The Asus ZenBook 13 (UX331) ultrabook catches the eye with its glossy, dark blue lid that is as shiny as the hood of a freshly waxed car.
This lid can be opened with one hand. It is a test I perform for every laptop but only a few models pass it. But the glossy lid has a downside – you will have to wipe it regularly or see it covered by finger smudges.
As ultrabooks go, the ZenBook is as sleek and as light as it gets. Its wedge-shaped aluminium chassis weighs about 1.12kg and is just under 14mm thick.
Considering its slim profile, its keyboard is unsurprisingly shallow and flexes slightly in the middle too. The keyboard backlight has three adjustable brightness levels.
Asus has equipped its ultrabook with a fingerprint sensor. But there is no infrared camera for facial authentication; a basic Web camera hangs above the display instead.
This screen, like many newer notebooks, is bordered by a slim bezel. At 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, the ZenBook’s resolution is standard for a 13.3-inch model.
So, too, is its in-plane switching display that offers wide-viewing angles. I like the screen’s matte finish as well as the refreshing lack of a touchscreen – it is a simple clamshell laptop.
The ZenBook sports the new Intel Core i7-8550U processor, which has four processing cores compared with its predecessor’s two. The Asus laptop also has an entry-level Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics chip to give it a slight advantage in gaming performance over its rivals.
In the PCMark 8 Home benchmark, the ZenBook scored 3,312 points compared with 2,989 for the Dell XPS 13.
I tried a couple of casual PC games such as Lego Worlds, which ran smoothly enough at 1,920 x 1,080 pixels and at over 40 frames per second. This is about twice the number of frames per second that I got with the built-in Intel graphics present in other ultrabooks.
The improved graphics performance comes at a price – the ZenBook’s internal cooling fan is more audible than before.
The rest of its hardware is comparable with that of premium ultrabooks launched this year. It has ample system memory (16GB) and a fast 512GB solid-state drive. Unfortunately, its single USB Type-C port does not support the Thunderbolt 3 interface, which would have allowed it to connect to external docks or monitors.
The ZenBook lasted about 61/2 hours in our video-loop battery test. This is decent but not as impressive as the eight hours managed by the Dell XPS 13. I am guessing that the ZenBook’s slightly smaller battery and its dedicated graphics chip are the reasons for its shorter uptime.