Thinnest 14-inch laptop we've tested. Solid construction. Good connectivity options. Fast Core i7 performance.
Lacks USB 3.0 or HDMI ports. Significantly less battery life than the competition. 1080p screen lacks touch. Fan noise and warm chassis in testing. Not configurable.
- Bottom Line
The Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe is the thinnest 14-inch ultraportable laptop we've seen yet, but whiny fan noise and short battery life spoil the deal.
The Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe ($1,699) is the thinnest 14-inch ultraportable laptop we've seen. It's just a bit thicker and heavier than the Asus Zenbook 3, a former top pick, which has a 12.5-inch screen and a similar design and color scheme. The ZenBook 3 Deluxe comes in just one configuration, a high-end model with a Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. On paper, it looks competitive, but relatively short battery life and other annoyances like excessive noise and heat keep it from attaining our top marks.
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Slick Build, Solid Connectivity Options
The ZenBook 3 Deluxe has an all-aluminum body in a deep, dark blue hue with gold accents on its perimeter edge and Asus logo. A gray and gold model is also available. The chassis measures 0.51 by 12.95 by 8.27 inches (HWD) and weighs 2.69 pounds, so it (and its sleeve-style carrying case) will fit in just about any laptop bag easily. It's more comfortable to use in your lap than detachable tablets like the Microsoft Surface Pro. It's closest in size to laptops like the 2017 iteration of the LG Gram 14, which is thicker, but lighter overall due to its magnesium-carbon alloy chassis. But then again, the ZenBook 3 Deluxe feels sturdier.
The keyboard's character stenciling carries the same gold hue as the laptop's edge. The gold-tinged characters really pop when the keyboard's backlight switches on. Key travel is shallow, but not as stiff as on the latest Apple MacBook Pro laptops. There's a touch of keyboard flex if you press down on the F-G-H keys simultaneously, but you wouldn't have any trouble typing a long manuscript on it. That said, the keys are a little flat, so the scalloped ones on the Lenovo X1 Carbon will likely feel more comfortable if you type thousands of words a day. The single-piece touchpad is centered under the keyboard and responsive.
There's a fingerprint reader embedded in the upper right corner of the touchpad, which works with Windows Hello, but there aren't IR cameras for facial recognition, like the Microsoft Surface Laptop. The Dell XPS 13 Touch (Rose Gold) and the Huawei MateBook X also have fingerprint readers and lack IR cameras. I think facial recognition is the most convenient biometric login feature, followed closely by the fingerprint readers. Macs like the MacBook Pro have touchless login using an Apple Watch, but it's a lot slower to react than Windows Hello and, of course, the watch is an extra purchase.
Like the HP Spectre 13, the ZenBook 3 Deluxe has three USB-C ports, one on the left panel next to the headset jack, and two on the right. The two on the right have Thunderbolt 3 technology built in for faster connections to peripherals such as external SSDs and dual 4K displays. The USB-C port on the left is mainly there to support the included USB-C AC adapter, but all three can be used to charge the laptop. Thankfully, Asus includes adapters for USB-C-to-USB-3.0 and USB-C-to-HDMI, which are pricey extras for laptops like the Apple MacBook Pro and HP Spectre 13. We see a future where USB-C will replace USB 3.0 and USB Type-A, but for now, you'll need adapters for older hard drives and wired mice. With the adapters, this is a good selection of ports, but carrying the dongles with you all the time can get tiresome.
Single Screen Choice
The IPS screen measures 14 inches diagonally and has a 1,920-by-1,080 full HD resolution, matching the LG Gram 14, but unlike the Gram's display, this one doesn't have touch capabilities. The screen is bright and clear, and is easy on the eyes while viewing photos and videos, but other ultraportables in this price range have much higher-resolution screens, including the HP Spectre x360 13 (4K), the Dell XPS 13 (3,200 by 1,800), and the MacBook Pro (2,560-by-1,600). Those laptops' higher resolutions help smooth displayed text and native-resolution pictures and video without having to zoom in.
Warm and Noisy Operation
Fan noise and heat were both issues in my test period: While the system was downloading and installing Windows 10 updates in the background, the palm rest and bottom panel of the laptop became warm to the touch, and the cooling fans spooled up audibly. After the updates finished and the system restarted, the laptop's surfaces cooled noticeably. However, opening a stream on YouTube was enough to wake the fans again, and they stayed on for extended periods even when I had no programs running actively. The system's speakers can drown out the fan noise, but none of the other laptops and tablets mentioned above had nearly as much fan activation in our experience.
The system has four speakers: two above the keyboard and two on the bottom panel, pointed at you. Without any digital processing, sound is a little muffled, even at 100 percent volume. However, audio becomes a lot clearer when you activate the included ICEpower Audio Wizard software. We found the best results using the movie mode, particularly while watching trailers and music videos on YouTube.
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Since there's only one configuration available in the US, you're limited to 16GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD storage, but that's plenty for most users. Ultraportable competitors like the Apple MacBook Pro and Dell XPS 13 can be configured before purchase, but generally start with much less in storage (128GB) and RAM (4GB to 8GB), and they're not configurable after purchase. Asus backs the laptop with a one-year warranty.
Core i7 Speed, Tepid Battery Life
The non-configurable Intel Core i7-7500U processor with Intel HD Graphics 620 are plenty. The laptop achieved an excellent score of 3,092 points on the PCMark 8 Work Conventional test, beating systems like the Dell XPS 13 (2,769) and the Microsoft Surface Laptop (2,718), but the HP Spectre 13 (3,069) and LG Gram 14 (3,190) were just slightly better. The system's multimedia scores were likewise near the top on the Handbrake (2:07), Cinebench (345 points), and Photoshop test (3:37). The Apple MacBook Pro was the top on Handbrake and CineBench, while the LG Gram 14 was ahead on Photoshop by a few seconds. Neither margin was deal-breaking, so you can choose aesthetics, screen size, and operating system over performance differences in this heady company. 3D performance was good, but didn't surpass the 30fps (frames per second) smoothly playable barrier on Heaven (22fps) and Valley (27fps) tests at medium-quality settings. The Apple MacBook Pro was the only laptop to break that barrier, but all of these models will be able to play casual 3D games like Minecraft and Diablo III with a minimal amount of tweaking.
Because the system is so thin and light, there isn't a lot of space for battery packs. This is demonstrated by the ZenBook 3 Deluxe's relative tepid battery life of 9 hours and 54 minutes. While that may be an improvement if you're replacing a six-year-old ultraportable with only 45 minutes of battery life left between charges, it's many hours shorter than class leaders like the Apple MacBook Pro (14:30), the LG Gram 14 (15:40), and the Microsoft Surface Laptop (16:44). The battery should last a full work day or a cross-country flight, but you'll likely need to charge it right after.
The Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe has the aesthetics and composition of a premium laptop. It's full of top-of-the-line components like a bright full HD screen, Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a capacious 512GB SSD. However, operational quirks like tiring fan noise and curtailed battery life reduce livability. If you don't need the thinnest laptop available with a 14-inch screen, the Dell XPS 13 Touch remains our top recommendation, thanks to many more hours of battery life, a higher-resolution touch screen, and a price tag that's $50 lower.
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Joel Santo Domingo is the Lead Analyst for the Desktops team at PC Magazine Labs. He joined PC Magazine in 2000, after 7 years of IT work for companies large and small. His background includes managing mobile, desktop and network infrastructure on both the Macintosh and Windows platforms. Joel is proof that you can escape the retail grind: he wore a yellow polo shirt early in his tech career. Along the way Joel earned a BA in English Literature and an MBA in Information Technology… More »
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