that Asus claim in their documentation – I was quite honestly, amazed at this. The primary saving in battery was through the Asus onboard software which gives you varied levels of performance vs battery life.
When running on mains power, everything cranks up to full speed as required and the thing flies! Boot times are quick, load times on programs are negligible and the user experience hits its peak. It was this that made me realise (I was questioning it quite a lot) how Asus can possibly justify the cost of a laptop being higher than a Macbook.
Particularly for users who are not familiar or comfortable with MacOS, but still want a high end laptop that will perform, offer great battery life and last well with decent resale value then you’re going to need to do your research and a lot of it.
Who should buy an Asus Zenbook from this series?
You’ve probably gathered already, this isn’t your $600 JB Hi-Fi special that you can use for 12 months then throw away. This is an investment and a real workhorse that to get real value from, you’ll be wanting to use it daily and for considerable periods of time. So the target market is for road warriors who will use the battery life, users who will use the power of the machine in both mobile and desktop environments (desktop docks) and general power users who want a high quality machine that will go the distance as a relatively hefty financial investment.
What’s it good at?
I didn’t find any notable flaws in performance or usability once setup for my needs. It runs Windows 10 so for the vast majority of users, the interface is going to be very comfortable and familiar. It makes the transfer from a previous machine to a new laptop so much easier.
Like anyone, I have particular wants from my laptop in terms of installed applications, my workflows and communication options. I have several pathways in my life that require different use cases: Personal needs, my Emergency Services Commitments and of course there’s Ausdroid. With fairly minimal effort everything was ready to roll for all areas I required.
What needs improvement?
Without a doubt, the biggest hurdle I faced was the setup. It wasn’t troublesome, just a bit on the slow side due to downloading a significant amount of data to update included software and settings from my Microsoft account. I’m on 100/40 NBN and even with that, it took an hour to download all of the software, install and reboot the laptop a couple of times which is pretty frustrating when you’ve got a shiny new toy and just want to play with it.
The other hurdle was a few times (I haven’t figured out why and the laptop has now been returned) coming out of sleep mode, the Zenbook just failed to start up which required a reset to rectify. Grand scheme, not that big a deal but a frustration nonetheless and worth mentioning in the review.
The other notable item is there’s no USB type A port, this meant that many of the accessories I have won’t plug in without a USB C to A adaptor. Not a big deal, they’re about $30 but it’s worth noting for someone looking at this beast.
Who should buy one?
For the average buyer, honestly – this is a really tough sell. It’s not cheap, but it’s good… very good. With prices north of $1700, and up to $2700 ish for the full-spec 4K variant, you’re spending a bit of money to get into an Asus Zenbook S, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s money well spent.
The simple facts are the Zenbook S UX391 range is lightweight, powerful, has great battery life (once you figure it out…), a really nice keyboard and provided you take care of it – it’s a long term investment with the capacity to easily replace your desktop PC.
It’s a little slow to get setup out of the box, but it’s automated – that’s more of a frustration than a hindrance or barrier for users.
In my eyes, the target for the Zenbook UX391 range is the professional market who need power, style and capability from their laptop. It’s an absolute powerhouse that can be docked and replace a desktop machine or be used on the go, in board rooms or for presentations and look the part while doing so.
If this is all sounding like it’s worth a closer look, there’s an extensive where to buy list on the Asus website. Some of the lower-end models are available from places like Mwave and JB Hi-Fi, but if you’re looking at the higher end, the options are a little less. Best to start on somewhere like Amazon or Google Shopping and find the best deals.