The Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UN is blue. Very blue. Honestly, that’s its defining feature. It’s a $999 laptop with solid performance from an 8th Gen Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU. What will get you, however, is its shiny, cobalt chassis that reflects light in just the right way. It also lasts over 9 hours on a charge. Sure, its 256GB SSD isn’t as fast as competitors’ NVMe SSDs, and the webcam could be sharper. But when you look at how blue-tiful this thing is, you may fall in love.
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Everyone I showed the ZenBook 13 to let out a low “oooh.” And with good reason: This laptop sure is pretty.
The ZenBook is a dark navy blue, and while the lid maintains Asus’ iconic designs with its logo surrounded by concentric circles, they’ve added something here. Now there’s a shiny layer on top that feels like plastic but provides a beautiful, glass-like shine. It’s like a cake with a perfect mirror glaze. Sure, it collects fingerprints faster than Boy Scouts collect merit badges, but the way light shines off of it really is stunning.
With the laptop open, you’ll find the 13.3-inch, 1080p display with a fairly thin bezel, the navy aluminum chassis, an island-style keyboard and a fingerprint reader (which, mercifully, is not located on the touchpad. Asus is learning!).
On the left side of the ZenBook are an HDMI output, a USB 3.0 port and a Type-C port, as well as room for a traditional barrel charger. The right side is where you’ll find a microSD card, headphone jack and another USB 3.0 port.
At 12.2 x 8.5 x 0.5 inches and 2.7 pounds, the ZenBook falls in the middle of the pack when it comes to size. The HP Envy 13t is 2.9 pounds and 12.9 x 8.9 x 0.5 inches, the Dell XPS 13 is 11.9 x 7.8 x 0.5 inches and 2.7 pounds, and the Lenovo Yoga 720 is 12.2 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches and 2.8 pounds.
The ZenBook’s screen is more than serviceable, with decent color and plenty of luminosity. Despite high scores, though, I hesitate to say it’s any better than competing displays. When I watched a trailer for Deadpool 2, the hero’s suit was the perfect shade of dark red, but the yellow jumpsuits in a prison were dull, even against a gray background. And I wished I could turn up the brightness just a teeny bit.
The display covers 119 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is higher than the premium-laptop average. However, that’s more vivid than the average (110 percent), the Envy (106 percent) and the XPS 13 (117 nits), but less evocative than the Yoga’s 171 nits.
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The ZenBook averaged a brightness of 296 nits on our light meter, which is slightly higher than the average (287 nits), as well as the scores from the Yoga (255 nits) and the Envy 13t (248 nits). But it was considerably dimmer than the XPS 13 (372 nits).
Keyboard and Touchpad
Because it has 1 millimeter of travel and 68 grams of force required to press the keys, one would think the keyboard is too shallow. Surprisingly, it’s decent. Yes, I prefer deeper keys, but ZenBook’s are nice and clicky, like a slightly better version of what Apple offers on its MacBooks. On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I reached 115 words per minute with a 3-percent error rate, which is standard for me.
The 4.1 x 2.8-inch touchpad is roomy and responsive. I could quickly flick programs to the task bar with a downward three-finger swipe and two-finger scroll on web pages with ease.
The speakers on the ZenBook 13 were surprisingly good for a laptop this size. When I listened to Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s “All The Stars,” the speakers did an excellent job of emphasizing the vocals above the track while still keeping snappy drums, strings and synthesized beats. During the chorus, the lows felt a little flat, though I was able to pull them up slightly using the included ICEpower audio app.
The ZenBook 13 comes with an Intel Core i5-8250 CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SATA SSD and an Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU. That’s plenty for multitasking; I had more than 25 tabs open in Google Chrome, including one streaming a 1080p clip of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah from YouTube, without seeing as much as a hiccup.
On the Geekbench 4 overall performance test, it earned a score of 12,999, handily surpassing the 9,575-point premium laptop average as well as the Yoga 720 (10,622, Intel Core i5-8250U) and the Envy 13t (12,225, Intel Core i7-8550U). The Dell XPS 13 was the winner, though, outperforming the ZenBook with a score of 14,180 (with a Core i7-8550U. A model with a Core i5-8250U notched a score of 13,254).
The speakers on the ZenBook 13 were surprisingly good for a laptop of this size.
It took Asus’ notebook 25 seconds to copy 4.97GB of files, for a rate of 203.6 megabytes per second. The premium-laptop average is swifter — 267.5 MBps — and every competitor was faster than the Asus. The Envy reached 212 MBps, the Yoga 720 hit 282 MBps and the XPS 13 was the fastest, at 339.2MBps.
On our Excel macro test, the ZenBook took 1 minute and 10 seconds to pair 65,000 names and addresses, handily beating the average (1:45), the Yoga 720 (2:09) and the Envy (1:33). The XPS 13 was fastest, at 1:06 on a Core i7 CPU, but its Core i5 variant was a few seconds behind, at 1:15.
The ZenBook took 23 minutes and 2 seconds to transcode 4K video to 1080p in our Handbrake video-editing test. That time was longer than the average (22:11), the Envy (22:44) and the XPS 13 (18:17). The Yoga was the slowest, at 28:20.
Nvidia’s MX150 does give the ZenBook a leg up in graphics. It ran Dirt 3 at 114 frames per second, which is far smoother than the average (47 fps), the Envy 13t (48 fps) and the Yoga 720 (56 fps).
Your ZenBook will last a while on a charge. It ran for 9 hours and 11 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test 2.0, which continuously browses websites, graphics tests and videos over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness.
That’s higher than the premium-laptop average (8:25) and the Yoga 720 (8:13), but the Dell XPS 13 has more endurance, lasting a whopping 11:59.
Asus continues a not-so-grand tradition of crappy webcams with the ZenBook 13. Its 480p front-facing shooter produces blurry images. A shot that I took in our well-lit office didn’t capture fine details, like the unfortunate popcorning on our ceiling or the hairs on my head
You won’t have to worry about the ZenBook 13 overheating; it stayed nice and cool during our heat tests. After streaming 15 minutes of HD video from YouTube, it measured 84 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad, 88 degrees between the G and H keys and 91 degrees on the underside. ll of those temperatures are well below our comfort threshold of 95 degrees.
Software and Warranty
Asus’ own preloaded software is minimal. It includes the company’s Splendid Utility, which allows you to change the color temperature of the screen, and Asus Live Update, which helps you to check for and install the newest drivers on your computer. The only big stain is the bundled McAfee Security.
The rest of the junk is built into Windows 10, including Netflix, Disney Magic Kingdom, March of Empires: War of Lords, Bubble Witch 3 Saga, Candy Crush Soda Saga, Dolby Access, LinkedIn and Autodesk SketchBook.
The Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UN offers strong performance, long battery life and a striking design that will make people at Starbucks do a double-take.
If you want to spend less, you’ll want to go for the Lenovo Yoga 720, which starts at $849.99. You’ll get similar specs but we dinged it for a flat keyboard and a dim display.
For stronger performance, opt for the Dell XPS 13. You’ll need to pay $1,199 for competing specs, but you’ll get an even better display, longer battery life and stronger performance, thanks to Dell’s cooling system.
That makes the ZenBook 13 a fine compromise for just about anyone. It’s (just) under a thousand dollars, and while I wish the SSD were faster and the webcam were sharper, you’ll get otherwise strong performance to get you through the day and beyond.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag