Asus ZenBook S13 UX392 hands-on review

It’s the battle of the bezels at CES 2019. The winner? The Asus Zenbook S13

Asus’ ZenBook S13 has won the battle of the bezels.
Asus’ ZenBook S13 has won the battle of the bezels.
Asus’ ZenBook S13 has won the battle of the bezels.

Highs

  • The thinnest bezels
  • Beautiful display
  • Solid keyboard and touchpad
  • Attractive and durable chassis

Lows

  • Webcam requires a notch

The Zenbook line already has some of the thinnest borders in the business, but the new Zenbook S13 boasts a shocking 97 percent screen-to-body ratio. In other words, 97 percent of its footprint is taken up by the display, leaving a bezel just 2.5 millimeters thick. That’s the best yet, even beating the Acer Swift 7 (92 percent).

Does it make a difference? Absolutely. Opening the Zenbook S13 brings a rush of excitement once the screen turns on. The bezels are barely there. It helps that the laptop has a gorgeous 1080p display. No, it’s no 4K – but the last two Zenbook 13 models had excellent displays with contrast ratio, color gamut, and color accuracy figures that beat laptops priced twice as high.

Frankly, the Asus Zenbook S13 had us at the display, but there is a small downside. The webcam doesn’t quite fit. Instead of moving it below the display, Asus has opted for an inverted notch. This small protrusion above the display makes a proper webcam possible. It’s not the most elegant solution, but it does make opening the laptop easier, as there’s now a small lip to grab.

A blast from the past?

There’s more to a laptop than its display, of course. The chassis design is also important. While the ZenBook S13 is similar in size to predecessors such as the ZenBook 13 UX333, it opts for a silver aluminum finish with clean, sharp edges. It feels a little retro, as if Asus is riffing off its earliest ZenBook designs. The display, however, makes the entire machine look thoroughly modern, even futuristic. It’s a blend of new and old that works better than you’d think.

Like its siblings, the ZenBook S13 has an “ergolift” hinge. The display’s rear turns into a small stand as the lid is open, lifting the keyboard to a slight angle. I like the design but others at Digital Trends don’t. You’ll have to decide for yourself. The keyboard and touchpad, however, are unquestionably good. Key travel is long and keys bottom with good tactile feedback. We thought the touchpad felt responsive. It does, however, have a built-in fingerprint reader, and its position feels awkward.

It’s great to see this kind of hardware available in such a small form factor.

Connectivity is also a mix of new and old. You’ll find two USB-C ports, but also a USB-A port, plus a headphone jack and microSD card reader. This should cover all the bases for most users, though video connectivity is the one weak spot.

Oh, and the design offers a small surprise. The ZenBook S13 is MIL-SPEC-810G compliant. It’s hard to say what that really means for durability (the standard is somewhat flexible), but it’s interesting that Asus is paying attention to durability. The ZenBook has never made enterprise a primary target, but perhaps that’s going to change. A little.

Performance and portability, at once

The ZenBook S13 has few surprises inside. It packs Intel’s 8th-gen processors from the latest ‘Whiskey Lake’ lineup, up to 16GB of RAM, and up to 2TB of solid state storage. We’re not surprised to see this, as other Zenbooks already offer similar specifications, but don’t forget this is a 13-inch laptop. It’s great to see this kind of hardware available in such a small form factor.

Asus ZenBook S13 Hands-on UX392
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Asus also says Nvidia MX150 discrete graphics will be available as an option. That should help the system place games at medium detail and lower resolutions. It won’t be a gaming machine, but it’s better than nothing, and Asus says the ZenBook 13 is the world’s thinnest laptop with discrete graphics.

How thin is it? Just half an inch. It also weighs only 2.5 pounds. These figures certainly make it an easy laptop to throw in a bag. The most important figure, though, might be the battery life. Asus claims 15 hours. That’s a very long time, and it might sound unrealistic. Yet prior models already hit 13 hours in video playback, according to our own tests. We wouldn’t be surprised to see the new model come close to the 15-hour figure.

Watch out. The ZenBook S13 looks real good

Look. The Asus Zenbook S13 is going to be a good laptop. It might be a great laptop. Asus’ past Zenbook 13 models have been excellent systems that’ve repeatedly won our recommendation, and there’s nothing about the new model that makes us think that would chance. Everything looks like an improvement. Well, everything except the webcam notch.

We’re just missing one piece of the puzzle. Asus says the ZenBook S13 will be available in March, but hasn’t announced pricing. The company was willing to hint it will be the same price, or less, than the ZenBook 13 UX333FA. If Asus can make that work, the Zenbook S13 will be hard to beat when it’s released this spring.

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