You don't need a MacBook Pro to get a pretty, powerful laptop with discrete graphics. Case in point: the $1,699 Asus ZenBook Pro, which has style that will draw eyes and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics card for designing, editing and gaming. It will deliver the performance you need, though you'll want to consider how badly you want loud speakers or a 4K display, because the ZenBook Pro is a quiet riot that comes only with a 1080p screen. But if raw power and good looks are what you need, the ZenBook Pro is a strong choice.
Many of Asus' premium notebooks are a nice navy blue, but the ZenBook Pro casts a striking profile in black. I like the change, as the laptop straddles the line between premium and professional. The lid still features the typical ZenBook iconic concentric circles, but Asus' logo, usually in gold or silver, is now clear and glows with the backlight from the display on the other side.
The screen is surrounded by a thin bezel, and the island-style keyboard is flanked by speakers on both sides, integrated into the aluminum deck.
At 4.3 pounds and 14.4 x 9.9 x 0.7 inches, the ZenBook Pro is about the size you would expect for a mainstream notebook with a decent GPU. The Dell XPS 15 is a heavier 4.6 pounds but is the same width, while the 4.6-pound Lenovo Yoga 720 is a little thicker (0.8 inches). The 15-inch MacBook Pro is the sleekest, at 4 pounds and 0.6 inches.
The ZenBook Pro maintains a full set of ports for both current and legacy peripherals. The left side of the laptop features an HDMI output and a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports, while the right side has two USB 3.0 ports, a microSD card slot and a headphone jack.
The 15.6-inch, 1080p display on the ZenBook Pro isn't the brightest out there, but it's luminous enough to use without issue, and it's also vivid. I watched the trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and I could see every stitch in Luke Skywalker's cloak. When TIE fighters chased the Millennium Falcon, the green lasers popped against the dark walls of a cave.
The ZenBook Pro's screen covers 122 percent of the sRGB color gamut, making this laptop more vivid than the average mainstream notebook (103 percent) and the Yoga 720 (114 percent), though the MacBook Pro (126 percent) and XPS 15 (an astounding 188 percent) were even more colorful.
Asus' laptop measured an average 271 nits of brightness on our light meter. That's better than the category average (258 nits) and almost tied with the Yoga's score (272 nits), but the XPS 15 (282 nits) is brighter and the MacBook Pro (460 nits) is in a league of its own when it comes to luminosity.
The XPS 15 and Yoga 720 both offer 4K configurations if you want them, but with the ZenBook Pro, 1080p is the only option.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The ZenBook's keyboard is better than its 1.2 millimeters of travel might suggest. With 63 grams of force required to actuate, the keys feel deep enough; they just don't have as much resistance as I like. Still, I managed to type at a speedy 114 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test (within my usual 107-115-wpm range), with my standard error rate of 2 percent.
The 4.1 x 2.9-inch touchpad is smooth and accurate, and it responded instantaneously to gestures like two-finger scrolling and tapping four fingers to open the Action Center. The only issue is that Asus made the top right-hand portion of the trackpad unusable by placing the fingerprint reader there.
You won't rock out to tunes on the ZenBook Pro without headphones. The speakers, turned by Harman Kardon, are balanced, but quiet. When I listened to Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun," it barely filled our labs, and I found I had to be close to the machine to hear the song. With the included ICEpower Audio app, using movie mode made the song slightly louder, but it also forced the vocals to overpower the bass, guitar and drums, so it wasn't an improvement.
Performance and Graphics
The ZenBook Pro has some muscle. It's armed with a quad-core and 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti GPU with 4GB of VRAM, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB PCIe SSD. Unsurprisingly, it handled 30 tabs open in Chrome, including an episode of "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah."
Asus' laptop earned a score of 14,138 on Geekbench 4, a synthetic benchmark test that measures overall performance. That score surpasses the mainstream average of 10,877, as well as the Yoga 720's score (11,951), but the XPS 15 (15,170) and MacBook Pro (15,170) each scored higher.
The ZenBook Pro copied 4.97GB of files in just 12 seconds, or 424 megabytes per second. The average is 244.6 MBps, while the Yoga 720 reached only 267.9 MBps and the XPS 15 hit 339.3 MBps. Again, the MacBook Pro was faster, at a blazing 654 MBps.
On the OpenOffice spreadsheet performance test, the ZenBook Pro paired 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 39 seconds, beating the average (4:22) and the Yoga 720 (3:42), but falling behind the XPS 15 (3:23).
The ZenBook Pro's 1050 Ti makes this laptop capable of gaming,but not VR. It played Rise of the Tomb Raider on a mix of high and medium settings at 52 fps, surpassing the mainstream average (42 fps) and the scores from the Yoga 720 (39 fps) and XPS 15 (41 fps).
While the ZenBook Pro lasted longer on a charge than the average mainstream notebook, you'll still want to keep the charger around. Asus' notebook endured for 7 hours and 38 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves browsing the web continuously over Wi-Fi. The average is 6:14, but the XPS 15 (8:23), Yoga 720 (8:59) and MacBook Pro (10:59) all lasted even longer than the ZenBook Pro.
The 480p webcam on the ZenBook Pro is, frankly, unacceptable. Low-resolution cameras have been a plague on Asus' laptops for years now, and this webcam is no different. It offers no details (my hair looked like a clump on my head) and poor color reproduction (the blues and greens on my shirt practically blended together).
Under normal use, the ZenBook keeps its cool. After streaming 15 minutes of HD video from YouTube, the laptop measured 81 degrees Fahrenheit on the bottom, 80 degrees between the G and H keys, and 76 degrees on the touchpad, all well below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Software and Warranty
Asus didn't include any of its own software on the ZenBook Pro, which comes with the Signature Edition of Windows 10, but there's still plenty of bloatware that Microsoft packs into every PC. That includes Drawboard PDF, Bubble Witch 3 Saga, Candy Crush Soda Saga, Keeper, Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition and Plex.
With a sleek design and a GTX 1050 Ti, the Asus ZenBook Pro UX550VE is among the most powerful mainstream laptops out there (short of some dedicated gaming machines), with looks to kill. But if you're a music junkie who needs killer sound or a designer who wants a 4K display, you should look elsewhere. Both the XPS 15 and Yoga 720 offer 4K options, and both have better speakers than the ZenBook Pro. The Yoga 720 is the more affordable option in that department, as you can get a laptop with a GTX 1050 GPU (a slight step down from the Ti) for just $1,199. If you can pay a bit more. The $1,899.99 XPS 15 has only a GTX 1050, but you'll get better battery life, a better keyboard and a 4K display with vivid colors.
If you're dead-set on a Mac, the 15-inch MacBook Pro still offers an incredibly vivid and bright display and even faster performance on many tasks than the ZenBook Pro. The Radeon Pro 555 GPU in the Mac is less powerful than the GTX 1050 Ti, though, and the Mac starts at $2,399.
Overall, the ZenBook Pro is a great choice for creative professionals who need plenty of horsepower.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/ Laptop Mag