The Asus ZenBook UX430U ($1,099) is proof that sleek, powerful ultraportable laptops don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. This 14-inch laptop weighs just 2.72 pounds, a feat that would have been all but impossible just a few years ago. It’s now possible to pack larger screens into smaller enclosures by reducing bezel size, a technique that Asus has pulls off with aplomb here. Add in some seriously powerful specs (an eighth-generation Intel Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB solid-state drive) and the UX430U becomes an attractive alternative to—though not a perfect substitute for—the Editors’ Choice-winning Dell XPS 13 and the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
High-Quality Screen and Webcam, No Touch
The UX430U looks best from the outside, with its clamshell lid closed. The brushed metal of the display lid exterior, complete with faint concentric rings around a silver Asus logo in the center, gives off a premium air that’s wholly different from the Space Gray color that MacBooks are known for. The bottom of the chassis is similarly well-constructed, albeit without the rings.
Open up the display lid to reveal a fairly conventional hinge, keyboard, and touchpad. The most notable part of the interior is the thin bezel. It’s very slim on the sides, perhaps less than half an inch, but slightly wider on the top in order to accommodate a conventionally placed webcam. This webcam placement is far superior to the one on the XPS 13, which has a bezel that is so thin that the camera must be relegated to the bottom of the display, where it mostly captures your knuckles and nostrils during a Skype session. The UX430U’s HD camera delivers decent video quality, even though it lacks IR sensors to facilitate face recognition logins to your Windows account.
In between the webcam and the thin bezels is a full HD (1,920-by-1,080) display with a matte finish and a luminous if not extraordinarily bright backlight. The lack of a touch screen is not unexpected for an ultraportable at this price. For instance, the version of the Dell XPS 13 to which we awarded an Editor’s Choice award last year is not touch-enabled, although you can order an XPS 13 with a 4K touch display if you’re so inclined.
Nevertheless, the lack of touch support is a significant drawback when comparing the UX430U with its similarly priced 2-in-1 competitors like the Lenovo Yoga 920. The $100 or so price difference between the Lenovo and the Asus gets you touch and a 360-degree hinge, features that are incredibly handy if you plan to use your PC to watch videos or while traveling. As of the time of this writing, the UX430U is available in a single configuration, with no option to upgrade or downgrade components.
That said, the components you do get in the standard configuration are top notch. 16GB of memory and a 512GB solid-state drive should be more than enough for frequent multitasking and the snappy opening and closing of apps. Coupled with the Intel Core i7 processor, this is a very capable machine, and a great value to boot.
If you need more storage, you’ve got several options to connect to external drives. There’s a full-size SD card slot and a USB 2.0 port on the right edge, as well as a USB 3.0 port and a USB-C port on the left. The USB-C port doesn’t support Thunderbolt, but Asus includes a separate mini HDMI port for connecting to external displays. There’s also a separate power connector and an audio jack, which means that even if you’re connected to a monitor, a power supply, and have your headphones plugged in, you’ll still have three USB ports free for additional peripherals. The same can’t be said of the MacBook Pro, with its sole port options being a headphone jack and two USB-C ports.
In addition to its shoulder-saving weight of 2.72 pounds, the entire UX430 won’t take up much room in your backpack or briefcase, either. It measures 0.6 by 12.8 by 8.9 inches (HWD), which makes it one of the thinnest ultraportables we’ve tested recently. The XPS 13 is also 0.6 inches thin, while the MacBook Pro has both of them beat by a hair, at 0.59 inches.
If you spend a lot of time typing, you’ll appreciate the UX430U’s comfortable, backlit keyboard. There is a generous 0.55-inch of key travel, which is far more than you’ll get from the butterfly switches on the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air. On the whole, the typing experience is comparable with the XPS 13, but not quite as comfortable as the keyboard on many of Lenovo’s laptops, especially the business-oriented ThinkPad T470.
Below the keyboard, centered in the middle of the laptop, is an average-sized clickable touchpad with an integrated touch fingerprint sensor. Like many Windows touchpads, the pad on the UX430U suffers from significant input lag, which forces you to either turn up its sensitivity settings and risk accidental inputs, or stick with the default settings and patiently paw around until you can get the cursor to move. These problems are nonexistent on Apple laptops, which have far superior touchpads that are also larger and have the added benefit of Force Touch virtual clicks, which allows your clicks to be registered anywhere on the pad, not just the bottom portion.
Audio quality is remarkably good for an ultraportable, with very little distortion even when the volume is set to maximum. The fact that Harmon Kardon tuned the audio likely helps with this. Despite the quality, the sound is a bit anemic thanks to the placement of the speakers on the laptop’s underside so that they face your desk or lap, rather than upward-firing speakers like you’ll find on the MacBook Pro.
Asus includes a one-year parts and labor warranty for the UX430U.
The Intel Core i7-8550U is quickly becoming the processor of choice for both midrange and high-end ultraportables. It runs at 1.8GHz, and because it’s a U-series processor, it sips power, which, coupled with a capacious battery, can translate into some seriously impressive results on our battery rundown test. With a rundown time of 10 hours and 16 minutes, the UX430U is unfortunately at the bottom end of a list of similarly equipped competitors. The Dell XPS 13 far outpaced it with a time of 15:56, and the HP Spectre 13 was also longer-lasting at 12:12.
When it comes to the rest of our computing benchmarks, however, the UX430U and its closest competitors turned in much more similar results. Its score of 3,357 on the comprehensive PCMark 8 benchmark is just a few hundred points lower than the Dell and the HP, and any score above 3,000 indicates that the system is very capable at word processing, web browsing, videoconferencing, and other common tasks. Notably, the Razer Blade Stealth’s score of 2,971 is much lower on this test despite having the same processor.
On our specialized multimedia benchmarks, the story is largely the same. The Dell, the HP, the Razer, and the Asus all finished rendering a video in Handbrake within 18 seconds of one another, and they were clumped even closer together around the 3-minute mark on the Photoshop image-editing test. The only competitor to perform significantly worse on these tests is the MacBook Pro, which uses an inferior Core i5 processor from Intel’s previous (seventh) generation. That means that the Asus and its competitors are better than the similarly priced MacBook Pro for people who need to manipulate multimedia on the go.
Predictably, none of the Windows systems turned in good results on our graphics benchmarks, with frame rates mostly below the acceptable 30fps threshold. All of these systems (with the exception of the MacBook Pro) use the Intel UHD Graphics 620 integrated GPU, which isn’t capable of delivering the frame rates you need for hardcore gaming. You should still be able to play less-demanding titles at their lowest quality settings, though.
During each of these tests, there was significant fan noise. The fans even kicked in occasionally when the laptop wasn’t in use. The fans aren’t very loud even when they are spooled up, which means you’ll hardly hear them in a busy office, but you will certainly notice the noise in a quiet home.
Lots to Like, Worth a Look
The Asus ZenBook UX430U is everything most people are looking for in an ultraportable, right down to the affordable price. There’s a lot to like here, especially the trifecta of a high-quality display, optimal webcam placement, and thin bezels. Battery life isn’t as good as the Editors’ Choice Dell XPS 13, and there’s no touch screen like you’d get with many similarly priced 2-in-1s. But if these aren’t dealbreakers for you, the UX430U has a lot to offer.