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

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

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8.2

Asus ZenBook 13

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.

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, 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. 

The laptop's speakers sound good, too, and get loud enough to drown out the system's cooling fans when you're gaming or doing anything else demanding. But the speakers are in front and fire downward so they tend to be muffled slightly by whatever surface you're working on. Again, these are all fairly minor things that keep the ZenBook from feeling like a true premium laptop and not necessarily deal breakers for everyone. 

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Signing in is fast with the built-in fingerprint reader.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Gaming, but not GAMING

As ultraportables go, the combined performance from the ZenBook 13's eighth-gen quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, 256GB M.2 SSD and 2GB Nvidia GeForce MX150 didn't disappoint. Cranking through day-to-day activities like streaming videos and music while running Google Chrome with a dozen or more tabs open didn't slow it down. 

The laptop also handled basic edits of high bit-rate 4K-resolution video and large raw images with relative ease. Playback of that 4K video wasn't an issue either, which was not the case when I tried to do the same on an older laptop with a seventh-gen Intel Core i7 processor and integrated HD Graphics 620. 

As I mentioned earlier, the entry-level MX150 graphics chip isn't going to blow you away with its gaming performance: This isn't a gaming laptop. Frame rates aren't going to be fast enough for enjoyable play on high detail settings with newer graphically demanding games. It is, however, a clear improvement over Intel's UHD Graphic 620 integrated GPU. 

The chip did hit playable frame rates on Bioshock Infinite at high detail settings, and playing Overwatch at medium settings at the display's native 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution was fast and smooth, and even over Wi-Fi it was lag-free. Both the laptop and the power supply get understandably hot under heavy load, however, so you'll want to make sure you're giving this plenty of air. 

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The full-HD touchscreen was a nice surprise. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Just as the performance was impressive for a laptop so thin, so was its battery life. In our streaming video test it ran for 10 hours, 45 minutes. In general use, I was able to get through an 8-hour workday with performance settings and brightness dialed back to 70 percent. What's nice is that it had a full battery again in a little more than an hour. 

Mostly great

Asus' ZenBooks are its premium laptops, so you might expect nothing but greatness and for the most part, that's what you get with the ZenBook 13 UX331UN. It looks good (if you can get past the fingerprints), it performs well and overall is just a nice ultraportable for the money, which, while not cheap, is well priced. There are several things that could be better, but if you want a travel-friendly laptop for school or business that has some extra graphics power, put this on your short list. 

Cinebench R15 Multi-core

Asus Zenbook US461U 671HP Elitebook 1040 G4 650Asus Zenbook UX331U 631Samsung Notebook 9 Pen 543LG Gram 15 522Acer Spin 5 509
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 4 (Multi-core)

HP Elitebook 1040 G4 14120Asus Zenbook US461U 13509Samsung Notebook 9 Pen 13300Asus Zenbook UX331U 13156Acer Spin 5 12436LG Gram 15 11717
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Streaming video playback battery drain test

LG Gram 15 838Asus Zenbook UX331U 645Asus Zenbook US461U 629HP Elitebook 1040 G4 536Acer Spin 5 507Samsung Notebook 9 Pen 452
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Asus ROG Strix Hero Edition GL503V 2657Asus VivoBook Pro 1229Asus Zenbook US461U 409Asus Zenbook UX331U 398LG Gram 15 272
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Bioshock Infinite (fps)

Asus ROG Strix Hero Edition GL503V 137.91Asus VivoBook Pro 84.04Asus Zenbook US461U 39.6Asus Zenbook UX331U 39.37LG Gram 15 12.27
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (fps

Asus ROG Strix Hero Edition GL503V 54.4Asus VivoBook Pro 31.5Asus Zenbook US461U 14.9Asus Zenbook UX331U 14.6LG Gram 15 6.2
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

Asus Zenbook UX331U Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce M150 Graphics; 256GB SSD
Samsung Notebook 9 Pen Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD
Acer Spin 5 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit): 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD
HP Elitebook 1040 G4 Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-7820HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 630; 512GB SSD
Asus Zenbook US461U Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce M150 Graphics; 512GB SSD
LG Gram 15 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics620; (2) 512GB SSD
Asus VivoBook Pro Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050; 512GB SSD
Asus ROG Strix Hero Edition GL503V Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060; 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD
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8.2

Asus ZenBook 13

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8Battery 8