A premium laptop doesn't have to break the bank. Just look at Asus' ZenBook 13 UX333FA, which features a powerful 8th Gen Core i5 processor and absurdly good battery life (enough for us to call it one of the best Asus laptops), all packed into a beautiful chassis for a very reasonable $849. That's hundreds less than competing systems like the Dell XPS 13.
There are some flaws, however, including this machine's dim 13-inch display, short keyboard deck and poor speakers. Despite that, the ZenBook 13 is a solid premium laptop that sells for an attainable price. That makes it one of the best laptops for college students.
Asus ZenBook 13 UX333FA price and configuration options
The ZenBook 13 I tested costs $849 and comes with an Intel Core i5-8265U processor with an Intel UHD 620 GPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, a 1080p glossy display and a neat black sleeve for carrying the laptop around.
Asus plans to release the UX333FN version sometime in February, and its components will be up to an Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU and a 1TB SSD. There will also be additional options to get it in Icicle Silver and with an anti-glare display. There's no word on pricing yet.
Asus ZenBook 13 UX333FA design
The glossy, gold Asus logo at the center of the ZenBook 13's hood is like a raindrop falling in the midst of a calm, Royal Blue aluminum ocean, causing a symmetrical ripple effect across the entire lid. It was mesmerizing -- until I held it in my hands for a little over 5 minutes and noticed that it had become infested with fingerprints.
ZenBook 13's lid extends past the hinge, so when I lifted the lid, the keyboard raised ever so slightly, as if it were trying to greet me. The font of the keyboard and the edge of the hinge are lathered in a snazzy rose gold. I also found the nearly bezel-free display to be incredibly refreshing compared to those on laptops that refuse to cut down on the bottom bezel.
At 2.7 pounds and 11.9 x 7.4 x 0.7 inches, the ZenBook 13 is a bit thicker than its closest competitors. The Dell XPS 13 (2.7 pounds, 0.3~0.5 inches), HP Envy 13t (2.9 pounds, 0.5 inches) and Apple MacBook Air (2.8 pounds, 0.6 inches) all land in the same weight range, but the XPS 13 is the lightest of the bunch.
Asus ZenBook 13 UX333FA ports
Even though it's thin and light, the ZenBook 13 has room for a USB Type-A port and even an HDMI port.
The left edge houses a power jack, an HDMI 1.4 port, one USB 3.1 port and one USB Type-C port, while the right side features a microSD card slot, one USB 2.0 port and a headphone jack.
While it has a solid selection of ports, we're sad to see no Thunderbolt 3 on this chassis.
Asus ZenBook 13 UX333FA display
The ZenBook 13's 13.3-inch, 1920 x 1080, glossy panel is colorful but on the dim side.
As the titular character of John Wick: Chapter 3 climbed the steps of the New York Public Library main branch, the ZenBook 13's panel wonderfully highlighted the bold blue and yellow lights that ominously illuminated the entrance. And when Halle Berry came on screen, I could make out each layer of hair flowing from her head. However, between the glossy screen and the dim display, it was frustrating to watch John Wick kill people in a dark space (which is pretty much everywhere in the trailer).
The ZenBook 13's panel covered 115 percent of the sRGB spectrum, a score that's slightly below the 117 percent premium laptop average. While the Envy 13t (106 percent) and MacBook Air (109 percent) didn't do any better, the XPS 13 nailed 119 percent.
At 225 nits, the ZenBook 13 is disappointingly dim compared to the 321-nit category average. The Envy 13t (248 nits) and MacBook Air (234 nits) don't make the average either but are slightly brighter than the ZenBook. Meanwhile, the XPS 13 trumps them all with a whopping 375 nits of brightness.
Asus ZenBook 13 UX333FA keyboard and touchpad
I was able to hit only 58 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, falling below my typical 66 wpm. The key travel was also a little on the shallow side, at 1.3 millimeters, but the keys did require a strong 70 grams of force. We prefer key travel between 1.5 to 2mm and at least 60g of required force.
The keyboard features basic white backlighting and a digital number pad built in to the touchpad that can be activated by holding the top right of the pad.
While the 3.9 x 2.1-inch touchpad is slightly too small for me to comfortably use, it was responsive and soft to the touch. I had no issue using Windows 10 gestures like three-finger tab swiping and two-finger scrolling.
Asus ZenBook 13 UX333FA audio
The ZenBook 13's speakers filled my room with Jon Bellion's "He Is the Same," but it sounded empty and weightless. The opening vocals typically have a deeper-tuned voice layered under it, but these speakers distorted the vocal, and all I could hear was the lead. When the humming of the chorus took off, it was shallow and lacked the necessary bass to be impactful. However, the electronic beats in the background were well-balanced with the vocals.
When I attempted to tune the speakers with the included AudioWizard app, the Music setting made the song sound more uniform but also drastically decreased the volume. The app also includes other presets, like Movie, Recording, Gaming and Speech, but no equalizer option.
Asus ZenBook 13 UX333FA performance
On the Geekbench 4 overall performance test, the ZenBook 13 scored an impressive 15,110, sailing over the 12,899 premium laptop average as well as the scores from the MacBook Air's Core i5-8210Y (7,871) and the XPS 13's Core i7-8565U (12,755).
The ZenBook 13 compiled 65,000 names and addresses in 1 minute and 35 seconds on our Excel test, a result that's just 4 seconds slower than the category average (1:31). The XPS 13 pulled out ahead, at 1:10, while the Envy 13t (1:33) just missed the average and the MacBook Air lagged way behind, at 3:26.
On the HandBrake benchmark, the ZenBook 13 transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in 20 minutes and 48 seconds, which tops the 21:51 premium laptop average, the Envy 13t's time (22:44) and the MacBook Air's showing (37:24). The XPS 13 completed the test in a speedier 19:20.
Asus' 256GB SSD copied 4.97GB of data in just 12 seconds, for a rate of 424 megabytes per second, which isn't too far from the 525-MBps category average. The Envy 13t's 256GB SSD managed only 212 MBps, and the XPS 13's 1TB SSD hit 565 MBps. The MacBook Air finally came out on top, with its 256GB SSD performing at an insane 2,066 MBps.
Asus ZenBook 13 UX333FA graphics
The ZenBook 13's Intel UHD 620 GPU scored 80,655 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics benchmark, falling below the 87,129 category average. With the same GPU, the Envy 13t and XPS 13 scored 77,685 and 88,473, respectively.
In terms of real-world gaming, the ZenBook 13 hit 59 frames per second on the Dirt 3 benchmark, which is perfectly playable but below the 74-fps premium laptop average. The Envy 13t (48 fps) and the MacBook Air (22 fps) fell far behind the ZenBook, while the XPS 13 excelled, at 88 fps.
Asus ZenBook 13 UX333FA battery life
The ZenBook 13 blew us away with its astounding battery life. When we continuously surfed the web over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness, the ZenBook 13 lasted a whopping 11 hours and 28 minutes, which crushes the 8:33 premium laptop average. Meanwhile, the XPS 13 (7:50) and MacBook Air (9:32) trailed the ZenBook by several hours.
Asus ZenBook 13 UX333FA webcam
For once, I was somewhat impressed by a webcam, even though the ZenBook 13's camera is stuck at 720p. The peach wall behind me and the red and blue poster above me were pretty spot on. Even Link's green tunic and gold hair looked remarkably accurate on my shirt. However, my face and shirt were fuzzy, making it difficult to pinpoint any sharp details in the photo.
Asus ZenBook 13 UX333FA heat
The ZenBook 13 can get a little warm, but the heat's not a deal-breaker. After we streamed a 15-minute HD video, the underside reached 96 degrees Fahrenheit, which is just above our 95-degree comfort threshold. Meanwhile, the center of the keyboard and touchpad measured 93 and 85 degrees, respectively. The lower center hinge reached a max temperature of 103 degrees.
Asus ZenBook 13 UX333FA software and warranty
Asus cut down on the bloatware and included only a couple of branded apps, like MyAsus and Asus Hello. MyAsus gives you access to customer support, system diagnosis, battery modes, fan modes and display settings, while Asus Hello is the company's own cloud-storage app, linked to Dropbox.
There's the usual Windows 10 bloatware as well, like Cooking Fever, Candy Crush Saga and Township.
The Asus ZenBook 13 UX333FA shines thanks to a combination of speedy performance and an impressively long battery life. Not to mention, it's quite the beauty. However, its dim display is a trade-off, and we wish there was more spacing between the keys.
A good alternative is the HP Envy 13t, which costs $899 and features decent performance, a slightly brighter display than the Asus and a snappy, responsive keyboard. However, the HP lasts nearly 2 hours less on a charge.
If you're willing to spend a little extra, you can get the XPS 13 with similar specs for $1,209; it'll offer a much brighter display, a full aluminum chassis, a wider keyboard deck and better graphics performance. However, the XPS 13 also offers less battery life than the ZenBook 13.
Overall, the ZenBook 13 is a good premium laptop for a not-so-premium price.
Credit: Laptop Mag