In 2019, there are already enough top-notch 14in notebooks to sink a small ship, yet Asus reckons there’s just about room for one more. Luckily, the new ZenBook 14 happens to be the most compact design from Asus yet. In fact, if the Taiwanese manufacturer is to be believed, the Asus ZenBook 14 is “the world’s smallest 14in laptop”.
Now, I’m not about to circumnavigate the globe with a tape measure in my hand to verify that claim, but they certainly don’t come much smaller. What’s more, its 92% display-to-bezel ratio makes it the sleekest-looking laptop around. Looks aren’t everything, though. As the age-old saying almost goes, it’s the internal specifications that count.
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Asus ZenBook 14 UX433FA review: What you need to know
Asus has released two versions of the ZenBook 14 UF433, one ending in “FA” and the other, pricier model ending in “FN”. For this review I have been sent the former. Like the UF433FN, the ZenBook 14 UXF433FA has a 14in 1,920 x 1,080 IPS non-touch display that Asus refers to as “Frameless NanoEdge” due to the super-slim bezels.
The laptop’s powered by a quad-core Intel Core i7-8565U processor. Released in late 2018, we’ve seen and tested this chipset in a number of other laptops already, which is often backed, as here, by 8GB of RAM. For storage, the ZenBook 14 has a 512GB PCIe SSD. Some ZenBook 14 configurations have dedicated Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics (which we first saw in the Razer Blade Stealth 13), but these don’t seem to be available here in the UK. The ZenBook 14 also possesses one feature that’s unique to Asus laptops: a digital numeric keypad which has been integrated into the touchpad.
Asus ZenBook 14 UX433FA review: Price and competition
Throughout this review I’ll refer to the laptop as the ZenBook 14, but the full title of this exact model is the Asus ZenBook 14 UX433FA-A6076T. Forgive me the shorthand. Right now, you can buy this configuration from Amazon for £999, which is an excellent price. Then again, the RRP is £1,200 (about what I’d expect) so maybe we’re just lucky that Amazon is selling it for less.
The premium 14in laptop to beat is currently the Huawei MateBook 14, a gorgeous machine with a 2,160 x 1,440 touchscreen. Our review model’s fantastic performance stemmed from a killer combination of 16GB of RAM, an Intel Core i7-8565U chipset and a Nvidia GeForce MX250 GPU. Unfortunately, the MateBook 14 is not yet available to buy in the UK. Based on the converted European price, it will cost £1,285 – well worth it, should that transfer over to real-world pricing.
Want an alternative that you can actually buy right here, right now? The Lenovo Yoga C930 is a stunning 2-in-1 with a 13.9in FHD display and an array of high-end features that include the first-ever Dolby Atmos soundbar hinge in a laptop. It costs £1,300, although performance speeds aren’t quite as quick as the ZenBook 14 because it’s powered by an Intel Core i5 chip, not an i7.
Asus ZenBook 14 UX433FA review: Design
The new ZenBook 14 is unbelievably compact. Despite its 14in display, it’s the size of a 13in laptop, measuring 319 x 199 x 15.9mm (WDH), and it weighs a mere 1.19kg. While not quite bezel-free, the display’s ultra-slim frame really cuts down on wasted space. The top bezel is a bit bigger than the other edges just because it needs to accommodate the IR webcam.
You can buy the Asus ZenBook 14 in either “Royal Blue” or “Icicle Silver”. As you can see from my photos, I was sent the blue variant and it’s rather lovely. The back of the lid is embossed with a silver Asus logo and the circular “metal-spun” finish synonymous with the ZenBook line. Above the keyboard, the ZenBook 14 has a Rose Gold panel, which Asus says adds “an extra touch of luxury,” although, personally, I’d prefer if it wasn’t there.
The bottom of the laptop’s lid curls around the lip of the base’s rear edge. When the laptop is opened, this has the effect of tilting the base upwards by 3 degrees, raising it above the desk surface. The main benefit of this design is the added breathing room it provides for the hottest parts of the laptop, letting it stay cool and maintain performance more efficiently. The raised angle also allows for a more comfortable, ergonomic typing position and, supposedly, it’s meant to improve the audio of the ZenBook 14’s dual speakers, pushing them closer to the desk surface for added reverberation.
In truth, the bottom-mounted speakers sound better when not pressed up against a flat surface. Rather than improving the sound, the added proximity makes them louder and more distorted, adding in all sorts on unwanted noise that spoils the music-listening experience. You’ll encounter the same problem with almost all down-firing laptop speakers, really, and while the maximum volume is adequately loud, there’s nothing much in the way of bass.
Laptops this slim often skimp on ports but Asus has done right by the ZenBook 14, which has plenty. On the left edge, you’ll find the DC-in power socket, a full-sized HDMI input, one USB 3.1 Type-A port and a USB 3.1 Type-C port. Over on the left is the microSD card reader, a USB 2.0 Type-A port and a 3.5mm audio jack. The absence of Thunderbolt 3 connectivity is conspicuous, but, other than that, the ZenBook 14 meets expectations.
Asus ZenBook 14 UX433FA review: Keyboard and touchpad
As a long-time owner of an Asus ZenBook, typing on the ZenBook 14 feels cosy and familiar; the chiclet keyboard layout is about as standard as it gets, and there aren’t any unusual key placements or standout quirks. The 1.4mm key travel is perfect and the typing experience is what I’d describe as light and soft. Individually, the keys feel pretty sturdy. Press a bit harder on them, however, and there is a worrying amount of give to the keyboard chassis, especially around the centre of the keyboard. It’s backlit, too, with three brightness levels you can switch between using the F7 key.
Onto the touchpad or, as Asus calls it, the “NumberPad”. This dual-purpose touchpad looks perfectly normal at first glance, except for a small numpad symbol in the top-right corner. Oddly, you don’t touch the symbol itself to active said numpad, but rather an unmarked sensor ever so slightly below and to the left of it. This is counter-intuitive (why, oh why didn’t Asus just put the sensor where the symbol is?) and requires some precision and patience, at least until you’ve learnt the correct finger placement.
Activating the sensor will illuminate a bright blue digital numeric keypad within the touchpad. A similar, slightly smaller 2-in-1 touchpad can be found on the Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX701 I reviewed earlier in the year. The touchpad mostly functions as normal while the numpad is switched on – you can still scroll, click and use shortcuts.
The digital numpad is a nice feature but Asus could have implemented a physical button on the keyboard to use it, rather than an invisible sensor integrated on the touchpad. On the aforementioned Zephyrus S GX701, there was such a button, so why not have one here? It’s annoying when you want to use it and twice as annoying when you don’t. During my use of the laptop I managed to unintentionally activate the numpad a few times while typing or scrolling. There is no setting to deactivate the NumPad sensor completely, so it can become a major source of irritation.
Asus ZenBook 14 UX433FA review: Display
Much the same goes for the glossy finish that coats the display of my review unit. Using the ZenBook 14 in our brightly-lit office, I was constantly distracted by streaks of light reflected from the ceiling and had to make a conscious effort to keep it facing away from light sources. When you’re trying to watch a video or study a document, a glossy display like this is just not helpful. In fact, I’m not sure there’s any scenario in which it would be.
You can actually buy a non-glossy iteration of the ZenBook 14 that appears to be the same in every way, except that the display has a matte finish instead. This model, the ZenBook 14 UX433FA-A5128T, costs exactly the same (£999) as my review model on Amazon. That’s definitely the one I’d get.
The ZenBook 14’s panel has an sRGB gamut volume of 98% and an sRGB coverage of 84%. For a visual representation of what this means, take a look at the gamut graph below. The solid line represents the colour range detectable by the human eye while the dotted line represents sRGB, which is the standard colour space used on the web and in the majority of applications. Lastly, there’s the coloured line, depicting how the panel’s colour reproduction overlaps with the sRGB colour space. This panel’s accuracy is not great (but not terrible either), managing an average Delta E accuracy of 3.38.
A contrast ratio of 1,323:1 means that images on screen are poppy enough, but not what you’d call sensational. The display has a maximum luminance of 312.1cd/m², which is only slightly below average for a laptop of this price, although it’s really not helped out by the reflective coating. Working outside or by a sun-soaked window is going to be a challenge on this particular model of the ZenBook 14.
Asus ZenBook 14 UX433FA review: Performance and battery life
Having previously tested laptops with an Intel Core i7-8565U and 8GB of RAM, I knew what kind of performance speeds to expect from the ZenBook 14. In our in-house 4K benchmark, which is a combined CPU speed and multitasking stress test, the ZenBook 14 achieved an overall score of 89. That’s a perfectly good score and, during my time with the laptop, I never had any issues when opening applications or running with a couple of dozen browser tabs open.
That CPU speed result is around what I’d predicted and, as you can see from the chart above, it’s not far off the 95 scored by the Dell XPS 13 (2019). The Razer Blade Stealth 13 and Huawei MateBook 14 are faster but both have 16GB of RAM to play with, rather than 8GB.
The Asus ZenBook 14 has a 512GB PCIe SSD, which is pretty capable. Running the AS SSD software revealed a sequential file read speed of 1,444.4MB/sec and a sequential file write speed of 664.14MB/sec. Although not as fast as the SSDs in some competitor laptops, it won’t hold the ZenBook 14 back when accessing and saving files.
But what about gaming? As you know by now, the ZenBook 14 UX433FA is bereft of a dedicated GPU. The only gaming muscle it has to flex is its integrated Intel UHD 620 graphics. That’s not to say it can’t run games at all, though. In the GFXBench GL Car Chase test the ZenBook 14 managed to keep up an average on-screen fps of 31.61, and anything above 30 is respectable on a laptop without a proper GPU. Based on these results, it seems that the ZenBook 14 is most closely matched to the Dell XPS 13 (2019) in terms of gaming capabilities.
The 720p Dirt: Showdown benchmark backs this up: the ZenBook 14 ran the test at an average of 44fps, compared to the XPS 13’s 49fps. Numbers such as these indicate that you don’t need to only stick to Age of Empires on the ZenBook 14 (although it’s a great choice!) , and should be able to play some slightly more demanding titles, as long as you lower your settings. You’ll notice in the Dirt results chart above that the MateBook 14 and the Stealth 13 pulled way ahead of the competition – they have their dedicated graphics to thank for that.
Perhaps we should be thanful that the ZenBook 14 doesn’t have a dedicated GPU – if it did, its power efficiency would likely take a nasty hit. It’s hardly the most long-lived laptop as it is, only lasting a lacklustre 7hrs 51mins in our standard battery rundown benchmark. With moderate use, it should just about see you through a working day on a full charge but, considering its Dell and Huawei competitors can last north of ten hours, that’s arguably not quite good enough.
Asus ZenBook 14 UX433FA review: Verdict
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to luxury laptops at the moment, so why does the Asus ZenBook 14 deserve your head-earned cash? For a start, it’s really well-priced for its specs, being the only laptop with an Intel Core i7-8565U that we’ve reviewed at under £1,000. Secondly, it’s incredibly compact for a 14in laptop, thanks to that 92% display-to-bezel ratio.
Some people might not be crazy about the digital numpad – I’m not sold – but if you don’t need it, you can near enough ignore it. That leaves just one major problem: a glossy display finish, which you can get around by buying an almost identical configuration with a matte FHD screen. I can’t fathom why anyone would think a gloss finish on a laptop display is a good thing, but perhaps that’s a discussion for another time. Right now, we can say that, while rivals run faster and last longer, the ZenBook 14 is a really attractive laptop with decent performance to back up its good looks.