The Zenbook 3 looks the part of a slick and powerful ultra-portable laptop, only with a mushy keyboard and odd fingerprint sensor placement.
- Crystal clear display
- Lightweight and very portable
- Reliable fingerprint sensor
- Weird fingerprint sensor placement
- A single USB-C port
Year over year, the best Ultrabooks continue to get lighter, thinner and more powerful, and the Asus ZenBook 3 is a great example. Who wouldn’t want a more powerful laptop that can handle anything you can throw at it? It’s a compelling sales pitch made by devices like the Apple MacBook and the Dell XPS 13.
And, while these thin and light beauties are more expensive, it’s worth not having your back yelling at you for hauling around a 15-inch behemoth wherever you go.
When you opt for a thin and light laptop like the Asus ZenBook 3, you have to be prepared for certain compromises. Ports will disappear into thin air and battery life suffers. This is all definitely true for the Asus ZenBook 3, but we still find ourselves staring at the beautiful screen after frantically checking to make sure we didn’t leave it on a desk somewhere.
Price and availability
In the US, the ZenBook 3 starts at $1,599 (about £1,499, AU$1,598) with the specs we tested in this review. In Australia, the specifications are similar, save for memory. Instead of the same 16GB that ships elsewhere, the Australian model ships with 8GB, and you can find it for AU$1,995.
Even before the discounted pricing, the ZenBook 3 is priced under Apple’s MacBook with better specs, although it’s nearly double when compared to the Dell XPS 13.
In many respects, the ZenBook 3 is quite similar to Apple’s MacBook. It’s incredibly thin, has a full metal housing, and on the right side of the frame is the single USB-C port. That same port is used for charging, connecting external accessories and anything else you would otherwise need a port for. Frustrating, to be sure. On the left side is a combo 3.5 mm audio jack.
In the top-right corner of the touchpad is where you can find a fingerprint sensor for signing into the ZenBook 3 using Windows Hello. The placement is odd, and can get in the way when dragging your finger across the pad. It won’t directly impact the touchpad’s functionality, but it does break up the otherwise smooth surface and just feels out of place.
We recently took the ZenBook 3 along on a trip from Colorado to New York, replacing a MacBook Pro with TouchBar for the brief trip. On several occasions, we found ourselves opening our backpack and triple-checking to make sure the ZenBook 3 wasn’t left behind.
At just 11.7mm thin, the ZenBook 3 is deceptively light. Looking at its size, and considering its metal housing, it’s easy to expect it to have a reassuring weight to it. And, then you pick it up, and realize that, at only 2 pounds, it’s one of the lightest laptops out there.
Having used Apple’s butterfly mechanism keyboards, we’ve become accustomed to being able to lightly press a key and have it quickly bounce back with minimal effort. For the ZenBook 3, Asus tried to mimic this same feel of the keyboard – only the end result is, for lack of a more elegant term, mushy.
The keys don’t quickly spring back into place, nor do they have an equal level of resistance. In other words, the keys feel soft and lead to inaccurate typing before mastering the learning curve.
With the single USB-C port that the ZenBook 3 boasts, doing something simple as syncing and charging your device simultaneously is impossible without a USB-C hub. Asus does offer plenty of accessories that will let you charge and connect multiple devices to your fancy computer simultaneously. However, it’s just another product you have to purchase and remember to carry around in your bag.
As USB-C continues to creep into numerous products we use on a daily basis, not being able to connect more than one item to a laptop at a time is still a limitation.
Intel’s 7th generation Kaby Lake i7 processor powered through anything we put the ZenBook 3 through during our testing. Multitasking was a non-issue, going between tabs and apps without any noticeable slowdown.
Fans, if they were needed, were quiet and not a distraction by any means.
Four Harmon Kardon speakers are found on the ZenBook 3. Two are on the top of the device, just above the keyboard, with the other two speakers found on the bottom of the housing. They aren’t the loudest speakers, but they’re more than enough to listen to music or watch the occasional YouTube video.
Our benchmarks put the Asus Zenbook 3 somewhere in the ballpark of the Dell XPS 13, and in some areas ahead of it. For instance, the Asus ZenBook 3 excelled in both single and multi-core GeekBench tests, but it fell short of the XPS 13 when it came to 3DMark.
One of the concessions that’s typically associated with a laptop of this size is battery life. Asus touts enough juice in the ZenBook 3’s battery to get through 9 hours of use. However, our tests found that to be a bit of a stretch. Looping Guardians of the Galaxy at 50% brightness with all unnecessary features (Bluetooth, location, backlit keyboard, etc.) disabled, we ran our movie battery life test twice to confirm the ZenBook 3’s score of almost 6 hours and 30 minutes.
What’s more, the PCMark battery life test came back at just over three hours of heavy use. That’s not good, by any measurement.
Reliable fingerprint sensor
Using Windows Hello to sign into a Windows 10 laptop is convenient and downright cool. Scanning your eyes or a fingerprint are popular implementations, with the ZenBook 3 having the latter.
Despite our complaints of the sensor’s location on the Zenbook 3, we have to praise just how accurate, reliable and fast this fingerprint scanner is. After teaching the laptop to recognize our fingerprint, it was rare that we would ever even see a prompt telling us that our finger wasn’t recognized.
Typically, after opening the lid and placing a finger on the sensor it was mere seconds until the device was unlocked and ready for use.
The ZenBook 3’s display is bright and vivid, even though it’s a 1080p screen. The lightweight and portable approach Asus took with its design is appreciated, especially for those who frequently travel and need a device to get work done on.
We would like to see slightly better battery life from the ZenBook 3, but are thankful it comes with fast charging technology. The keyboard, on the other hand, needs to be beefed up.
Coming in between the MacBook and the XPS 13 in price, the Asus ZenBook 3 is a serious contender for anyone looking for an Ultrabook that can easily handle even some of the more intense tasks you can throw at it.
But, don’t expect all day battery, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to use an external keyboard.
All told, if you can look past the blemishes, the ZenBook 3 is a slick and powerful laptop that falls just short of some of the best.