Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe (late 2017) review

The sleek Zenbook 3 Deluxe is among today's most luxurious Windows notebooks.
The sleek Zenbook 3 Deluxe is among today's most luxurious Windows notebooks.
The sleek Zenbook 3 Deluxe is among today's most luxurious Windows notebooks.

Highs

  • Stylish design
  • Light for its size
  • Excellent display
  • Solid and improved performance

Lows

  • Screen is only 1080p
  • You pay for what you get

Clad in midnight blue and chased in gold, the original Asus ZenBook 3 was lauded for its bold, unconventional style. It was a gorgeous laptop, but it had a few flaws. Its successor, the Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe, aimed to set things right. During our time with it, we found that this little thing was just full of surprises, and the addition of new eighth-generation Intel Core processors accounts for only one of our revelations.

Asus shipped us its newest machine equipped with an Intel Core i7-8550U processor, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB PCIe solid state drive, and a 14-inch 1080p display panel, all at a retail price of $1,700 (on sale for $1,400). The ZenBook 3 Deluxe was otherwise identical to the machine that we reviewed earlier in 2016, with internals that aren’t very different from the original ZenBook, and with an overall silhouette that is very similar — just stretched out to 14 inches.

This laptop is full of interesting tidbits, so let’s dig into it.

Gilded elegance

Asus decided to stick with its winning design for the ZenBook 3 Deluxe, with a few small refinements. It’s still that deep Royal Blue, and the lid still features that opulent gold finish around its edge.

asus zenbook 3 deluxe ux490ua xs74 bl ux490u lid
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The Deluxe model is a bit larger than the regular ZenBook 3, with a 14-inch display to the original’s 13-inch. It’s almost as thin, at 0.51 inches to the original’s 0.47 inches. It’s also a little heavier at 2.42 pounds, to the original’s weight of 2 pounds flat.

The build quality here is excellent, as the ZenBook’s chassis doesn’t flex, creak, or crack the way cheaper all-plastic laptops do. The hinge is a little looser than other laptops tend to be right out of the box, but its construction is great, and solidly attached to the body without any give at the edges.

The build quality here is excellent. It feels solid, like a single plate of aluminum.

When the lid is closed, the whole thing feels solid, like it’s just a single plate of aluminum. It doesn’t feel hollow, or flimsy despite its incredibly lightweight build. On top of that, the signature concentric ring design unique to the ZenBook lineup adds an eye-catching sheen to the lid. Like a luxury watch, it feels substantial, and has an effortlessly premium look to it.

The premium thin-and-light notebook market is defined by products with that kind of weighted quality. These notebooks differentiate themselves from business, consumer, and gaming laptops by bringing an extra level of craftsmanship to the table.  Just look at Microsoft’s Surface Laptop, or HP’s Spectre x360 13 — both are exceptionally well-crafted machines that feature remarkably similar internal components. These notebooks are defined more by their design and aesthetics, than hardware.

Even if they do sometimes borrow design elements from one another. For instance, the display bezels on the ZenBook are very similar to those on the MacBook Pro 13 — not as good as the Dell XPS 13, but still great. It’s the 21st century, so it’s about time we shrug off the oppressive yoke of overly thick bezels.

The original Asus ZenBook 3 featured a single Thunderbolt 3 port, which had a certain simplicity to it but was impractical. The ZenBook 3 Deluxe aims to remedy that issue by including not one, but two, Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C ports, and one standard USB-C port.

Asus has followed Apple’s lead in this area — and that’s just not a lot of port options. However, Asus went one step further and set an example the rest of the industry should follow immediately. The ZenBook 3 Deluxe ships with a nice multi-port Thunderbolt 3 hub to help replace those old ports. The hub includes another USB-C port, a full-size HDMI port, and a USB-A 3.0 port, saving you the cost but not the inconvenience of carrying around a dongle.

The Thunderbolt 3 ports themselves are conveniently located, two on the right side, one on the left, so you can charge the ZenBook 3 Deluxe from either side, with enough room to plug in a mouse or other accessory.

0.4 millimeters makes all the difference

One if the major issues the original ZenBook 3 had was its keyboard. Its short key travel made each keystroke feel like it ended abruptly, as if typing on wood. Thankfully the new ZenBook 3 Deluxe remedies that issue by offering deeper key travel, 1.2mm to the original’s 0.8mm, and better tactile feel overall.

At 14 inches, the Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe is the right size for a 1080p display panel.

Each keystroke is deep, ending in a satisfying click — even if it is softer than you’d get out of a typical mechanical keyboard. The keyboard also features a gold backlight which shines through the key caps without much light leakage, even in a completely dark room. It’s a good keyboard that competes well with the crisp if shallow version on the Dell XPS 13 and the overall excellent HP Spectre x360.

The touchpad is the perfect size for this form factor – big enough without being overwhelming, small enough to conserve space without feeling limiting. Plus, its Windows Precision Touchpad multi-touch gestures are quick, responsive, and accurate — accolades that we can apply to the vast majority of Windows notebooks today.

Unfortunately, the fingerprint sensor takes us the top right corner of the touchpad, and its immediate area is a dead zone on the touchpad. Despite that, it works with Windows Hello and works well, even if you tap it at an odd angle.

A case for 1080p?

At 14 inches, the Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe is the right size for a 1080p display panel. It’s small enough that everything looks bright and crisp without getting too stretched out. A higher resolution display would’ve been nice to see, and 1080p does put it a bit behind the curve — most of its competitors, like the HP Spectre x360, offer a 4K panel either as an option, or as a standard feature.

In our display benchmarks, the ZenBook held its own against a few high-profile competitors in the premium laptop space. Its contrast of 910:1 was on the upper end of our comparison group, with the Dell XPS 13 topping the list and the ZenBook 13 coming in last. Brightness was very good at 325 nits, more than enough to outmatch most ambient lighting other than direct sunlight.

Moving on to color gamut, the ZenBook was average at 72 percent of the AdobeRGB range, which edged out the Acer Spin 7 but couldn’t keep up with the XPS 13. And accuracy was decent at 2.19 but again worse than the XPS 13.

For most users it won’t be a big deal, but it’s the kind of small detail that could end up being a problem down the road

On its own, the glossy screen looks great in most environments. It’s bright enough to maintain its color fidelity even under fluorescent office lights. Despite the glossy screen, we never had any issues with glare, unless the ZenBook was in direct sunlight but most laptops have trouble competing with the sun. We did note that video was a little brighter than it should be thanks to a gamma of 2 (where 2.2 is spot on).

The original Asus ZenBook 3 featured an impressive set of speakers which could fill a room with rich, lifelike sound. The ZenBook 3 Deluxe follows suit, and includes what are very likely the same speakers — because they sound as good as they did on the original.

With two speakers right above the keyboard, and two on the underside of the chassis, the ZenBook sounds best when sitting on a flat surface. Sitting on a desk or table, its speakers reproduce music remarkably well.

asus zenbook 3 deluxe ux490ua xs74 bl ux490u speaker
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

On a lap, it’s a little less impressive, but still sounds better than most laptops. This is the kind of detail that can set a premium ultrabook apart from the rest. The Acer Spin 7, and Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon are portable and stylish, but their speakers were less than impressive.

At this price, there’s no excuse not to have decent speakers in a laptop anymore, so it’s always nice to see a company like Asus go the extra mile to include a feature most manufacturers overlook.

Intel’s 8th-gen CPU makes one of its first appearances

The refreshed Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe features an Intel Core i7-8550U processor, which lowers the base clock speed but adds in two extra cores over the Core i7-7500U that shipped in the older model. It’s a workhorse CPU that aims to be even more efficient, while able to ramp all four cores up to a speedy 4GHz on demand. Was it worth the effort to release a ZenBook 3 Deluxe refreshed with Intel’s newest CPU?

In a word, yes. The Core i7-8550U has impressed us so far in our benchmark tests, with the Lenovo Yoga 920 and Dell XPS 13 being two other machines we’ve tested with the new chip. It’s a fast CPU in short-run tests such as Geekbench 4 where the ZenBook 3 Deluxe scored a solid 4,324 in the single-core test and an excellent 13,086 in the multi-core test. That’s a nice improvement over the older model’s 4,180 and 7,985 scores, respectively, and it’s also consistent with the Yoga 920 and Dell XPS 13 scores.

Those results also handily beat out the rest of the dual-core competition, and are in line with the Core i7-7700HQ quad-core processor that draws 45 watts compared to the Core i7-8550U’s 15 watts. That means that the ZenBook 3 Deluxe benefits from some promising performance at the high end without putting too much of a strain on the battery and without generating too much heat for its incredibly thin chassis.

On the other hand, Asus still had to account for physics when it came to running a more demanding test that puts more pressure on the CPU. That thin chassis simply can’t dissipate heat as efficiently as a thicker machine — like the Lenovo Yoga 920 — and that limitation showed up in our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video to H.265 format.

The ZenBook 3 Deluxe with the new 8th-gen CPU is an admirable — and improved — performer.

While the Core i7-8550U’s 924 seconds was an improvement over the 1,020 seconds scored by the otherwise identical Core i7-7500U model, it fell considerably short of the Yoga 920’s score. The 2017 Dell XPS 13 — also a thin machine — managed a very similar 913 seconds. Simply put, Asus clearly had to throttle the CPU a bit to keep heat under control, and so the overall performance improvement isn’t quite as significant in the thinner machine.

Nevertheless, the ZenBook 3 Deluxe with the new CPU is an admirable performer. It’s not going to slow you down during day-to-day productivity tasks, it has enough headroom to run the entire Microsoft Office suite simultaneously — with several massive spreadsheets and Word documents open at the same time. It does start to chug when running a bunch of applications alongside a normal load of browser tabs, however. Yes, all those Reddit tabs are essential and work-related.

Storage performance isn’t exactly a marquee feature, but it’s critical, especially for a laptop like the ZenBook 3 Deluxe. This thing is designed to be carried everywhere, which means it’ll end up doing a little bit of everything. The Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe ships with a 512GB PCIe SSD, and it’s quick on its feet. Hitting a read speed of 1,349 megabytes per second, and a write speed of 1,285 MB/s, the ZenBook’s SSD is more than capable of taking on with almost about anything you throw at it.

Intel HD vs. Intel Iris

The little Intel UHD Graphics 620 chip that resides on the ZenBook’s processor provides enough horsepower for games like Hearthstone and League of Legends, but little else. For the most part, it’s powerful enough for everyday applications, but games thrash this poor little graphics chip. Note that Intel changed the name of the GPU in the eighth generation from HD Graphics 620 to UHD Graphics 620, but its performance remains the same.

This isn’t a ZenBook specific issue, it’s a fact of life for thin-and-light notebooks without discrete graphics cards. On our benchmarks, none of the ZenBook’s nearest competitors did particularly well. In 3DMark’s Fire Strike benchmark, the new ZenBook scored 949 to the previous model’s very similar 987. And that’s right in line with other similar notebooks.

The Microsoft Surface Pro is another machine with Intel integrated graphics, but its processor, the Core i7-7660U, features the more powerful Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640. It’s still not quite powerful enough for most games, but the extra horsepower does make the Surface Pro a better choice for low-intensity games like Civilization VI. On medium settings, the Surface Pro managed 16 FPS in Civilization VI, while the ZenBook managed about 10 FPS. That’s not exactly jaw-dropping performance, but there’s a noticeable difference between Intel HD and Intel Iris graphics. Even if it’s a small one.

A good compromise

At half-an-inch thick, and weighing just 2.42 pounds, the ZenBook 3 Deluxe is surprisingly thin and light. It’s even thinner and lighter than the MacBook Pro 13 — which weighs 3.02 pounds and is 0.59 inches thick. Neither one is going to weigh you down during a daily commute, but you might end up feeling that extra half-pound on the MacBook Pro 13 at the end of a long day.

The ZenBook, on the other hand, fits into very small messenger bags with ease. It even fits into an internal messenger bag compartment designed for a 13-inch laptop with room to spare. However, there is more to portability than size alone, so let’s look at how long the ZenBook lasts on a single charge.

During everyday use, we could get around seven hours of battery life out of the ZenBook, which fits nicely between the results from our formal benchmarks. Using the Basemark browser benchmark, for example, which runs through a series of intensive CPU and GPU web tests, the ZenBook managed a little over two and a half hours before going completely flat.

That’s a bit low compared to similar machines running seventh-generation CPUs, and it’s around 50 minutes less than the Yoga 920 and Dell XPS 13 running the same CPU. Even so, it’s not a terrible score by any means.

We also ran our now-retired Peacekeeper battery test, which runs through a series of HTML5 tests, to compare directly to the previous model. The new ZenBook 3 Deluxe lasted for just over four hours in this test, compared to the previous model’s three hours and 43 minutes. Along with the Basemark test, that’s close enough to suggest that the Core i7-8550U is just about as efficient as its predecessors when it’s doing more intensive work.

asus zenbook 3 deluxe ux490ua xs74 bl ux490u screen
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

In our next test, we run machines through a series of popular web sites until the battery runs out, and the new ZenBook ran for just over six hours. The previous model couldn’t make it to five and a half hours, meaning that the eighth-generation CPU started to show off its efficiency. Interestingly, the Dell XPS 13 lasted for around 40 minutes less on this test while the Yoga 920 lasted for almost an hour and a half longer.

Then, on our video loop test, which is even more forgiving, the new ZenBook managed almost ten hours. That’s significantly longer than the roughly seven hours managed by the older version, suggesting that the new CPU is much more efficient when it’s running less-demanding tasks. The Dell XPS lasted for thirty minutes less while the Yoga 920 went for almost 14 hours.

Simply put, ZenBook 3 Deluxe benefitted from the new Intel CPU’s greater efficiency so long as the task at hand wasn’t too taxing. It could still benefit, though, from a larger battery when it comes to running tasks that are more CPU-intensive. In the end, the ZenBook 3 Deluxe is light enough to carry around all day without any issues, and its battery should last a full day as long as you’re not pushing the CPU to its limits. But, most users would probably overlook a little extra weight if it meant the ZenBook could last a little longer on their most demanding productivity tasks.

Our Take

The Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe benefits from its CPU refresh, gaining some extra power and a bit of extra battery life. It retains all of its strengths, including a refreshingly elegant aesthetic and some impressive build quality. It remains one of the best thin-and-light machines on the market today, especially if you’re looking for a slightly larger 14-inch display.

Is there a better alternative?

Oddly enough, there aren’t many alternatives better than the Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe, though it depends on exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re in the market for an extremely thin and light premium laptop and build quality is of paramount importance, the closest competitor is the HP Spectre 13. It’s thinner at just 0.41 inches and is just about the same weight. What’s more, when configured similarly, it comes in at $1,400. That’s significantly cheaper than the ZenBook 3 Deluxe, with the only significant difference being a slightly bigger screen.

If you’d be willing to carry a little extra weight, then the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon has demonstrated that it’s a good alternative. It’s not as stylish or slick as the ZenBook, but with powerful hardware and killer battery life, it’s an excellent business-class notebook at this same 14-inch size.

Another excellent option is the Dell XPS 13, which has gained its own eighth-generation refresh. It performs just as well as the Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe while offering right around the same battery life. It’s not quite as thin or as light, but that brings some advantages in terms of keyboard and battery life. You’ll pay a little more at $1,700 ($1,600 on sale) for the same Core i7-8550U, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB SSD, but you’ll have to give up the touch display.

How long will it last?

Well, chances are the ZenBook 3 Deluxe will last long enough to become outdated, particularly with the absolute latest and greatest mobile CPU — and that’s a good thing. The aluminum chassis will undoubtedly outlast the internal hardware, though its stylish design might not be as timeless as a simple black or silver laptop would. Make sure you really like that blue-and-gold design, this thing’s going to be around a while. Or pick up the grey version.

Should you buy it?

Yep. Intuitive design and stellar build quality make the Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe a killer laptop. By building on the success of the earlier version, improving on its shortcomings, and packing in the best mobile CPU around, Asus has gone above and beyond with the ZenBook 3 Deluxe.

At $1,700, it’s not cheap (although it’s currently on sale for $1,400, which is even more attractive), but you get what you paid for — a high-quality laptop that goes the extra mile to deliver an excellent mobile computing experience.

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