The Asus Zenbook Pro UX501J is a premium 15-inch laptop that demands your attention. It packs a dazzling 4K display in a fetching aluminum design. Asus backs up those head-turning features with an Intel Core i7 processor, 512GB SSD and Nvidia GTX 960M graphics that will provide more than enough power when you're editing photos or video. Add in audio driven by Bang & Olufsen technology, and the UX501J is a workhorse that will keep you entertained.
The dark-grey brushed-metal lid and the beveled edges on the machined silver deck of the UX501 give it a strong, elegant look. A pair of concentric-circle speaker grilles on the top of the keyboard are a beautiful touch that make the laptop stand out from the competition.
Measuring 15 x 10 x 0.83 inches and weighing 5 pounds, the UX501 felt slightly large and heavy in my hands, but not to a point of being problematic. It's thicker and heavier than both the Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display (14.13 x 9.73 x 0.71 inches, 4.49 pounds) as well as the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 (14.9 x 10.3 x 0.78 inches, 4.53 pounds), but it's shorter than the Acer Aspire V15 Nitro Black Edition (15.3 x 10.1 x 0.8-0.9 inches, 4.8 pounds).
While there isn't exactly a glut of 4K content, the UX501's (3840 x 2160) UHD display is great no matter what you watch. The European Space Agency's Alexander Gerst's Earth time lapses simply wowed me on this laptop. The green solar flares were brilliant and strong, while the clouds below were not only crisp, but also had plenty of depth -- thanks in part to the screen's impeccable pixel density. Unfortunately, I noticed a lot of reflections from its glossy display when the dark depths of outer space took up the majority of the screen.
The UX501's screen also produced a wide variety of vivid colors in Demi Lovato's video for "Cool for the Summer." Our tests backed up my experience: The screen renders 112 percent of the sRGB color spectrum, which is a wider range than the category average (84.7 percent), the Inspiron 15 (93.4 percent), the Aspire V15 (97.8 percent) and the MacBook Pro (86 percent). Asus' display earned an impressive Delta-E score (a measure of color accuracy, where lower numbers are better) of 1.4, making it more accurate than the category average (2.7), the MacBook Pro (2.1), the Aspire V15 (10.5) and the Inspiron 15 (5.4).
At 258 nits, the Asus UX501 was brighter than the Inspiron 15 (180 nits), the Aspire V15 (212 nits) and the category average (254 nits), but the MacBook Pro (303 nits) shined brighter.
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Asus' Splendid Technology program gives you the choice of Normal, Theater, Vivid and Manual display settings. While watching the trailer for Spectre, I found that Vivid gave the nicest balance, whereas Theater was too warm and Normal was a bit dim.
The screen is an IPS multitouch display with 10-finger input, but since it cannot detach or rotate to any tabletlike positions, there is relatively little use for touch sensitivity.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Typing on the UX501's keyboard was a mostly positive experience, thanks to its keys having 1.5 mm of travel (1.5 to 2 mm is good) and requiring 60 grams of force to actuate. On the TenFastFingers typing test, I managed an average of 60 words per minute, which is near my desktop average of 65 wpm.
Unfortunately, my accuracy in that typing test was only 89 percent, well below my typically near-perfect scores. I would have fared better if the UX501's keyboard were laid out in a more traditional manner. The directional keys are sandwiched between Shift and Control, which meant that I always had to look at the arrow keys before pressing them. Also, the italic typeset on the text on the keys made them somewhat difficult to read.
While the 4.1 x 2.9-inch touchpad on the UX501 was very responsive to my touch, it's placed to the right of the space bar (and not centered under the G and H keys), which led to repeated accidental left- and right-swipe gestures. To be fair, once the UX3501 is updated to Windows 10, accidental activation of the Charms menu will no longer be an issue.
If it wasn't obvious from looking at its concentric circle speakers -- and the "Audio by ICEPOWER | Bang & Olufsen Technology" branding between -- this laptop takes music seriously. Listening to How To Dress Well's "& It Was U," the highs were both crisp and delicate, as if I were at a live performance. The strong bass lines in Lorde's "Tennis Court" sounded luxurious and spacious.
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Opening the AudioWizard utility, I discovered it had been set to the Music setting by default, which seemed to be the most balanced option. The other settings are Off, Movie, Recording, Gaming and Speech, but having tried them all, I didn't hear much difference between them.
Ports & Webcam
The left side of the UX501 has the proprietary power port, a Thunderbolt 2.0 port, an HDMI port and a USB 3.0 port. On the right side of the notebook are two USB 3.0 ports, a 2-in-1 card reader and the headphone and microphone jack.
Above the screen is a 1MP webcam, and while Asus calls it HD, the photos it took of me were splotchy at best, with little detail and poor color balance.
Powered by a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-4720HQ processor with 16GB of RAM, the UX501 thrived as I multitasked. I was able to demolish enemies in BioShock Infinite while Spotify tunes blasted in the background. I then switched over to Chrome, which had two-dozen tabs open, with Windows Defender running a full-system scan -- all without issue or lag.
The UX501 scored a 11,887 on the Geekbench 3 performance test, besting the mainstream average (10,539), as well as the Core i7-5500U-powered Inspiron 15 (6,380). However, the Asus finished behind the Core i7-4710HQ-powered Aspire V15 (12,843) and the Core i7-powered MacBook Pro (14,423); the latter costs about $1,000 more than the UX501.
The UX501's 512GB SSD duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in only 10 seconds, at a blindingly fast rate of 508.9 MBps. That's faster than the category average (182 MBps), the Inspiron 15 (195.7 MBps) and the Aspire V15 (203.6 MBps). Only the MacBook Pro delivered a faster rate (636 MBps).
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The Laptop Mag OpenOffice Spreadsheet test demonstrated that the UX501 will thrive in productivity chores, matching 20,000 names to their addresses in 3 minutes and 58 seconds. That's faster than the category average (4:10), the Inspiron 15 (4:33) and even the MacBook Pro (4:14), yet the Aspire V15 finished faster (3:55).
Powered by its Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M video card, which has 2GB of memory, the UX501 is a good laptop for mainstream gaming.
Playing BioShock Infinite at 1080p with graphics set to high, the UX501 managed a playable 42 frames per second. That's on a par with the Acer Aspire V15 (43 fps, Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M) and much higher than the Inspiron 15 (11 fps, AMD Radeon R7 M270). On the more taxing Metro: Last Light, the UX501 was only playable in 1080p with settings set to low, where it ran at 62 fps.
On synthetic graphics benchmark tests, the UX501 had a strong showing. The notebook scored 3,854 in 3DMark's Fire Strike test, putting it above the category average (3,295), the Inspiron 15 (1,197) and the Aspire V15 (3,723).
After streaming HD video for 15 minutes, the notebook's underside reached our 95-degrees comfort threshold, and hit 98 on its hinge. If you keep it on a surface, though, you should be fine, since the touchpad (79 degrees) and the area between the G and H keys (89 degrees) did not spike as high.
Although Asus claims that the UX501 will last up to 6 hours on a charge, it lasted only 4 hours and 25 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing over Wi-Fi with the screen at 100 nits). That's about half as long as the MacBook Pro (9:08) and also shorter than the category average (5:54) and the Inspiron 15 (5:45). It did manage to outlast the Aspire V15 (2:48).
While Asus packed the UX501 with some bloatware that nobody wanted or will likely ever use (Zinio's magazine reader, TripAdvisor and Asus' own GiftBox), I found PhotoDirector useful for image editing, and it was nice to see popular applications like Twitter, Netflix and Flipboard pre-installed.
The UX501 comes in only one configuration: the $1,499 model that sports a 15.6-inch IPS 4K UHD display, powered by a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-4720HQ processor with 16GB of RAM, a 512 SSD and Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M graphics with 2GB of video memory.
From its breathtaking 4K display to its wonderful sound, the $1,499 Asus ZenBook Pro UX501 pairs premium features with strong performance that bests similarly priced machines such as the Dell Inspiron 15 7000. While I wish the UX501's battery lasted longer and its keyboard and trackpad were arranged differently, overall this notebook will more than deliver for creatives looking for an excellent display, with the power to drive it.