When I first saw the ZenBook S13, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. For starters, putting a notch on a laptop just seemed like a weird holdover from Asus’ phone business, and its bluish silver and copper orange colour scheme sometimes made it hard to see the letters on its keys. But the more time I spent with the ZenBook S13, my feelings started to change. It’s a clever bit that takes some time to appreciate, and all told, it’s a worthy alternative to the systems like the Dell XPS 13 and Huawei MateBook X Pro.
Asus ZenBook S13
WHAT IS IT? A 14-inch ultraportable notebook with a notch
LIKE: Clever design, tiny bezels, lots of ports, comfortable keyboard
DON'T LIKE: Battery life is just OK, not a lot of config options, awkward fingerprint sensor location, no Thunderbolt 3
Practically everywhere you look, there’s a component on the ZenBook S13 that’s pulling double duty. Obviously there’s the notch, which not only provides room to hold the laptop’s HD webcam, it’s also a handy tab that makes it easier to open the Zenbook one-handed. And unlike a smartphone notch, the ZenBook’s little cutout doesn’t intrude on to the notebook’s screen, so you still get all of Asus’ 13.9-inch full HD display to play with.
Next comes the hinge, which features Asus’ Ergolift design that automatically lifts up the back of the laptop when you open the lid. It gives the ZenBook S13 a more comfortable typing position, and improves cooling thanks to the increased airflow underneath its chassis. But the really smart thing about the ZenBook’s design, is that in combination with that Ergolift hinge, Asus is able to hide the bottom part of the display behind the keyboard deck, which makes the ZeBook S13's already tiny bezels appear even smaller.
All told, Asus is claiming a screen-to-body ratio of 97 percent, which beats the 80.7 percent figure you get on a new Dell XPS 13, and the 91 percent you get on the Huawei MateBook X Pro. However, if you look closer at that hinge, you’ll see how Asus fudged the numbers a bit, because it’s clear Asus isn’t factoring the part of the ZenBook’s screen that extends below the deck.
Even the ZenBook S13's touchpad performs multiple roles, serving as a way to move your mouse around, but also log into the system thanks to the fingerprint reader stashed in the top right corner. That said, this is probably the one time Asus would have been better off keeping these two functions separate, as the fingerprint reader takes away from the touchpad’s overall surface area, and for a touchpad that’s just average in size, there isn’t really that much room to spare. Instead, I wish Asus had gone with a combo power button/finger reader like you get on competing systems from Dell and Huawei.
Inside, the ZenBook comes well equipped with your choice of a quad-core Intel Core i5-8265U CPU, or a Core i7-8565U CPU like the one in our review unit. That said, after browsing online, the Core i5 model is hard to find. In fact, the ZenBook S13 lags behind in configuration choices overall. Unlike the XPS 13 which offers both a 4K touch and 1080p non-touch display options.
As for graphics, the ZenBook’s Nvidia MX 150 GPU comes standard, and while it’s a generation behind the optional MX 250 GPU in the Matebook X Pro, it’s still more than enough to play Overwatch at Full HD on medium to high settings, or less taxing games like Dota Underlords. In short, the ZenBook S13 wasn’t made to be your primary gaming machine, but if you want to relax with a quick frag session after work, the ZenBook has you covered.
Thankfully, for such a portable system (the S13 weighs less than 2.5 pounds and measures half an inch thick), the ZenBook does come with a decent amount of ports, including a two USB 3.1 Type-C ports and a microSD card reader on the left, along with a USB 3.1 Type-A port and a headphone jack on the right. That selection of ports is enough to let most people travel and work without needing to carry any dongles around, though if you do need more connectivity, Asus does offer an optional Mini Dock that comes with an extra USB-C, HDMI, and USB-A ports. Unfortunately, none of these ports support Thunderbolt 3.
Putting the ZenBook’s fingerprint reader on its touchpad seems like a waste when it could be built into other components like the laptops power button.
In some ways, the ZenBook S13's biggest letdown is it battery life. On our video rundown test, ZenBook lasted just 8 hours and 57 minutes, which is half an hour less than what we got from the XPS 13 (9:26), and more than an hour and a half less than MateBook X Pro (10:36), which has a slightly beefier GPU. Even the Razer Blade Stealth (10:11) offers an extra hour of battery life, though when specced out similarly to our Core i7 ZenBook S13, the Razer costs more.
Priced at £1,500, Asus is asking a lot more than many competitors just to get you into ZenBook S13, though once you’re there, it’s accommodations are quite choice. It’s battery life is fine, specs are solid, and it comes with a lot of smart design choices that enhance its most important features. But choosing between the ZenBook S13 and its competitors ain’t easy.
The XPS 13 has a much lower starting price (though that model comes with less impressive components), while the MateBook X Pro’s newer GPU makes it a better choice for mobile creatives. But with Huawei’s recent governmental issues, it’s hard to find. And despite being more expensive, the Razer Blade Stealth is easily the most stylish of the bunch, especially if you like pink. But as a system that features a good blend of price for performance along with a nifty design, the ZenBook S13 feels like it will strike the right balance for a lot of folks.
- The ZenBook S13's bezels are super thin, but its 97 percent screen-to-body ratio only makes sense if you don’t count the part of the screen that extends below the deck.
- Nvidia’s MX 150 GPU is standard component, and while it won’t turn the ZenBook S13 into a graphical powerhouse, it’s good for casual gaming or light photo/video editing.
- The ZenBook S13's notch is good, but if you don’t like it, the ZenBook 14 doesn’t have one.
- It’s not a deal breaker, but the ZenBook’s battery life is just OK.