This Thin and Light Asus Laptop Checks Every Box and Then Some

This Thin and Light Asus Laptop Checks Every Box and Then Some
Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo

Every time a new thin, light laptop comes across my desk, I become more resigned to the fact that it’s time to move on from my now 5-year-old gaming laptop. I’m careening toward middle age, and I need a practical, portable machine to keep my hips in their sockets. (I feel old, OK?) My desktop will always have a dedicated spot in my home, but for travelling, typing away on my couch, or sitting at a tiny metal table on a café patio, it would be nice to have a machine with a battery that doesn’t die after four hours. The new Asus ZenBook 13 OLED I’ve been testing is one of the laptops to get for all those needs.

At 1 kg and 0.54 inches thick, Asus’ newest thin and light laptop is configured with either an 11th-gen Intel or Ryzen 5000U-series AMD processor. The one reviewed here has a Ryzen 7 5800U with Vega graphics, along with 16GB of memory and a 1TB SSD. It runs cool, it’s super quiet, and it’s a well-rounded machine that only has some minor issues.

Asus ZenBook 13 OLED

WHAT IS IT?

One of Asus' newest ZenBooks with an AMD processor and OLED display

PRICE

Starts at $US900 ($1,158)

LIKE

Price, performance, display, speakers

NO LIKE

Keyboard is sort of cramped, touchpad is a tad too large

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for local Australian pricing and availability.

Incredible Battery Life, Solid Performance

First thing’s first: I have to give a round of applause to this ZenBook’s battery life. It’s fantastic. Clocking in at 14.5 hours, it lasts about 30 minutes longer than the M1 MacBook Air and two hours longer than the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4. Out of all the laptops we’ve tested so far, the longest battery life award goes to the Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 for a ridiculous 17.5 hours of power on a charge, but the ZenBook is no slouch.

Compared to the Intel Core i7-1185G7, AMD’s Ryzen 7 5800U does a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to processing speed. Rendering a 3D image of a car in Blender is roughly 45 seconds faster with the Ryzen 7 5800U (5:18 compared to 6 minutes), and GPU compute is nearly an identical 8:12. Transcoding a 4K video to 1080p at 30 frames per second takes 9 minutes and 30 seconds in Handbrake, compared to 11-12 minutes with Intel’s chip.

Where the AMD Ryzen 7 5800U falls behind is in integrated graphics. The ZenBook is not in any way, shape, or form a gaming laptop, but Intel’s Iris Xe graphics is a major leap as far as integrated GPU performance goes. Playing some games at 1080p on low or 720p on high can yield close to or over 60 fps, but AMD’s integrated graphics don’t have that kind of oomph. Does that matter for most people who will likely only use the ZenBook for word-processing, emails, and other productivity-focused tasks? Nope.

I should note that if you want a “true-true” Ryzen 5000U-series processor with this laptop, make sure you’re getting either the Ryzen 7 5800U or that Ryzen 5 5600U. That’s not to say the 5700U and 5500U aren’t part of AMD’s 5000 mobile processor family, but the latter two chips are on AMD’s older Zen 2 architecture, which is what the chipmaker’s previous generation of CPUs were built on. Their frequencies are clocked slightly lower, but most of the performance gap between the 5800U/5600U and 5700U/5500U will be from the architectural changes.

ZenBook vs. the Competition

It’ll be the Asus ZenBooks with a 5800U or 5600U that will be on similar footing performance-wise with its own Intel 11th-gen versions — and other brands with the same Tiger Lake processors, too, like MSI’s Prestige 14 Evo. Performance isn’t often the deciding factor with small laptops like these, but price and special features are. For instance, any Evo-certified laptop like the Prestige 14 as a split-second wake up time from sleep mode. This ZenBook with AMD? Yep, it can do that too.

Both have the nearly the same sized display, and a similar chassis design as well. A lip on the back of the clamshell lifts the bottom up to allow for more airflow — the further you tilt the screen back, the bigger the gap. The touchpad stretches across a sizable part of the wrist rest on both laptops, so like the Prestige 14 I kept accidentally hitting the pad when I didn’t mean to. I also prefer the keyboard on the Prestige; the keys on the ZenBook are too small for my taste, and typing on it makes my fingers feel cramped. I don’t have the same amount of room to move my fingers around like to do with the Prestige.

Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Also, unlike the Prestige, the ZenBook doesn’t have any Thunderbolt ports, and its screen is a tad smaller too. But it has a number pad integrated with the touchpad that’s super responsive to gentle taps.

Amazing OLED Screen

The pièce de résistance of Asus’s ZenBook is its display. It’s miles better than the Prestige. Like MSI’s laptop, the ZenBook has a 1080p FHD display, but instead of an IPS screen it’s a Pantone-validated, VESA-certified HDR OLED display. In other words, the colours pop and the blacks are nice and dark. The display maxes out at 400 nits, which is 100 nits brighter than the Prestige 14.

The stock background that came with our review unit shows off those OLEDs with lovely, soft swirls of colours that are practically neon because the screen is so vibrant. Even though it’s a 13-inch screen, movies look fantastic on it — especially Our Planet. Looking at Earth from space, frogs in the Amazon…it’s beautiful enough to make you want to cry. The speakers are surprisingly good for a tiny laptop, too, so it’s wins all around for the ZenBook in visuals and sound.

And that’s the main differentiating factor between the ZenBook and other tiny laptops like the Prestige 14. The ZenBook is more for video editors and photographers who need something portable and lightweight, but with a lot of processing power and lengthy battery life. And if they need to hook it up to an external monitor or a TV, there’s an HDMI 2.1 port for that.

Should You Buy This Thing?

The ZenBook is also cheaper than other laptops in its class. (That tends to be the case with AMD-powered laptops of all shapes and sizes, too.) Comparatively, an Intel-outfitted device like the Prestige starts at more than $US1,000 ($1,287), but Asus’ ZenBook starts at $US900 ($1,158). Double the memory to 16GB but leave the 512GB storage, and you’re looking at just over a grand.

Like I said, there’s not much to dislike about the Asus ZenBook 13 OLED. If you’re particular about your keyboard like I am, this laptop could be hit or miss based on that alone. But if you’re lucky enough get to do some test typing in a store and decide you like the keys, this ZenBook is a solid investment.