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Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UN review: A stylish ultraportable packing a graphics punch

The new ZenBook 13 from Asus is an impressive ultraportable laptop that could appeal to many a mobile professional. With an 8th generation Intel Core i5 processor and a discrete Nvidia GPU, initial impressions are positive. But with a £1,100 price tag the ZenBook 13 UX331U needs to shine in all departments.

Asus has an eye for good laptop design, often producing eye-catching but not overstated devices. Our review unit’s Royal Blue colouring was pleasant enough, but the lid is rather shiny and reflective. At least the fingerprints it readily attracts are easily wiped off without leaving greasy marks behind. The ZenBook 13 UX331U is also available (in some territories) in a more sober Slate Grey livery.

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The 13.3-inch ZenBook UX331UN runs on 8th-generation Intel Core processors, with 8GB of RAM and up to 512GB of SSD storage. Unusually for a lightweight (1.12kg) ultraportable, it features integrated graphics (Nvidia GeForce MX150).


Images: Asus

Weighing just 1.12kg and measuring 13.9mm thick, the ZenBook 13 UX331U is an ideal companion for the frequent traveller, and should drop into most bags with ease. There’s an alarming amount of flex in the lid, though, so it will need a protective sleeve. Fortunately Asus provides one.

The laptop’s edges and base continue the blue theme, though this time with a matte finish, which we prefer. The silver frames around the touchpad and tiny fingerprint sensor that sits in the top right corner of the wrist rest might be a little bright for some people, but they do add a splash of character.

The keyboard is well sprung and keys bounce back with some force after being pressed. They emit a dull thud rather than a light click, arguably making this laptop well suited to quieter working environments where key clicks can irritate. I had no problem reaching my usual touch typing speed, and typing was very comfortable. I’m a light-touch typist, and when testing with a heavier typing action I noticed a bit of flex in the keyboard, which might be an issue for some people.

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The backlit keyboard is quiet and responsive, although heavy-handed typists may notice some flex.


Image: Asus

The keyboard has a three-level backlight that’s controlled, somewhat irritatingly, by two separate Fn keys — one goes up the brightness scale, the other goes down. A single key that toggles through all brightness settings would be more user friendly.

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The touchpad is a good size and very responsive, which is particularly important when there’s no touch-screen support — as is the case here.

The screen’s lack of touch support is something of an issue given the price of this laptop, but the 13.3-inch FHD (1,920×1,080) panel is strong in other respects. Colour rendition is good, and there’s plenty of brightness on offer. The screen’s anti-glare finish makes it much more matte than gloss, which is very welcome.

Asus could have worked harder to minimise the bezel. The website says the bezel measures 6.86mm, which is indeed the case on the short edges. But that doesn’t take into account the outer frame around the screen: I measured the screen-to-edge distance at 9mm.

The top bezel screen-to-edge distance is 13mm, while the bottom bezel, where the lid hinges to the base, is around 22mm. Ultraportables from the likes of Dell and Lenovo do a much better job of maximizing the screen-to-bezel ratio.

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This is a conventional clamshell laptop: no touch support or 360-degree screen rotation here.


Image: Asus

This is a conventional clamshell laptop, whose screen tilts back to about 135 degrees. If you need a convertible 2-in-1 laptop/tablet hybrid, look elsewhere.

If you want to use your laptop for presentations, or perhaps do some after-hours video viewing, you might be encouraged by the Harman/Kardon branding on the wrist rest. Sadly, the ZenBook 13’s speakers are disappointing: they lack bass tones (which is not unusual for a laptop) but are also located on the underside of the laptop, outputting through grilles on the upward-curved front edge. As a result, sound is dulled by the hard surface of a desk or table; and when the laptop rests on soft material (when sitting on a lap, for example), audio is noticeably distorted.

The 8th Generation Intel Core i5-8250U processor in my review unit was accompanied by a discrete Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU with 2GB of dedicated GDDR5 VRAM. Discrete graphics aren’t that common in ultraportable laptops — at its website, Asus claims the ZenBook 13 UX331U is the “thinnest laptop on the planet with a high-performance discrete graphics chip”. The CPU is augmented by 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage, and I had no issues at all with running mainstream and even moderately demanding workloads.

Those seeking the business-friendly advantages of Windows 10 Pro should look away, as Asus has chosen Windows 10 Home for this laptop. The 256GB SSD might ring a few alarm bells too: it will be perfectly adequate for many, but if you need to store a lot of data locally it might prove too small. There was 188GB free on my review sample.

There should be enough ports and connectors for most people: on the right edge is a MicroSD card slot, a USB 3.0 port and a 3.5mm audio jack; the left edge has another USB 3.0 port, a USB-C port and a full-size HDMI port, plus a couple of tiny white LEDs to let you know when the system is being charged or using the battery (lid down, but system not off).

Asus claims 14 hours of battery life for the ZenBook 13 UX331UN, and our testing suggests that a full day’s uptime is well within its grasp. With the screen set to 75 percent brightness the 50Wh battery ran down about a third of its life in four hours; at 50 percent brightness the four-hour rundown figure was closer to a quarter. When battery power does get low the fast-charging power brick can provide a 60 percent boost in 49 minutes.

Conclusions

The ZenBook 13 is a conventional laptop, so 2-in-1 hybrid fans need not apply. The build leaves a little to be desired, with noticeable flex in both the lid and keyboard, although the latter should only trouble particularly heavy-handed typists.

Discrete graphics are a real plus point in an ultraportable, and the matte screen is great for working in all kinds of lighting conditions. There are enough ports and connectors, and the fingerprint scanner is a plus point. It’s a premium device, but the ZenBook 13 UX331UN delivers the goods bar one or two minor drawbacks.

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