The Asus ZenBook 14 (UX425JA) is an affordable ultraportable with many charms, but buyers shouldn’t give in to them until seeing its “Tiger Lake” replacement.

The Asus ZenBook 14 (starts at $799.99; $899.99 in model UX425JA we tested) is a sleek and surprisingly affordable ultraportable. It packs a crisp 14-inch display in a trim aluminum chassis with ultra-thin screen bezels and a hinge that provides a subtle but appreciated lift to the keyboard. Inside, it supplies a 10th Generation Intel Core i7 “Ice Lake” processor, 8GB of RAM, integrated Intel Iris Plus graphics, and a 512GB solid-state drive. Getting this component mix in an all-metal ultraportable for less than $1,000 is a steal, and I haven’t even mentioned the ZenBook’s all-day battery life. And yet we can’t offer a full-throated recommendation for the model UX425JA despite its appeal. How is this so? Timing, they say, is everything. 

Despite the ZenBook 14’s appeal, it’s difficult to recommend an ultraportable based on an “Ice Lake” CPU when ultraportables with Intel’s 11th Generation “Tiger Lake” chips are just now hitting the streets. But Tiger Lake processors are specifically tailored for ultraportable laptops and will deliver refined artificial intelligence processing and a boost to the capabilities of integrated graphics with Intel’s next-gen Iris Xe graphics. 

Asus assures us that this ZenBook 14 model will be on the market for a while yet. However, Asus has already announced the new-CPU successor to this model—the ZenBook 14 (UX425EA)—and is expected to release it later this month. The company is mum on pricing, but Tiger Lake laptops are expected to cost little more than their Ice Lake predecessors. And if that’s the case here, you probably want to pass on the UX425JA—unless it receives a substantial price cut when the new ultraportable arrives.

For now, Asus sells two models of this ZenBook 14. The base version (UX425JA-EB51) costs $799.99 and features a 10th Generation Core i5-1035G1 processor, 8GB of memory, integrated Intel Iris Plus graphics, and a 512GB SSD. We reviewed the $899.99 model (UX425JA-EB71) that steps up to a Core i7-1065G7 CPU. Both models feature a 14-inch, 400-nit non-touch display with full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) resolution.

Measuring 0.54 by 12.5 by 8.18 inches (HWD) and weighing a scant 2.6 pounds, the ZenBook 14 UX425JA is more compact and lighter than many 13.3-inch ultraportables. The Dell XPS 13 has a smaller footprint at 0.46 by 11.9 by 7.8 inches, but is nearly a full pound heavier at 3.5 pounds. And the Apple MacBook Air measures 0.63 by 11.97 by 8.46 inches and weighs 2.8 pounds. 

The ZenBook 14 is so compact in large part because it features narrow screen bezels on all four sides of the display. Many laptops—even those whose makers flog the thinness of their bezels—have a bottom bezel that’s wider than the other three sides. With the ZenBook 14 UX425JA, the screen takes up almost the entire space—the system has a 90 percent screen-to-body ratio, according to Asus, and that figure seems low when you are seated in front of the laptop.

Like other ZenBooks, this model features Asus’ ErgoLift screen hinge. Not only does this hinge design have the effect of making the bottom screen bezel appear even thinner by lifting the back edge of the keyboard deck a smidge, but it also creates a more comfortable angle for typing and allows for better airflow underneath the laptop to aid cooling.

Most under-$1,000 ultraportables feature plastic chassis, or combinations of metal and plastic where the lid and keyboard deck are metal but the bottom panel is plastic. The ZenBook’s aluminum chassis lends a sleek, luxurious look to the laptop, but when you pick up the machine, the lid and bottom panel flex in your grip, and when you type, the keyboard deck flexes under the pressure of your fingertips. The ZenBook 14 isn’t nearly as rigid as other all-metal ultraportables. I would gladly accept a few extra ounces of weight and a slightly thicker design if it meant the laptop’s metal surfaces felt stronger.

While the chassis flex isn’t ideal, I should note that the Asus should still be able to handle the abuses heaped upon it during daily travel. The system has passed MIL-STD 810G tests for shock, vibration, temperature extremes, and other environmental hazards.

Aside from the flex when typing, the ZenBook 14’s keyboard is roomy and comfortable. The keys offer shallow travel but feel snappy enough under your fingers. They are the polar opposite of “clacky” keys and create a hushed typing experience. No keys were shortened to fit the keyboard in the compact chassis. In fact, Asus found room for a column of useful, full-size keys along the right edge for power, Home, Page Up, Page Down, and End, along with the right-arrow key.

The laptop features Asus’ unique touchpad that doubles as a number pad. Press the icon in the top right corner of the touchpad, and an LED numeric pad lights up. This can help with spreadsheeting chores and comes in handy when you need a calculator for quick tabulations. Even when in number-pad mode, it still acts as a touchpad to allow you the ability to swipe and click to navigate Windows.

As mentioned, the 14-inch non-touch display combines 1080p resolution with 400 nits of brightness. Behind its anti-glare coating, the image looks crisp and bright and exhibits wide viewing angles. The screen’s 16:9 aspect ratio is a great fit for watching movies but gives a bit less vertical space than the 16:10 Dell XPS 13, which means more frequent scrolling through web pages and Excel sheets.

The ZenBook 14 has a pair of downward-firing speakers that suffice for YouTube videos but lack the bass response for music playback. You’ll want to keep a pair of wireless headphones nearby if you like to listen to music while you work.

Why wireless ones? Because the ZenBook doesn’t have a headphone jack. Instead, Asus includes a dongle (converting a USB Type-C port to a 3.5mm audio jack) for users who want to use wired headphones, but if you are like me, the dongle’s likely to disappear mere hours after you open the box. You’ll also need to keep track of a second dongle if you want to connect to a wired network—the laptop lacks an Ethernet port and instead comes with a USB Type-A to LAN adapter. The good news on the port front is that the system’s two USB-C ports support Thunderbolt 3. In addition, you’ll find one USB-A port, a full-size HDMI port, and a microSD card slot.

The Asus ZenBook 14 (UX425JA) features a quad-core, eight-thread Intel Core i7-1065G7 CPU with a base clock speed of 1.3GHz and turbo frequency of 3.9GHz. Power users might grumble at its 8GB rather than 16GB of RAM, but they should be satisfied with its 512GB SSD. The ZenBook felt peppy during general Windows use and handled various multitasking scenarios with ease.

For our performance benchmarks, we matched the Asus ZenBook 14 against three other laptops with 10th Generation Core chips—the Core i7-based Acer Swift 3 and Dell Latitude 7410, and the Core i5 Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 8—and one of the first we’ve tested with a Tiger Lake CPU, the Asus ZenBook 13 (UX325EA). You can see their basic specs in the comparison table above.

PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both tests generate a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.

The UX425JA posted a respectable score in PCMark 10 in a tightly packed group with the other systems with 10th Generation Intel processors. The ZenBook 13 (UX325EA), however, flexed its Tiger Lake muscles and was the clear winner in PCMark 10’s productivity exercise.

Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.

The ZenBook 14 UX425JA did well here, finishing at the head of the 10th Generation pack, but again the Tiger Lake ZenBook 13 led the way.

Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.

What was that about being a good predictor? Once again the UX325EA took the gold medal.

We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.

The pattern held in this benchmark, where the ZenBook 13 UX325EA was clearly superior to the ZenBook 14 UX425JA and the other 10th Generation machines.

3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.

Three different levels of integrated-graphics performance are evident. The Dell and Lenovo are at the bottom with their Intel UHD Graphics silicon. In the middle are the ZenBook 14 (UX425JA) and Acer Swift 3, which feature Intel Iris Plus Graphics. At the top is the ZenBook 13 (UX325EA), which boasts Intel’s latest Iris Xe graphics silicon.

Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.

Chalk up another win for the UX325EA. Iris Xe graphics have enough muscle to let the ZenBook 13 function as an entry-level gaming laptop if you’re willing to dial back resolution and image detail.

After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the same Tears of Steel movie we use in our Handbrake trial—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.

The ZenBook 14 UX425JA features a large 67-watt-hour battery that allowed the system to last for an impressive 16 hours and 38 minutes in our video rundown. That kind of stamina should get you through even the longest of workdays without needing to retreat to a wall outlet. Only the Acer Swift 3 lasted longer in this lot.

The Asus ZenBook 14 (UX425JA) hits the big three—portability, power, and affordable pricing—for an ultraportable. You get a bright 14-inch display in an all-metal chassis that’s as compact and light as many 13.3-inch laptops, along with respectable performance and all-day battery life. And it costs less than $1,000.

The best thing we can say about it is that it might be worth carrying around two dongles to take advantage of its excellent price/performance ratio. But the spoiler is the imminent release of ultraportables—including a newer ZenBook 14—with those 11th Generation Tiger Lake CPUs. It’s almost certainly worth waiting for the next generation, if only to see whether the UX425JA’s already tempting price is pushed even lower.

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Source: https://www.pcmag.com/reviews/asus-zenbook-14-ux425ja

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