Asus ZenBook 13, 14 and 15 Preview – Counts on touchpad and keyboard

On the first day of IFA, Intel announced a new processor family , codenamed Whiskey and Amber Lake. Various laptop manufacturers are therefore taking advantage of the IFA to show their new laptops with the new CPUs and Asus also announced many of them. New convertibles are available, for example, in the form of the Flip 13 and 15, while the previously introduced ZenBook Pro 14 was now also equipped with the new Intel processors. During Computex we already published a preview of the ZenBook Pro , but then Asus was not allowed to disclose details about the processor that was housed in the laptop. We speculated then that it would be the successor to Kaby Lake Refresh and that now appears to be correct.

In addition to the convertible Flip 13 and 15, Asus has also released ‘regular’ laptops in the form of the ZenBook 13, 14 and 15. As the name suggests, the new ZenBooks have screen diagonals of 13.3, 14 and 15.6 In all cases, these are screens with thin bezels, for which Asus has come up with the beautiful name ‘NanoEdge’. In addition, Asus has also integrated a 3D camera in all three models, so that you can log in using facial recognition. In addition, ZenBook 13 and 14 are equipped with a touchpad that can also be used as a numeric keypad.

ZenBook 13

In the case of the ZenBook 13, Asus boasts a screen-to-body ratio of 95 percent; a term borrowed from the smartphone industry. You may wonder how useful such figures are for laptops, but it should be clear that the bezels are thin, which then ensures that the laptop remains compact. At first glance, the ZenBook 13 looks like a 12.5-inch laptop or smaller. The weight is also low at 1.09 kilograms for the version without and 1.19 kilograms for the version with a glossy screen.

The design of the housing is as we have come to expect from Asus. The Asus logo shines prominently on the back of the screen, surrounded by circles brushed into the metal. If you then put the laptop down and open it, the keyboard will be placed at a slight angle. It’s not as slanted as on the ErgoLift as on the ZenBook S , but a bit more subtle. You can argue about the ergonomic advantage of a slanted keyboard, but when you start typing, two things immediately stand out.

For starters, the housing flexes while typing, and although you don’t get the idea that the laptop is built weakly, the flex in the housing is somewhat disappointing. The whole thing is reminiscent of the AsusPro B9440U , which also showed some movement in the case. The second thing that stands out when typing is the pleasant feedback the keyboard provides, along with the ample travel available. Not only with the ZenBook 13, but also with the 14 and 15, Asus has not chosen to make the laptop as thin as possible, but to leave room for a keyboard that, due to its size, is a lot more pleasant to type than that of the thinner competitors. It also ticks better than, for example, its own ZenBook 3.

ZenBook 14

The ZenBook 14 actually hardly differs from the ZenBook 13. Of course the screen is larger, and the screen-to-body ratio is only 92 percent, but the weight remains the same. Even the connections are in exactly the same place.

In terms of connections, Asus benefits from the new Whiskey Lake PCh , which supports USB 3.1 Gen 2, or the version that has a maximum throughput of 10Gbit/s, instead of 5Gbit/s, as with USB 3.0, or USB 3.1 Gen 1. Asus also mentions this on the left side of the housing with the USB-A and -c connections. That is missing on the right side, because unfortunately the manufacturer has chosen to place a USB 2.0 connection there. For a brand new laptop, which will undoubtedly not be the cheapest, we think that is a disappointment. Not because we think you should be able to connect three external SSDs at maximum speed at the same time, but simply because you can expect from a high-end laptop that you don’t have to figure out which USB connection to use for what. In addition to the USB 2.

Count on the touchpad

The touchpads of the ZenBook 13 and 14 are special. This appears when you press the button at the top right. Numbers will then appear so that it can be used as a numeric keypad. With ultrabooks, the housing is too narrow to place a numeric island next to the usual alphanumeric keys, so Asus has integrated them into the touchpad. Asus has come up with a nice name for this; number pad. You can enter the numbers that appear on the NumberPad by tapping them on the touchpad. Printing is useless, because then they will not be registered. If the NumberPad is on, you can still move your mouse arrow and make a mouse click by pressing the touchpad.

After this first experience, we don’t think the NumberPad is a real replacement for a physical keyboard. It takes some getting used to before you can quickly tap the NumberPad, but more importantly is the lack of feedback. Physical keys do, so you can type blind and enter numbers in quick succession. That is simply not possible with the NumberPad. We suspect that it is ultimately more convenient to teach yourself how to enter numbers via the horizontal row of keys on ultrabooks.

ZenBook 15

The ZenBook 15 is the largest of the laptops just announced, with a screen diagonal of 15.6 “and also thin NanoEdge edges. A NumberPad is not present, because the ZenBook 15 simply has a numeric island next to the keyboard. That keyboard just ticks as with the ZenBook 13 and 14 fine, despite the relatively thin housing.

The main feature of the ZenBook 15, in addition to its larger screen, is the presence of a fast video card. Where the ZenBook 13 and 14 can be supplied with an Nvidia MX150 GPU, the ZenBook 15 offers the option for a GeForce GTX 1050 Max-Q. Given the thickness of the housing, choosing the economical Max-Q version of the GTX 1050 is not a bad idea. We are therefore curious whether the cooling can cope with a Whiskey Lake and GTX 1050 Max-Q GPU, but we can only test that when we receive a review sample.

Although the ZenBook 15’s body resembles a larger version of the ZenBook 14, there are differences. For example, it bounces a lot less while typing, and it does have a full SD card reader. At 1.59 kilograms, the laptop is quite light for the version with a matte screen, especially when you consider that it also houses a separate video card.

While previewing the laptops, we came across versions with i5 and i7 processors, with matte and glossy screens and with large and small SSDs. We have summarized the possible options in the table below.

ZenBook 13 ZenBook 14 ZenBook 15
Screen diagonal 13.3″ 14″ 15.6″
Panel 1920×1080 1920×1080 1920×1080, 3840×2160
CPU Core i7-8565U, Core i5-8265U Core i7-8565U, Core i5-8265U Core i7-8565U, Core i5-8265U
GPU Intel UHD 620, GeForce MX150 Intel UHD 620, GeForce MX150 Intel UHD 620, GeForce GTX 1050 Max-Q
SSD 256/512GB pcie x2, 1TB pcie x4 256/512GB pcie x2, 1TB pcie x4 256/512GB pcie x2, 1TB pcie x4
Random access memory 8 or 16GB lpddr3-2133 8 or 16GB lpddr3-2133 8 or 16GB DDR4-2400
Battery, battery life 50Wh, 14hrs 50Wh, 14hrs 73Wh, 16 hours
Weight with matte screen 1.09kg 1.09kg 1.59kg
Weight with glossy screen 1.19kg 1.19kg 1.69kg

Preliminary conclusion

Asus’ new ZenBooks promise to be interesting laptops. This is partly due to the new Whiskey Lake processors, of which we are of course curious to see how they perform in the ZenBooks. On the other hand, Asus does not go along with the trend to make increasingly thinner laptops, but has opted for something that you can call the ‘practical middle ground’, and we are pleased with that. The housing is thick enough to accommodate a practical USB-A connection, but still so thin that the weight does not suffer and at best you only have to carry a ZenBook of only 1.09 kilograms. The keyboard taps pleasantly thanks to the not too thin housing. However, the slow USB 2.0 connection and the clumsy micro SD reader are disappointing.

Completely new to the ZenBook 13 and 14 is of course the NumberPad. We haven’t worked with it for long, but at first glance it seems more like a gimmick than a practical addition. Perhaps we will see the usefulness of it when we review the laptops extensively later this year. Then we also get the chance to test the image quality and battery life, because the latter in particular is often presented in a more rosy color than is feasible in a realistic scenario.