ASUS ZenBook 14 UM431 review: pint-sized powerhouse

Over the last two years, Taiwanese manufacturer ASUS has made quite the push in the Indian laptop space. So much so, by now, the company has a laptop for almost every use case. So, if you’re a gamer with deep pockets, you could buy the brand’s ROG series of machines. If you’re gaming on a budget, then the TUF series of laptops would be more up your alley. And, if you’re always on the move and need something compact, yet powerful, they’ve got you covered there too. Recently, the company announced the all-new ZenBook 14 – not to be confused with the ScreenPad enabled ZenBook 14 launched earlier this year, or the ZenBook Flip we reviewed a while ago. Yeah. The make a lot of laptops.

But, enough about the company’s portfolio. In this review, let’s take a closer look at the new Zenbook 14 and see if it’s worth your money.

Design and Display

ZenBooks are renowned for offering good-looking designs, and the latest from ASUS is no different. The laptop features the company’s signature spun-metal finish on the lid, which helps the unit stand out. More importantly, I am in awe of this gorgeous Utopia Blue colour which adds more character to the laptop. The build quality of the laptop is top-notch too and barring the centre of the keyboard, there’s little to no flex anywhere on the unit’s frame. In fact, having used the laptop for over two weeks, I’ve come to appreciate its build quality all the more, as the hinge mechanism for the display is just as stiff (in a good way). Also, I never felt the need to baby the unit, owing to its MIL-STD 810G certification either.

I usually carry a MacBook Air to work when I’m not reviewing laptops and I even though it’s a little old, I genuinely appreciate how light it feels in my backpack. Well, the ZenBook 14 is a tad bit heavier at 1.39 kilos (as opposed to the Air’s 1.34 kilos) but, it too didn’t feel heavy on the shoulders. Frequent commuters, take note.

Now, the USP of ASUS’ ZenBook line of laptops is their extremely compact form factor and with the ZenBook 14, the company has managed to squeeze a 14-inch panel inside a 13-inch chassis. To do so, the company had to trim the bezels bordering the screen which coined the ZenBook 14’s NanoEdge display. Despite that, the brand has kept the webcam where it should be, thereby ensuring that buyers opting for the unit don’t end up showing their nose hair on a Skype call. Moreover, the laptop even ships with a healthy amount of ports too, including two USB Type-A ports (a 3.1 slot on the left, and a 2.0 one on the right), a full-sized SD card reader (cough Apple cough), a headphone jack, a full-sized HDMI slot, and a USB Type-C port. You’ll also get a fingerprint sensor positioned on the trackpad, which worked flawlessly during my testing.

The display in itself is quite good too if a bit dim. The panel ships with a full HD resolution which is plenty sharp on a screen of its size. What’s more, the panel covers 100 percent of Adobe’s sRGB gamut too, making it an enticing option for photo editors. The viewing angles could be better, but, seeing how the display is coated with a matte coating on top, you will at least save yourself from the occasional headache of staring into glares and unnecessary reflections.

Keyboard, Trackpad, and Audio

Seeing how typing is such an integral part of my work, I absolutely require a quality keyboard to get me through the day. To that extent, the ZenBook 14’s keyboard didn’t disappoint me as the keys offered ample tactility, satisfactory travel, and a surprisingly comfortable layout despite the unit’s pint-sized form factor. It also helps that the ZenBook 14 features the company’s famed ErgoLift mechanism, which lifts the deck at an angle, thereby paving way for a comfortable typing experience. Furthermore, the keyboard comes with three levels of backlit LED lighting, thereby allowing you to get work done in the dark.

As for the trackpad, it’s decent for the price and comes with Windows Precision Input but the surface felt a bit wobbly to the touch. Therefore, I mostly used an external mouse when I was reviewing the ZenBook 14.

The audio output from the laptop, on the other hand, is in a word – phenomenal. The ZenBook 14 features dual upwards-firing, stereo speakers positioned on either side of the keyboard and they sound incredible – the audio sounds rich, full and is loud enough to fill a small room comfortably. The company’s partnership with audio manufacturer Harman Kardon is surely paying dividends here.

Performance and Battery life

The all-new ZenBook 14 is powered by AMD’s Ryzen 5 3500U processor which works alongside 8GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD storage. Now, the Ryzen chip inside the laptop goes up against Core-i5 processors from Intel’s lineup and having tested the laptop across a variety of different workloads and synthetic benchmarks, I must admit, AMD could be onto something here. The laptop managed to comfortably crunch through my workflow, which included editing on Adobe XD, using Excel and Word and having more than a dozen Chrome tabs open at all times.

You could even do some light gaming on the machine. While the laptop doesn’t ship with a dedicated GPU, you do get Vega integrated graphics which managed to output close to 40fps on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive with all the graphics settings maxed out. In synthetic benchmarks, the device faired admirably and if you’d like more information on the specifics of the results, then feel free to browse through the gallery attached below.

CrystalDiskMark ASUS ZenBook 14
ASUS ZenBook 14 PCMark 10
3DMark ASUS ZenBook 14
CineBench R20 ASUS ZenBook 14
Counter-Strike_ Global Offensive ZenBook 14
ASUS ZenBook 14 discharge

Suffice it to say, the ZenBook 14 is a good performer but is the same true for the laptop’s battery life? Much to my surprise, it is and the ZenBook 14 lasted me around six hours off a single charge. In fact, in our battery eater pro stress test, the laptop managed to last around two hours, which is on par with other laptops in its price range.

Verdict

The ASUS ZenBook 14 retails for Rs 59,990 and for the price, undercuts its non-ScreenPad Intel counterpart by quite a margin – almost Rs 20,000, in fact. What’s more, the Ryzen 3500U processor felt more than capable during my testing, and the company hasn’t compromised on the build quality or other features of the laptop either. Therefore, if you were in the market for a sleek, compact laptop that didn’t burn a hole in your wallet, then the ZenBook 14 might just be it.

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