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Asus ZenBook 13 review: This sweet-looking ultraportable has a surprise inside

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Asus ZenBook UX331

(Part #: UX331UN-WS51T-BL)
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The Good The 13.3-inch Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UN delivers overall excellent performance from its eighth-gen Intel processor and discrete Nvidia graphics chip. Nearly 11 hours of battery life. All in a slim, lightweight and attractive package.

The Bad The glossy body is impossible to keep clean of fingerprints, its USB-C port isn't Thunderbolt 3 and can't be used to charge the laptop, and its keyboard doesn't deliver the best typing experience.

The Bottom Line With impressive performance for its size and long battery life, the Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UN is hard to pass up for the price if you want a travel-friendly laptop for school or business.

8.2 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Battery 8.0

Asus claims the ZenBook 13 UX331UN is currently the world's thinnest laptop with discrete graphics.

If you're not sure why you should care about that, it's because it shows we've finally reached a point where you can get an ultraportable laptop with long battery life without sacrificing graphics performance or spending a ton of money. 

WIth laptops that are half an inch (12.7 mm) thick like the ZenBook 13 ($999.00 at Amazon.com), you'd typically get integrated graphics that are more power efficient, run cooler and cost less than a standalone discrete graphics chip. The downsides are integrated graphics also eat into your system memory and just can't handle more demanding graphics tasks or gaming. Though the Nvidia GeForce MX150 chip used here is entry level, it has 2GB of its own memory, and Nvidia says it can deliver up to four times faster performance over integrated graphics for photo and video editing as well as deliver better gaming performance. 

Although you wouldn't mistake the ZenBook 13 for a full-fledged gaming laptop or a graphics workstation, games are smoother and faster, and it can make quicker work of tasks you wouldn't even consider doing on other ultraportables. Not bad for a system that sells for $999 in the US and £1,040 in the UK, or in Australia for AU$1,599 with a higher-end processor and twice the memory. 

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Small, light and shiny.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Asus Zenbook 13 UX331 series

Price as reviewed $999
Display size/resolution 13.3-inch, 1,920x1,080-pixel touch display
CPU 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U
Memory 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,133MHz
Graphics 2GB Nvidia GeForce M150 Graphics
Storage 256GB M.2 SATA III SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.2
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

All the nits to pick

Overall, this is a great little laptop with no genuine deal-breakers here for me. However, there are a few things that are less than ideal, and I could see the sum total being enough to stop the purchase. Or even just one or two -- say for example, the inability to add more system memory. You can open up the laptop to increase storage, but you're stuck with its 8GB of RAM, giving you no room for improved performance down the road. 

The keyboard might also flip your decision. Though it is spacious and has a three-level backlight, the key travel feels short, so if you really hit hard when typing, you might find it uncomfortable. There was also something just slightly off in the placement for me that took some adjustment. Eventually I did adjust, though, and found the experience to be satisfactory. I did have to take the touchpad sensitivity down a notch to keep my palm from accidentally moving the cursor around, but it is otherwise quite good. 

The other issues I had are things that just make using the ZenBook 13 feel a little less premium. For instance, the laptop is a brilliant blue and really looks nice -- as long as you never, ever touch it. The special mirror-like finish Asus used is impossible to keep clean of fingerprints. Even the bottom, which is metal with a matte finish, picks up prints quickly. 

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This ZenBook needs constant cleaning. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

The 13.3-inch full HD-resolution touchscreen is bright at 300 nits and has good color performance. It's plenty responsive, too, and works with Asus' optional active pen, something the company uses as a selling point. You probably don't want to consider it for that use, however, since the screen only goes back 135 degrees. That's fine for a typical clamshell laptop, but awkward for writing or drawing on a screen. Also, the webcam above the display is only VGA resolution and leaves you looking soft and painterly. 

Another potential strike against it would be its USB-C port. It's USB 3.1 (gen 1) and not Thunderbolt 3, so data speeds and display support is more limited and it doesn't support charging the laptop, so you'll need to carry its little 65-watt power supply. It does charge quickly with that adapter, though, and you do get a decent set of other ports: two USB 3.0 (type-A), a headphone/mic combo jack, a full-size HDMI 1.4 output and a microSD card slot. You will need the included adapter for Ethernet, however. 

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