Asus’ premium laptop range, the Zenbook series is an amalgamation of powerful specs and premium design packed into a form factor that’s portable. A combination that we don’t really see too often. The latest Zenbook line-up builds on these same principles and provides a package that’s both functional and easy to carry around. And hey, it even adds a secondary display on touchpad! We used the Asus Zenbook 14 UX434 for about two weeks and we absolutely love this machine. Here’s why.
Design and Form Factor
If there’s one word to describe how the Zenbook 14 feels in the hand, it’s exquisite. Right from the signature concentric circles design to the solid metal construction all over, the Zenbook 14 screams premium. There’s a nice heft to it and there’s no flex while typing or when pressure is applied on the top surface. Asus has nailed the build on the Zenbook 14. Oh yeah, apart from feeling extremely sturdy in the hand, it’s also an attention seeker. The blue color which we have with us looks elegant and the chassis does not gather a lot of smudges.
What adds to the premium design philosophy is the hinge. Asus’ ErgoLift technology slightly elevates the keyboard when the hinge is opened which makes it even easier to type on this notebook. The Zenbook 14 weighs in at just over 1.2Kgs which you’re surely going to appreciate if you travel or commute a lot. Another interesting aspect about the Zenbook 14 is the fact that it has a 14-inch display fitted into the form factor of a 13-inch notebook. However, due to this, you will often end up smudging edges of the display while lifting the screen up since the bezels are absolutely tiny. Mild gripe but had to put out what we observed.
Talking about that display, it is a 14-inch Full HD panel covering 72% of the NTSC color gamut. The screen-to-body ratio is a whopping 92% and it is clearly evident while watching content. Be it watching movies or editing videos, or even simple web-browsing, you’ll really appreciate the distraction-free thin bezels.
It’s not just about the display bezels though. The quality of the panel is also really good, but the contrast levels could have been slightly better. You won’t notice it in everyday usage, but if you compare the display side-by-side with a different panel, you would see the difference in contrast levels. Not a deal-breaker for sure. There is also an option of a touch-screen variant but our unit did not have it.
Keyboard and I/O
The keyboard on the Zenbook 14 surprised us with the amount of key travel it has! Generally, slim and compact laptops like these compromise on the key travel, but typing felt very natural on this particular keyboard. A small complaint would be that the arrows keys are smaller than we would like them to be, but you eventually get used to it. The keys are backlit and have a slight depression on them, more like a curved surface which helps your fingers rest on them more naturally. Great attention to detail here.
One more thing to keep in mind regarding the keyboard is the placement of the power button. The power button is a part of the keyboard layout itself and is placed on the top right corner, generally where you would find the delete key on most laptops. This led to us hitting the power key ever so often, hence putting the notebook into standby innumerable times. Quite annoying initially, but again, you will eventually get used to it.
Coming to I/O, the Zenbook 14 retains most essential ports which are nice to see despite the smaller form factor. There’s a USB-A Gen 2 port, a USB 2.0 port, a USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 port, full-size HDMI port, 3.5mm audio jack and a microSD card slot. Would have loved to see a full-sized SD card slot which would have been helpful for creators who shoot on cameras.
The top bezel houses the web camera along with some 3D IR cameras for Windows Hello, and it’s a super fine experience using it. Just lift up the display and Windows Hello is ready to scan your face and unlock the device in a jiffy! The speakers onboard are louder than we expected and are tuned by Harmon Kardon. Surely more than sufficient to fill up a small-sized room.
The Special Highlight – ScreenPad
Asus has devised this really clever concept of replacing the traditional touch bar with a full-fledged display and needless to say, we love it! It’s not just something cool to show off, but it is actually very functional and convenient to use. The use cases are plenty. Firstly, you can use it as a secondary display, meaning you can open two different windows on the primary display and on the ScreenPad itself which makes multitasking a breeze. You can be watching a movie and simultaneously reply to your notifications on the ScreenPad. How convenient!
The next use case would be the built-in software that Asus has provided which works in sync with apps like Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. There are customizable shortcuts, as well as options to edit text formatting within the ScreenPad itself. There’s even an app switcher baked in to help you navigate between all the open programs. And then there are options like handwriting recognition and gestures which work better than we expected. It’s a really handy tool to have and now that we’ve used it, we wish it was there on every laptop out there!
Apart from being a secondary display, the ScreenPad also functions as, of course, a touchpad! There is a smooth matte finish layer on top of the glass which makes gliding your fingers really easy. Traditional Windows gestures like tapping with two or three fingers also work like a charm. If you do not want to use the ScreenPad or you wish to save some extra battery, you can turn it off and use it only as a touchpad.
The innards of the Zenbook 14 UX434 are quite powerful too. We have the i7-8565U variant with us along with the Nvidia MX250, accompanied by 16GB of 2133MHz LPDDR3 RAM and 1TB PCle 3.0 x4 SSD. Performance is day-to-day usage was just how you would expect from a notebook with premium specs. The Zenbook 14 can run most tasks efficiently, and this includes editing 1080p footage on Adobe Premiere Pro. There were a few frame drops from time to time and the thermals did go up by a bit, but it’s certainly doable. Rendering times, on the other hand, are quite high, so make sure you are aware of this if you plan to buy the Zenbook 14 for editing videos.
We also tried running CS:GO and on high settings, we were able to achieve frame rates between 40-60fps which isn’t great, but given that the notebook isn’t meant for gamers, the performance is acceptable. Cinebench gave us a score upwards of 1300 which is decent. There certainly are laptops with much more powerful internals in case gaming is your priority, but the Zenbook 14 UX434 is aimed at a completely different audience. We used it mainly for web browsing, watching YouTube videos, writing articles and a little bit of Python programming and all of them seemed to do absolutely fine. The Zenbook 14 is oriented more towards professionals and it does a great job at doing what it’s intended to do.
There’s a 50Wh battery on the Zenbook 14 and while Asus claims a battery life of up to 14 hours, this is one of the only areas where we were slightly disappointed. With about 75% brightness and the ScreenPad always on, we managed to drain the Zenbook 14 in about 8 hours which isn’t too bad but is far from the claimed number. If you shut off the ScreenPad, you can expect to get better battery life. However, it charges pretty quickly with the included 65W adapter, so that’s a saving grace. If you are traveling and want to extend your battery life, it’s advisable to turn the ScreenPad of unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Who should buy the Asus Zenbook 14?
Well, if you’re a professional or even a student and you carry around your laptop on a daily basis, the Asus Zenbook 14 UX434 is the right combination of style and substance. It’s built extremely well, it can be carried around with ease, has good internals, and even has a secondary display which adds a ton of multitasking capabilities. There’s not much to complain about either, just that it’s not fit for gaming or editing long videos. Yes, the price is slightly premium, but you pay for the form factor and the uniqueness of that ScreenPad. The base variant with a Core i5 chip starts at Rs. 79,990 and if your budget permits, you should get the Zenbook 14 UX434. It’s surely one of our favorite laptops of the year, and we’re pretty sure you will be of the same impression once you get your hands on it!
- Compact Design
- Screenpad is resourceful
- Key travel is great
- Good selection of ports
- Battery is average
- Performance during intensive tasks could be better