ASUS ZenBook S

ASUS stepped up its ZenBook game lately, and laptops such as the ZenBook Flip S and ZenBook 3 Deluxe have really taken the PC maker into the upper echelons of the premium space.

The ZenBook S is another in the ever-growing ZenBook family. It's a small, stylish, powerful Ultrabook with a couple of neat features that make it stand out. On its own, it's quite good, but it also has a lot of competition ... especially from ASUS itself.

Stylish power

ASUS Zenbook S

$1,499

Bottom line: This is a unique Ultrabook that oozes class but its battery life disappoints.

Pros:

  • Premium style and build quality.
  • Quad-core CPU.
  • Windows Hello support.
  • Angled keyboard is comfortable to type on.

Cons:

  • Below-average battery life.
  • Downward-firing speakers lack volume and quality.
  • Gets a little warm under load.

What you'll like about the ASUS ZenBook S

ASUS ZenBook S

Much like the rest of ASUS's current ZenBook lineup, the ZenBook S is something of a looker. The unit we have isn't the seemingly trademark blue but a rather fetching shade of red, and it certainly stands out. One thing you can be sure of with an ASUS ZenBook is that it'll break through the boring.

The ZenBook S has a 13.3-inch display available in either 1080p non-touch or 4K-touch forms. The 1080p version is what we have, and it's very nice. Despite being glossy, it's still bright enough to use in a well-lit room or on a train without straining to see through your own reflection. A matte finish would be preferable, though, on a display that you can't touch.

Category Spec
CPU Quad-core Intel Core i7-8550U, eight threads
RAM 8GB/16GB
SSD 256GB SATA3 SSD
512GB NVMe
Display 13.3-inch IPS, 1920 x 1080
Optional 4K display
Graphics Intel UHD 620
Ports USB-C
Battery 50Wh

The display is flanked by very skinny bezels, keeping the overall footprint very small. There's still room for a webcam, though, in the usual place. It's not a fancy Windows Hello-capable camera, however, but you have a fingerprint scanner embedded into the Precision touchpad to take care of your biometric needs.

The touchpad is very good, and the keyboard, while shallow, has quite firm, clicky-feeling keys. ASUS keyboards are usually top notch, and this one is no exception, but it is also very different than most others.

The hinge on the ZenBook S has been cleverly designed to elevate the base of the laptop in a similar way to the Surface Pro Type Cover. It's hard to explain until you try it, but it's so much more comfortable than a flat base you'll wonder how you did without it for so long. The ZenBook 15 has an angled base, but not nearly as dramatic as the ZenBook S.

ASUS ZenBook S

The clever hinge is helped by a sleek, super-thin body, with only USB-C ports. The headphone jack is actually built, unusually, into the display portion of the laptop.

Inside the sleek exterior, you find pretty much everything you'd hope to in a current high-end Ultrabook. An 8th-Gen quad-core Intel Core i7 is joined by 8GB or 16GB of RAM, and in this review unit, a 256GB SATA3 solid-state-drive (SSD), though a super-fast 512GB NVMe SSD is also available for storage. There's no dedicated graphics, which is a little disappointing since an NVIDIA MX150 would certainly have been welcomed over Intel integrated.

Nevertheless, graphics aside, you get some pretty solid performance from the ZenBook S. Here's how the numbers play out.

CPU

Geekbench 4.0 benchmarks (higher is better)

Device CPU Single core Multi core
ZenBook S i7-8550U 4,122 | 11,432
ZenBook UX331 i5-8250U 4,133 12,805
ZenBook UX410U i5-8250U 3,967 12,402
Surface Book 2 15 i7-8650U 5,036 14,237
Surface Book 2 13 i7-8650U 4,862 14,694
XPS 15 (9560) i7-7700HQ 4,503 13,587
Razer Blade 2017 i7-7700HQ 4,277 13,597
Surface Laptop i7 i7-7660U 4,714 9,535
Surface Pro 2017 i7-7660U 4,513 9,346
Surface Book i7-6600U 3,977 7,486

SSD

CrystalDiskMark (higher is better)

Device Read Write
ZenBook S (SATA3) 550 MB/s 512 MB/s
ZenBook UX331 509 MB/s 433 MB/s
Zenbook UX410U 530 MB/s 455 MB/s
Surface Book 2 1TB 1,411 MB/s 1,202 MB/s
Surface Laptop i7 486 MB/s 244 MB/s
Surface Pro 2017 1,284 MB/s 963 MB/s
Surface Book 1TB 1,018 MB/s 967 MB/s
Surface Laptop i5 423 MB/s 237 MB/s

The ZenBook S delivers pretty much everything you'd expect from a high-end Ultrabook. It looks great, performs great, and it's small and light enough to toss into any bag. The SSD on our review unit isn't the fastest, but by SATA3 drive standards, it's very good.

What you'll dislike about the ASUS ZenBook S

ASUS ZenBook S

One drawback of small, thin laptops is that you physically have less space to fit important bits, like a battery, into. And that's the case with the ZenBook S. Compared to laptops from a year or two ago, it's not bad, but given the current state of the competition, the ZenBook S falls pretty far short on battery life. During the course of this review, it's been impossible to go beyond six and seven hours off the charger, and the 4K model certainly won't be any better.

That's a shame, and naturally, if you're restricting intensive use then you'll get towards the higher end of that scale. But it's still disappointing.

Also disappointing is the heat generated when you are using it under load. The bottom of the laptop gets too warm for my tastes, to the point where I'd be uncomfortable with it on my lap for long periods. That's, again, a shame because the size is perfect to use in cramped spaces such as on the train.

And like a few of ASUS's other premium laptops, the speakers are poor. They face down, which is the first problem, the second is that they're just not loud enough to use for a prolonged period, and the third is that they just sound bad. There's no crispness at all, voices sound a little crackly and frayed at higher volumes, there's no particular detail to get excited about, and they'll be driving most of the sound into the table.

Should you buy the ASUS ZenBook S?

ASUS ZenBook S

The ZenBook S is a good laptop, but it's far from ASUS's best. The 4K model costs around $1,500, which isn't the highest you'll pay for a laptop of this level of hardware by any stretch. But it's let down by the sub-par battery life and the sometimes uncomfortable heat warming the metal bottom.

The Ultrabook space is full of superb laptops and to truly stand out, it takes more than a fancy hinge, even though the typing angle on the ZenBook S is second to none for comfort. I'd have liked to see some form of dedicated graphics, too, like ASUS included on other laptops like the ZenBook 15 or ZenBook UX331.

In fact, for most people, I'd say that either of those two would be a better purchase from the ASUS lineup. The latter is cheaper, has dedicated graphics and similar performance, while the former is one of the best laptops released this year and still comes in below the price of 4K model ZenBook S.

3.5 out of 5

If you buy one, so long as you carry your charger on longer days out and don't put it on your lap, you'll enjoy it a lot. But it's not the one I'd get from the ZenBook lineup. That honor goes to the ZenBook 15.

Almost great

ASUS ZenBook S

A nice laptop, but not the ZenBook to buy.

The ZenBook S is enjoyable to use and looks stunning, but the battery life lets it down.

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