Of late, Asus has been churning out some impressive notebooks. From compact to power-packed, the company has it all. With its ZenBook 13 OLED though, it tries to combine both these features to some extent. You find some capable hardware in an incredibly portable chassis. But where does that make the ZenBook 13 OLED stand?
Design and build quality
For those who prefer a compact laptop experience, the ZenBook 13 OLED hardly disappoints. Its chassis is made of a diamond cut aluminum alloy that also also has traditional Asus design language. Asus branding is etched on its lid which also sports a concentric circle finish. Topping that off with the Pine Grey color variant we have and you find yourself a classy looking device.
The laptop is easy to carry with its 13.9mm thin profile and 1.14kg weight. And while it may look deceptively fragile, it also comes with MIL-STD-810 certification. Carrying the laptop one-handed is also not a huge problem however when you shake it, you hear a slight creaking sound. This does not take away from the otherwise solid feel but it is an aspect worth pointing out.
Asus has also ensured other design features improve user experience in a meaningful manner. For example, its ‘ErgoLift’ design which improves the typing experience when the notebook is on a surface. We are also happy with the adjustments Asus has made to the rubber tabs allowing for the design feature, which now do not prick you if you are using the notebook on your lap. Larger rubber supports are also found on the machine’s base, which gives it a bit more room for its bottom-firing speakers and cooling.
While much of the machine’s aesthetic is done well, there is one minor adjustment the company could make. With finishes like these, fingerprints show up fairly easily on the laptop’s chassis. Combining this with the warm and humid weather of Dubai makes for a slightly uncomfortable experience especially when you are commuting with the machine. In lieu of this, Asus could look at material substitutes to minimize this in future models.
One of the notebook’s strong suits is its display. You find a 13.3-inch 1,920 x 1,080 resolution here with a fairly modern look. Asus calls this the 4-sided ‘NanoEdge’ panel which does justice to how it looks. Perhaps the top and bottom bezels could be smaller but we are not complaining.
The display itself boasts some vivid and accurate colors thanks to its OLED nature. Viewing angles are fantastic and generally, the panel is great for both content consumption and for creative work. Even if you use it for longer, its TUV Rheinland certification comes in handy, not just to reduce blue light emission but also for general eye-care.
Even when under direct light, the 400nit panel was more than adequate. As for indoor use, we found ourselves having no issue using the panel even at 50 per-cent brightness. However, we did miss touchscreen functionality. For machines of this size, it is natural for anyone to interact via touch. While this is not found on this particular model, Asus does has have the ZenBook Flip 13 OLED which delivers a similar experience with touchscreen support.
Last but not least are the Harman Kardon speakers. When we spoke of them earlier in the review, we said the rubber tips on the laptop’s base help with audio performance. This is definitely true as long as your place the machine on a flat and hard surface. The result is some extremely impressive audio. It is not only loud but also rich which works well with the OLED display. However, the audio does dampen and distort when you use the laptop on a couch or bed. This is not a huge deal-breaker but to improve, Asus could look to incorporate top-firing speakers in future models especially given the space available on its deck.
Connectivity and I/O
With any compact device, you tend to think that port selection and I/O will be a sacrifice. However, that is not the case with the ZenBook 13 OLED. On the left edge, you find an HDMI 2.0 port alongside two Type-C USB ports which support Thunderbolt 4 and USB 4.0. These in particular makes the machine future proof and easy to connect to any external display, up to 8K resolution. The right edge houses a Type-A USB 3.2 Gen 1 port and a microSD card reader.
In all fairness, more demanding users will need to use a dongle to expand on port selection. But for basics, this suite is enough. Asus says in order to keep the chassis of the machine compact, it sacrificed on the 3.5mm audio jack. We do not see how the chassis’ width could be a limitation however it may be something to do with the internals of the machine. Nonetheless, Asus does bundle a Type-C USB to 3.5mm audio jack adapter with Hi-Res Audio certification out of the box which is a nice gesture.
Keyboard and trackpad
Despite the small form factor of the ZenBook 13 OLED, the keyboard experience is spacious. Keys have a 1.4mm travel with a subtle curve as well as three separate levels of backlight support. While the overall keyboard experience is adequate, it is not as satisfying as it could be. The chic-let style feel is a big departure from a mechanical keyboard making key strokes feel mushy when typing for extended durations.
There is also no fingerprint scanner support on the deck however you do find dedicated Fn keys for shortcut access. To address the lack of a fingerprint scanner, Asus has bundled in Windows Hello facial authentication via the machine’s video camera. While this works for authentication in varying lighting environments, the 720p quality is lackluster for 2021 standards.
Where Asus redeems itself is with the glass track-pad experience. Even without dedicated keys, it is both responsive and spacious supporting all of Windows’ gestures. Its click feels premium and we were able to use it for 1-2 hour sessions of video editing, which is impressive in itself. For those who want to use dedicated number keys, you can even take advantage of Asus’ ‘NumberPad 2.0’ support which does not quite give you the tactile responsiveness of number keys but does the job.
The only complaint with the track-pad experience is its positioning. Asus has placed it to the right of the spacebar on the keyboard, which makes it prone to accidental palm touches. This is something that you need to adjust to over time but should not bother you after a week of usage.
Our variant of the ZenBook 13 OLED sports the Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor with Iris Xe graphics. There is also 16GB of RAM here combined with 1TB of SSD storage. With Windows 10 in tow, performance on the device is great. You can have multiple programs open without any sacrifices in speed. Even when browsing on Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge, we were able to keep 10-12 moderately heavy tabs open.
For someone who works with a lot of data on Microsoft Excel, the laptop should be plenty too. But more surprising was its performance when it comes to creative programs. Editing demanding 4K video footage is possible on Adobe Premiere Pro, which is great combined with the display on the machine. Footage may still struggle if it is colour graded or if you are looking to render a timeline but for the basics, this kind of performance is handy.
Intel also claims that the graphics power on its processors is enough for gaming. We think for high-graphic games that are optimised, things should be smooth sailing. This means games like Asphalt 9 and mainstream games like Fortnite at medium to high settings. However, by no means is this a replacement for gaming.
Another aspect of the laptop’s performance is cooling. When we pushed the laptop during gaming or video editing, it did get warm to touch towards the top half of the deck. However, we did not see find this to be overly concerning. In fact, we thought the machine performed better than a typical laptop of this size which we credit Asus’ ‘ErgoLift’ design for.
We think the battery life of the ZenBook 13 OLED is like icing on a cake. The laptop is excellent but with battery life considered, it becomes outstanding. There is a 67Wh cell on the device which gave us 10-12 hours of usage consistently. This was with varying usage including video watching, word processing and sparse video editing. We also tested just video editing on the notebook, which gave us 3.5 hours of use on a single charge.
Even when you run out of charge, recharging is easy via either Type-C USB port. You can use any Power Delivery (PD) certified charger for fast charging up to 65W. Your typical Type-C phone chargers will also work fine however if you use the Asus charger provided out of the box, you can quickly get 60 per-cent juice with around a 50 minute charge. A full charge typically takes 1 hour and 30 minutes.
The Asus ZenBook 13 OLED with 16GB of RAM and 1TB of SSD storage retails for Dh4,799. This puts it within touching distance of the Apple M1 MacBook Pro, whose processor and battery performance far exceeds the ZenBook 13 OLED. However, the base version of the notebook is priced at Dh3,799 which is an amazing deal even with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. And this is the version of the ZenBook 13 OLED you should buy without hesitation.