As you’d expect for our team here at Modern Explorer, travel is a big part of our job and we are always looking for devices and accessories to make mobile computing the best it can be. We were very pleased to spend a solid month testing and traveling with the ASUS ZenBook 14 (UX433F) that became widely available this spring.
Billed as the world’s smallest 14-inch laptop, a virtually frameless display leads the way for future laptop design, and the ASUS ability to pack quality components and power into small spaces make this yet another winner for ASUS. While there are thinner and lighter ultrabooks out there, the ZenBook 14 has them beat on screen-to-body ratio and power. It’s a best of class compact device perfect for a wide range of users from high-end business travellers to college students or entrepreneurs who take their laptop to seminars, meetings or to the local Starbucks.
I’ve been a fan of ASUS for over a decade, half our computers here are ASUS or ASUS-based, fully by our choice and 100% paid for by us. Long known for their quality components and high-end gaming laptops, the Taiwan-based manufacturer is a dominant player across all consumer laptop categories these days (see our review of last year’s VivoBook series). The latest ZenBook lineup includes 13, 14 and 15-inch models and in terms of performance and style they, and the 14″ version in particular, should be your go-to premium ultrabook for 2019 if you have around C$1500 to spend, and even better if you can find it on sale.
Cutting edge screen design, military grade toughness
First of all, to get a 14-inch full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS screen in an ultralight chassis this compact is remarkable, and really makes looking at smaller 13″ alternatives essentially unnecessary. The ZenBook 14 fits into very small handbags, backpacks and luggage, and is our favourite computer we have used to date for travel.
Light (2.6 lbs) doesn’t have to mean flimsy and the ZenBook 14 has been built with military grade toughness, meeting the MIL-STD-810G standard that more of ASUS laptops are being designed to pass, which includes tests for extreme temperature, humidity and altitude, all critical considerations for world travellers.
Colour options are limited, but the beautiful Royal Blue model (with rose gold trim) we tested probably would have been our choice in any wider palette of options. It also comes in Icicle Silver.
For a slim device it still has several key ports including HDMI, micro-SD, USB 2.0, and two USB 3.1 inputs for both a standard (Type-A) and newer USB-C cables (although fast-charging from the USB-C doesn’t seem to be an option).
The ZenBook incorporates a few excellent design features from other recent ASUS laptops including the way the laptop opens, again with quality firmness, and with a “ErgoLift” hinge design that slips the top under the keyboard a bit to raise the keyboard bottom so you type at a comfortable angle (3°). The lift serves a second role by improving cooling as well. The compact keyboard is as good as any small form keyboard and the touch pad doubles as a number pad that we always hate to see go missing, particularly for business and college users.
Strong overall performance, great battery life
We generally have high expectations for ASUS devices, and again for the price-to-performance ratio, the ZenBook 14 comes through nicely. A powerful Intel i7-8565U processor (that can Turbo Boost to 4.6GHz) gets paired with an impressive 16G of DDR3 RAM. A 512 GB SSD drive provides fast transfer storage.
Graphic processing performance is average, but perfect for watching videos and doing nearly everything that you need to be productive, creative or entertained. The ZenBook is not suited for more demanding video gaming but that’s a different computer anyways, and ASUS has some of the best in that category if that’s your focus.
On the audio side of being entertained, the ZenBook’s Harmon Kardon speakers put out a pleasingly strong volume level, and overall excellent quality for a laptop this thin.
A crucial factor in purchasing any full or partially mobile device is battery life. The ZenBook has one of the longest-lasting batteries in its class with a number of real world tests to support the claim, so you can look forward to getting through an entire day on a single full charge.
We’ve seen it in phones, now all-screen displays are coming to laptops with ASUS leading the way starting with the ZenBook 14. It’s an elegant looking ultrabook, definitely the smallest profile ever in terms of length by width. You are essentially getting a 14″ display in a 13″ chassis. While not the thinnest out there, to be honest we’d rather save our millimeters around the edges, and trade a little thinness for more powerful guts, which is exactly what is happening with the ZenBook 14.
If you’re regularly taking your computer out the door, or out of the country, and are in the market for a new premium small-form laptop this season or next, the ZenBook 14 should be right at the top of your list. It’s widely available at major retailers, so you can get out and take a look before your purchase. After testing it in the office, in crowded U.S. airports, Parisian hotel rooms, and Chesapeake Bay bed & breakfasts, it’s easily our preferred ultrabook for 2019.
The Verdict: It’s a winner!