Bezels, who needs ‘em? Across its many laptops, Asus has gone all-in on leveraging tiny bezels to produce some of the market’s smallest laptops. So far, they’ve been some of our favorites, including the diminutive ZenBook S and the budget-leading ZenBook 13 UX333.
Now, Asus has outdone itself with the ZenBook S13 UX392, a laptop that takes what was best about the similar ZenBook 14 UX433 and makes it better. We reviewed a well-equipped configuration of the ZenBook S13 that equipped a quad-core 8th-gen Whiskey Lake Intel Core i7-8565U, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB PCIe solid-state drive (SSD), an Nvidia GeForce MX150, and a 14-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) IPS display. That’s a lot of computer for a premium price of $1,400.
Asus has fit a powerful laptop into a very small chassis. Sometimes, that requires some compromises, particularly in performance and battery life. Does the ZenBook S13 manage to avoid disappointment?
A little slice of modern design
Asus already had a line of ZenBooks utilizing tiny bezels to fit 13.3-inch, 14-inch, and 15.6-inch displays into chassis a full step smaller. The ZenBook S13 is the latest, this time squeezing a 13.9-inch panel into a chassis that’s as small as most 13.3-inch laptops of a year ago. But the latest ZenBook isn’t a mere duplicate.
Yes, the ZenBook S13 has minimal bezels, coming in at what Asus claims is a 97 percent screen-to-body ratio that beats the 92 percent managed by the ZenBook 14. That ratio is greatly assisted by a reverse notch housing the webcam, similar in design and purpose to the Lenovo IdeaPad S940 but sticking out even more prominently. As with the Lenovo, the notch not only allows for almost non-existent bezels but it provides something to grab to make opening the lid a little easier – which can be done with one hand thanks to the smooth hinge. Beware of fingerprints on the webcam, however.
And like the IdeaPad S940, the ZenBook S13 is a very small laptop. The Asus is even smaller, at 12.44 inches wide by 7.67 inches deep by 0.50 inches thick compared to the Lenovo at 12.57 by 7.77 by 0.55 inches. The ZenBook 14 is close at 12.56 by 7.83 by 0.63 inches. The ZenBook S13 is the lightest, at 2.42 pounds versus the IdeaPad at 2.65 pounds and the ZenBook 14 at 2.62 pounds. The Dell XPS 13 started the tiny bezel movement, and with its 13-inch display comes in at 11.9 by 7.8 by 0.46 inches.
However, the ZenBook S13 differs from its sibling in its overall aesthetic. It sports the same iconic Asus concentric circle swirl on the lid, but its lines are more angular and modern compared to the more rounded ZenBook 14. It shares the ErgoLift hinge that lifts the keyboard and bottom chassis at an angle to make typing easier and provide for better airflow. The ZenBook S13’s “Utopia Blue” looks silver in most lighting and from most angles, and it’s quite different from the Royal Blue of the earlier ZenBooks. It’s a striking look that holds up well against other popular laptops like the Dell XPS 13 and HP Spectre x360 13.
As usual, the ZenBook S13 enjoys the lineup’s rock-solid build quality.
As with all ZenBooks, Asus has tested the ZenBook S13 against MIL-STD-180G military standards for robustness. And as usual, the ZenBook S13 has a rock-solid build quality. It ranks up there with our standard, the Lenovo Yoga C930, and it’s even a bit more rigid than great options like the IdeaPad S940 and the XPS 13.
One thing that Asus has gotten wrong with the latest ZenBooks is connectivity. Two USB-C 3.1 Gen2 ports support charging and displays, and then there’s a single USB-A 3.1 Gen 2 port and a microSD card reader. So, what’s wrong with that? There’s no Thunderbolt 3 support, meaning that external display support will be more limited, and there’s no option to connect to an external GPU enclosure. At these prices, Thunderbolt 3 support should be a given.
Wireless connectivity is good with gigabit 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0. And, Asus includes a USB-C hub in the box that provides additional USB-C and USB-A ports and a full-sized HDMI connection.
The keyboard’s a light touch, and the touchpad is precise
The ZenBook 13’s keyboard is an island version with silver keys and amber yellow lettering. There’s a good amount of travel, and the feel is extremely light and clicky – you’ll likely enjoy the keyboard unless you prefer the keys to require a little more actuation pressure. The yellow lettering is hard to see with the two-level backlight turned off, but it’s very visible with the backlight turned on. We think the XPS 13 and Spectre x360 13 have better keyboards, but this one isn’t offensive.
The touchpad is about as big as it could be given the limited size of the keyboard deck – one downside of the tiny bezel movement – and it provides precise and reliable support for Windows 10’s multitouch gestures thanks to Microsoft Precision touchpad drivers. The fast and reliable fingerprint reader supporting Windows 10 Hello is embedded in the upper-right corner of the touchpad, which isn’t our favorite location. It didn’t get in our way too much, but we wished Asus would place this someone else on the keyboard deck.
Finally, the display doesn’t support touch, which is another tendency with recent ZenBooks. Lately, we think it’s a mistake to equip non-touch displays – so many laptops support touch, and not just 2-in-1s, that switching to a laptop without touch support is jarring. It’s very convenient to swipe long web pages with a thumb and quickly tap on-screen buttons, and we miss touch when it’s not there. There’s also no Windows 10 Hello support via an infrared camera, something we’re coming to expect from premium laptops.
A bright Full HD display with average colors
Our review unit is built around a 13.9-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) IPS display, which is the baseline for premium laptops today. It’s also the only option that Asus is offering for the ZenBook S13.
Fortunately, the display is pretty good for the laptop’s target productivity users. To begin with, it’s very bright at 403 nits, well over our 300 nit standard and much brighter than most other laptops with Full HD displays. The Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1, for example, maxes out at 268 nits and the Acer Swift 3 14-inch at 260 nits. The ZenBook S13’s contrast comes in at 950:1, just under the 1000:1 ratio that we consider excellent.
This is just an average display, though, when it comes to colors. It supports 70 percent of the AdobeSRB color space and 95 percent of sRGB. That’s at the low end of the range we usually see for Full HD displays in premium laptops. The Acer Swift 3 14 was a little higher at 73 percent of AdobeRGB, and the IdeaPad S940’s 4K display was much better at 83 percent. The ZenBook S13’s color accuracy was 2.02 (1.0 or less is considered excellent), which again is average.
Productivity users will enjoy the display for its excellent brightness and contrast.
What all this means is that productivity users will enjoy the display for its excellent brightness and contrast, while creative professionals may want to choose a laptop with a more colorful display. Thanks to the perfect gamma of 2.2, Netflix and other video is neither too light nor too dark and is a pleasant experience.
Asus touts Harmon Kardon-tuned audio, which is supposed to be augmented by the ErgoLife hinge that allows sound emitted by the downward-firing speakers to bounce out the sides. We found the volume to be just on the edge of loud enough but with no distortion. Bass was lacking, as usual. Mids and highs, though, were enjoyable. The sound quality is good enough for watching a TV show or movie by yourself, but music will be enhanced by a good set of headphones.
Asus squeezed out a lot of performance
The ZenBook S13 is equipped with a quad-core Whiskey Lake Intel Core i7-8565U, an 8th-generation CPU that’s both fast and efficient. In our experience, it usually provides excellent productivity performance and can even tackle some light video editing work.
Asus has done a good job of optimizing performance with the ZenBook S13. First, according to the Geekbench 4 synthetic benchmark, the ZenBook ranks toward the top tier of laptops we’ve tested, at least in the multi-core test where it scored a strong 16,740. Its single-core score was a little low, at 5,148, compared to our comparison group but still a strong score.
The ZenBook S13 excelled, though, at churning through our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video to H.265. Here, the laptop finished the process in a very fast 212 seconds, one of the fastest we’ve seen with quad-core 15-watt CPUs. The ZenBook 14 was close at 237 seconds, and the Lenovo Yoga C930 with the previous generation Core i7 was also very fast at 227 seconds.
The Western Digital SN520 512GB PCIs SSD that Asus chose for the ZenBook S13 was a good but not great performer. It managed 1,002 megabytes per second (MB/s) in the CrystalDiskMark 5 read test and 1,065 MB/s in the write test. That’s lower than the SSD in the IdeaPad S940 but faster than the SSD in the Acer Swift 3 14-inch. In practice, you won’t notice any delays in booting, opening apps, and accessing your data, especially compared to SATA drives or HDDs.
The excellent Handbrake result tells another story about the ZenBook S13, particularly compared to the IdeaPad S940. Lenovo’s thermal management wasn’t sufficient to avoid the CPU throttling during our Handbrake test, while the even thinner ZenBook S13 performed admirably. Perhaps that’s aided by the ErgoLift hinge that allows for additional airflow, and the fans did spin up and were fairly loud. The chassis never got too warm, though, hitting 105 degrees on the bottom of the chassis during stress testing – which would remain lifted away from the skin anyway.
Some decent entry-level gaming
While there’s a hard-to-get version of the ZenBook 14 – at least in North America – with discrete graphics, the ZenBook S13 comes with the Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU by default. That’s a plus, as this chip provides much better entry-level gaming experience than the integrated Intel graphics on most diminutive laptops.
According to the 3DMark Fire Strike test, the ZenBook S13 was very quick even compared to other laptops with the same GPU. It scored 2,650, which compares to the ZenBook 14 MX150 version at 2,553. The ZenBook S13 is more than twice as fast in this test as laptops with Intel UHD 620 graphics.
Next, we ran through a few runs of Fortnite, and the ZenBook S13 just barely got by. It matched the Acer Swift 3 14 with the MX150 at 32 frames per second (FPS) in 1080p and high graphical detail and was slightly faster at 29 FPS at Epic graphical detail. It’s on par with the ZenBook 14’sMX150, which scored 33 FPS and 27 FPS, respectively.
You won’t be playing modern titles with graphics turned up, but the ZenBook S13 is fine for older titles, modern titles with graphics turned down, and esports games. That’s quite an accomplishment for one of the smallest laptops around.
The chassis is thin; the battery life is average
The ZenBook S13 is limited to 50 watt-hours of battery thanks to its small and thin chassis. That falls behind some other laptops with 14-inch displays (or roughly, in the ZenBook S13’s case). Nevertheless, we were hoping the Full HD display and efficient CPU would give us a useful battery life.
According to our battery benchmarks, the ZenBook S13 has average longevity. First, we looked at our most demanding test, running the Basemarkweb benchmark until the battery ran out. Here, the ZenBook 13 lasted for just under four hours, or about half an hour more than the IdeaPad S940 (with its power-hungry 4K display) and the Acer Swift 3 14 and half an hour less than the ZenBook 14.
Then, in our web browsing test that loops through a series of popular web sites, the ZenBook S13 lasted for just over eight hours. Again, that’s much longer than the IdeaPad S940’s six hours and less than the Acer Swift 3 14’s nine hours. The ZenBook 14 was within a few minutes of its newer sibling.
Asus has done a good job of optimizing performance with the ZenBook S13.
Finally, we played a local 1080p Avengers trailer until the ZenBook S13 shut down, and it lasted for 12.75 hours. That’s almost three hours longer than the IdeaPad S940 and couldn’t come close to the Acer Swift 3 14’s 15.4 hours. The ZenBook S13 did manage to last about 90 minutes longer than the ZenBook 14 in this test.
In short, the ZenBook S13 may provide just enough juice to make it through a working day, depending on how hard you push the CPU. There’s a price to pay for being so thin, and although battery life isn’t exactly disappointing, we would like to have more confidence that we can get a full day’s work done without worrying about plugging in.
The ZenBook S13 is Asus’s best attempt yet a cramming a whole bunch of computer into a tiny laptop. The bezels are as small as we’ve seen, and yet this is a very usable laptop with a great keyboard and touchpad and outstanding build quality. Perhaps most important, there’s no performance compromise, although battery life isn’t the best we’ve seen.
Is there a better alternative?
The most direct comparison is the Lenovo IdeaPad S940. It’s almost identical in size, thickness, and weight to the ZenBook 13, and it’s available with a gorgeous 4K display that’s great for watching Netflix and YouTube HDR content. The IdeaPad S940 is also more expensive, at $1,500 for the same configuration of a Core i7, 8GB of RAM, 512GB SSD, and Full HD display.
Then, you could consider the Acer Swift 3 14, which doesn’t have the same modern aesthetic or tiny bezels as the ZenBook S13 and which uses the previous version of Intel’s 8th-gen Core i7. However, the Swift 3 significantly less expensive at $900 for a Core i7, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, and it gets equally good performance and better battery life.
Finally, the Dell XPS 13is an option if you don’t mind stepping down to a slightly smaller 13.3-inch display. You’ll get equally good build quality and performance, and you can spend less money for the same configuration. With the same components, the XPS 13 is $1,350 and is often discounted (currently on sale for $1,176).
How long will it last?
The ZenBook S3 is a well-built laptop that feels like it will last as long as you’ll want to hold onto it. It uses up-to-date components, with the one disappointment that no Thunderbolt 3 support means more limited future-proofing and expandability. You’ll get the usual 1-year warranty, along with the added benefit of the usual Asus 1-year accident protection coverage.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The ZenBook S13 packs a lot of power into a tiny chassis, and though it has compromises here and there, you won’t be disappointed by what you pay for.