Asus ZenBook S Review: Dongle Included

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Detailed review Asus ZenBook S

You walk into a coffee shop and shake your customer’s hand. You pull your recently purchased Asus ZenBook S out of its case along with your trusty wireless mouse only to realize there’s no place to plug it in. You’ll only see three USB Type-C ports and a 3.5mm audio jack; that’s a little more than what the Samsung Galaxy S9 has in your pocket. You chuckle amusedly and tell your client that you’re plugging in the included dongle for the mouse receiver because “this device belongs in the future”.

Your customer forces a smile, but in reality finds that your otherwise slim and sexy laptop looks ridiculous with a rectangular tail hanging on its side for the sake of a USB mouse receiver. “Consider buying a Bluetooth mouse,” your client notes as you chat after the meeting. “It’s the only elegant way to hook up a mouse to that thing, I’m afraid.”

Build and design

As soon as you open the lid of the ZenBook S, it becomes clear that the design is not normal. For starters, ZenBook S feels like a sharp cleaver in the hands because it’s that slim. At 1.29 centimeters, the ZenBook S is half an inch slimmer than the original Apple MacBook Air. Place ZenBook S on a table and open the lid – you’ll see the back of the keyboard lift with it, creating a 5.5-degree forward tilt for easier typing. According to Asus, that’s the ErgoLift hinge at work.

The Asus ZenBook S uses an all-metal unibody construction. The lid has the Asus Zen series’ signature concentric circle pattern, which feels non-slip and carries around. The laptop can be opened with one finger, although it takes some effort at first to separate the lid from the base. The area under the keyboard feels comfortable to rest your palms while typing. The rise created by the ErgoLift hinge certainly contributes to increasing the overall typing comfort. With a weight of 1.05 kilograms, the ZenBook S is very light in the hand. Overall, the build and design of the ZenBook S is top notch.

Screen, audio and IO

The screen of the Asus ZenBook S is a 13.3-inch Full HD LED-backlit unit with an aspect ratio of 16:9. Asus has opted to keep the surface glossy, even though the screen underneath isn’t a touchscreen panel. This causes light to bounce off some corners of the surface, which is an acceptable trade-off for better aesthetics. Speaking of angles, the display hinge folds back to a maximum of 145 degrees. It’s certainly enough to work in odd positions, but there are times when you catch yourself wishing it could go completely flat.

According to Asus, the ZenBook S’s screen is capable of reproducing 100 percent of the colors in the sRGB color scale. However, according to our test, it covers 96 percent of colors in the sRGB color scale and 74 percent of colors in the Adobe RGB color scale. Colors look rich and full when working and watching movies on ZenBook S. The display’s maximum brightness of 237 LUX is enough to work in most indoor and outdoor spaces. Asus touts the laptop’s high screen-to-body ratio of 85 percent, which becomes apparent when you open the lid. The bezels on the side of the laptop measure a positive 5.9mm. The horizontal viewing angle of 178 degrees is sufficient for most working positions. All things considered, the ZenBook S’s screen is absolutely top-notch.

Audio from ZenBook S’s two downward-firing speakers is clear and high at volume. Bass output, since the laptop is just an Ultrabook, is significantly rich. There’s plenty of thump and depth while playing bass-heavy tracks like Ini Kamoze Here comes the hot stepper and Leonard Cohen’s A thousand kisses deep. Vocals and instruments such as trumpets and violins sound full and controlled with little or no noticeable signs of distortion. The sound from the Harman Kardon certified speakers threatens to tear when the volume is turned all the way to max, but it’s still quite rare.

Ports on the Asus ZenBook S can be counted on the fingers of one hand: three USB Type-C ports (two Thunderbolt 3 and one USB 3.1) and a 3.5mm audio jack for headsets. The laptop is just too thin to even accommodate a single USB-A port, let alone an HDMI port and card reader slots. To make up for the lack of ports, Asus has included a “Mini Dock” with the ZenBook S. When plugged in, the small rectangle the size of a matchbox gives you access to a USB-A port, an HDMI port and a USB-C port. If you’re the type of user who regularly uses USB-A ports, you’ll want to look away from the ZenBook S. But if you think you can get by with just USB-Cs or live the “dongle life,” then you shouldn’t have any trouble with the Asus ZenBook S’s port configuration.

Keyboard and touchpad

The first thing you notice about the Asus ZenBook S keyboard is that the keys are very large, which is great because you have plenty of room to hit the keys and there’s little chance of missing a key. The surprising thing about the ZenBook S’s keyboard is that the keys offer plenty of travel (1.2mm to be exact) despite the slimness of the base. Keystrokes happen with a satisfying click-clack, making typing an easy affair for the most part on ZenBook S. The three-stage backlighting on the keyboard illuminates the keys in a warm off-white color against the blue-black background, making it pleasant to use at night. to type. The color corresponds to the warmth of the screen when the Windows Night Light feature is turned on.

I do have a few grouse with the keyboard design. First, the power button is placed right next to the delete key at the end of the top row, which doesn’t bode well for those who correct their typing a lot. Second, there are no dedicated keys for the Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down functions, which raises some points for this otherwise efficient keyboard. Finally, I wish the arrow keys were bigger. All in all, typing on the Asus ZenBook S is a pleasant experience.

The touchpad on the ZenBook S is undoubtedly a modern precision unit, meaning multi-finger taps and swipes can be adjusted using Windows settings. Movements are smooth and lively on the matte touchpad. Clicks are soft, precise and happen with plenty of feedback. The size of the touchpad itself could have been bigger. The ZenBook S’s touchpad integrates a square fingerprint sensor in the top right corner that works quickly and accurately when logging in.

Performance

The Asus ZenBook S will be sold in India in a single variant with an eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8550U CPU, 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB Toshiba NVMe solid-state drive. Graphics is handled by an Intel UHD Graphics 620 integrated GPU. With all this in its spec sheet, the Asus ZenBook S scored quite well in our benchmark tests. In PCMark 8’s Accelerated Creative test, the ZenBook S scored 74 points higher than the Microsoft Surface Book. With its integrated GPU, it scraped through video benchmark tests with very average scores. ZenBook S showed off its fast storage device by scoring 753 megabytes per second on CrystalDiskMark’s sequential read test and 523 megabytes per second on CrystalDiskMark’s sequential write test.

In the real world, the performance of the ZenBook S is very good. With a generous 16 GB of RAM, I was able to open more than a dozen applications and switch between multiple virtual desktops on the review unit. Writing while playing music on iTunes, installing a benchmark application, browsing countless copies of Chrome, and downloading updates for a game on Steam all happened simultaneously on the laptop without any problems. There were a few instances where the laptop would freeze and show a Blue Screen of Death before rebooting, but I’ll attribute that to software issues.

Not only is it good that the ErgoLift hinge on the ZenBook S lifts the base of the laptop off the user’s lap, but it’s necessary because the Intel interior gets hot. During app installs and video playback, the temperature of the CPU pack rises to a looming 80 degrees Celsius. This heats up the keyboard more than you might expect, making typing and resting the fingers on the keys somewhat uncomfortable. For the most part, though, heat is very tolerable on this thin and light. Performance is generally top notch on the ZenBook S. It’s great for someone who wants style, compactness and sheer power from their laptop. It’s for someone who spends hours on applications like Chrome, Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook, but not video-intensive applications like Adobe Photoshop.

Battery

For a laptop whose chassis is designed for a life on the go, the battery doesn’t last long. This is probably because there isn’t too much of it in the ZenBook’s slim and compact base. In our battery benchmark test, the ZenBook S lasted 3 hours and 48 minutes on a single charge, which is frankly on the low side. In comparison, the Microsoft Surface Book lasted 4 hours and 12 minutes during the test.

In everyday use, things seem even worse, as the test device’s battery plummeted from 54 percent to 19 percent after just an hour of browsing and playing music through earphones. With the music off and only a few boring documents open, the battery dropped from full to 75 percent in 1 hour 45 minutes. Charging from near zero to full took about two hours. On average, expect the ZenBook S battery to last about four hours on a single charge and no more.

What it comes down to:

In more ways than one, the Asus ZenBook S reminds me of a motorcycle Honda marketed about a decade ago as a more fashionable alternative to one of its best-selling commuter motorcycles in India. It was called the CBF Stunner and was intended for those who prefer style over substance. The Asus ZenBook S is something like that: as a lifestyle product that also delivers high performance, the ZenBook S ticks the box, but as thin and light that offers value and offers battery life, it falls short.

The Asus ZenBook S is for you if you want a sleek and stylish Ultrabook that has enough power for business and pleasure, provided you don’t mind the below-average battery life and the forever-connected dongle, the Mini Dock. All of this comes at a rather steep price tag of Rs 1.2990.

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