Excellent value. Bright, colorful screen. Long battery life.
Soft keyboard. No Thunderbolt 3 port. Micro, not full-size, HDMI port.
- Bottom Line
We could wish for a few enhancements to the 13.3-inch Asus ZenBook UX330, but we know a good deal when we see one. Bonus: This ultraportable passes our productivity and battery tests with flying colors.
Does an ultraportable laptop have to be ultra-pricey? The Asus ZenBook UX330 (UX330UA-AH54) answers with a solid "no": Well-equipped with a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state drive, this 13.3-inch laptop is just $699, or $400 less than a comparably configured LG gram 13. It's a standout in the two areas that matter most for an ultraportable: office productivity and battery life. The ZenBook demands a look if you're seeking a compact that won't bust your budget.
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Getting the Basics Right
Exclusive to Amazon.com, our test unit weighs 2.64 pounds, tied with the non-touch-screen version of the Dell XPS 13 Touch(2.7 pounds), though no match for the featherweight LG gram 13 (2.0 pounds). It measures 0.53 by 12.7 by 8.7 inches (HWD), somewhat bulkier than its peers—the XPS 13 is 0.6 by 12 by 7.9 inches—but still a cinch to tuck into a briefcase.
Instead of the mark of Zorro, the Asus' aluminum lid carries the mark of ZenBooks, finely etched concentric circles radiating out from the chrome Asus logo in the middle. There's a little flex in both the lid and the plastic keyboard deck and bottom—enough to make the screen wobble a bit when typing in your lap but not enough to make the system feel flimsy. A hefty bezel surrounds the display, unlike the nearly borderless XPS 13 screen. A webcam in the top bezel takes well-lit, slightly soft-focus selfies.
Port selection is pretty good for an ultraportable. On the laptop's left side, you'll find a USB 3.0 port, an audio jack, and an SD card slot. On the right are another USB 3.0 port, a proprietary connector for the small power plug, a micro HDMI port, and a USB-C data port with no Thunderbolt 3 or system-charging functionality. We could wish for a full-fledged Thunderbolt 3 port (and for a micro to full-sized HDMI dongle in the box), but we have to remind ourselves that this is a $699 consumer laptop, not a workstation. The ZenBook also includes 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
The backlit keyboard offers a fairly pleasant, pliant typing experience with adequate travel and a soft, just-this-side-of-mushy feel. The cursor arrow keys are tiny, but they're arranged in a proper inverted T rather than an HP- or Apple-style row; they team with the Fn key for Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down.
The Delete key is next to the power button, which puts the system to sleep if hit accidentally rather than offering an "Are you sure?" pop-up as some laptops with similar juxtapositions do. The buttonless touchpad with embedded fingerprint reader taps and glides smoothly, though it's a bit stiff or resistant to clicks.
The full HD (1,920-by-1,080) non-touch display delivers wide viewing angles and rich colors in everything from videos to pie charts. There's ample brightness, at least at the top three or four backlight settings; good contrast with deep blacks; and sharp detail for text and images alike. We'd like the screen to tilt back just a few degrees further, but otherwise rate it Grade A.
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Sound from the UX330's front-mounted Harman/Kardon speakers is accurate and loud enough to fill a medium-sized room, though we found the AudioWizard software's default music mode emphasized drums and bass over other instruments and vocals. There are also buttons for movie, gaming, speech, and recording modes.
Our ZenBook UX330 features Intel's Core i5-7200U, a 2.5GHz (3.1GHz turbo) dual-core processor with Hyper-Threading and Intel HD 620 integrated graphics. Teamed with 8GB of memory and a Micron 256GB SATA SSD, it delivered lively performance for everyday apps even when matched against the Core i7-based Razer and Dell, posting a class-leading 3,061 points in our PCMark 8 general productivity benchmark. The Stealth was hard on its heels with 3,032 points while the LG gram, with the same CPU as the Asus, managed 2,875.
The ZenBook's finish in our Adobe Photoshop image-editing test was more predictable, trailing the Core i7 contenders but topping the Core i3-powered Lenovo ThinkPad 13. And it took a disappointingly long 3 minutes and 5 seconds, a full minute behind the XPS 13's time, to complete our Handbrake video-editing task.
Neither the UX330 nor any of its peers, all equipped with integrated rather than dedicated graphics, dazzled us in our 3DMark graphics test or Heaven and Valley gaming simulations; they're suitable for casual and solitaire games, not breaking the 30 frames per second barrier for smooth gameplay in fast-twitch titles. But the Asus scored a significant victory in our video-playback battery rundown test, lasting a full 13 hours on a charge. The LG came within half an hour of that time while others showed lesser stamina.
Everyone's a Winner
You can argue that office productivity and battery life are the two most important benchmarks for an ultraportable—that video editing is for beefier desktop replacements and games are for discrete-graphics gaming rigs—and by that reckoning, the ZenBook comes through our testing wearing a crown. Combine that with a price hundreds below the competition, and you see why we're glad to recommend it.
Other Asus Laptops & Notebooks
By Eric Grevstad Contributing Editor
Formerly editor-in-chief of Home Office Computing, Eric Grevstad is a contributing editor for PCMag and Computer Shopper, where he earlier served as lead laptop analyst and executive editor, respectively. A tech journalist since the TRS-80 and Apple II days, Grevstad specializes in lightweight laptops, all-in-one desktops, and productivity software, all of which he uses when commuting and telecommuting between PC Labs and a cat-filled home office in Old Greenwich, CT. Email him at [email protected]l.com or follow him on Twitter @EricGrevstad…. More »
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