To say that there are a lot of laptops is an understatement. As with smartphones, there is often not much that distinguishes them within a certain segment or budget – apart from components and small design changes. With the latest ZenBook Pro from Asus, however, there is one element that really sets it apart: a touchpad that is also a touchscreen.
Before we take a closer look at this special function, all technical data of the Asus ZenBook Pro 14 should be mentioned. The UX480 model we received for review measures 14 inches (there is also a 15.6 inch version) and contains a Whiskey Lake-U quad-core i5 or i7 CPU. You can also choose between 8 GB or 16 GB 2400 MHz DDR4. Storage options include 128 GB or 256 GB SATA SSD, 128 GB or 256 GB PCIe 3.0 x2 SSD or a 1 TB PCIe 3.0 x4 SSD.
The tested model is operated by a Core i7-8565U (see our full test) at 1.8 GHz and can be raised to 4.6 GHz. While this isn't on par with the i9-8950HK's top-of-the-range 15.6-inch model, it offers more than enough performance for everyday use and can handle most professional tasks such as video and photo editing .
The ZenBook comes with a "Pro" moniker. However, this does not mean that it is based exclusively on integrated graphics. Instead, you get a GTX 1050 with 2 GB or 4 GB GDDR5 VRAM. It is the Max-Q version, which enables a more efficient and space-saving design.
While this isn't the GPU you want when you play Metro Exodus at maximum settings, the GTX 1050 can hold its own when you switch back a bit. I found that even this 2GB version kept Far Cry 5 and other older but still challenging titles at 30 fps or higher as long as the settings weren't maximum.
At 1.6 kg (3.5 lbs) and 17.9 mm in size, this isn't the slimmest or lightest laptop, which is partly due to the ScreenPad and the dedicated GPU. But it feels comfortingly robust. It is also a very good looking device with a dark blue and rose gold accents.
An interesting feature of the design is the ErgoLift hinge. This lifts the keyboard area off your desk at an angle of three degrees when the lid is open, and is said to improve airflow, typing, and acoustics. It's something we've seen variations on other laptops, and although the hinge has its advantages on a flat surface, I sometimes dug it into my legs when I used the machine on my lap.
Although there is no fingerprint reader, you can log in using Windows Hello and the integrated IR camera.
It seems the ZenBook Pro was designed for desks. The Harmon Kardon brand stereo speakers are satisfactorily loud and meaty, but their position allows them to sound muffled on a user's lap. Ultimately, it's definitely one of the better-sounding machines in this price range, but not quite as good as some of the more expensive laptops.
The 14-inch display is a touchscreen, which some claim is unnecessary on laptops that aren't 2-in-1 convertibles or detachable devices. I found it very helpful when used in conjunction with the TouchPad, especially in the display mode extension.
Asus even makes its own iPad-style pen, but like the Apple accessories, it has to be bought separately – although it is about half the price or cheaper.
At this size, you have the option of a Full HD screen resolution (1920 x 1080) with a refresh rate of 60 Hz. However, the 15.6-inch ZenBook Pro offers a 4K version. It offers 100 percent coverage of the sRGB color gamut, Pantone-certified certification for better color accuracy and a Delta-E of less than three. I found the screen remarkably colorful and vivid, although its maximum brightness of around 280 nits would benefit from using it outdoors on sunny days.
Asus claims that the ZenBook Pro 14's 70 Wh battery lasts 12.5 hours when the screen brightness is 80 percent and battery saver is enabled. How long the laptop runs depends on how often you use the ScreenPad. Leaving the second screen off will come close to Asus' claims. However, if you keep watching tiny YouTube videos and messing around with apps, your juice runs out surprisingly quickly.
I liked the keyboard of the ZenBook. The chiclet-style keys have adjustable backlighting, 1.4 mm travel and are robust enough so that even the heaviest typists should find them pleasant. Though not comparable to the great keyboard of the Surface Book 2, I still found it comfortable to use and couldn't find any complaints, although some may find it a bit mushy.
A whole range of connections are offered here: a USB 3.1 Gen2 Type C, a USB 3.1 Gen2 Type A, a USB 2.0, an HDMI connection, a microSD slot and an audio socket. Unfortunately there is no Thunderbolt 3, but neither is the much more expensive Surface Book 2.
When it was released last year, Asus said the ZenBook Pro came with the world's first intelligent touchpad. Putting the word "smart" behind words to describe products that are not particularly smart or useful has been a habit in the technology industry for years. But is this one of the exceptions?
The ScreenPad measures 5.5 inches and offers a Full HD resolution. Four modes are available that can be selected with the F6 key: ScreenPad mode, expansion display, touchpad mode and touchpad disabled.
ScreenPad mode is the main function here. The first thing you'll notice is that despite its touchscreen, it's also an excellent trackpad that works flawlessly. However, Asus wants you to use the apps that you can access by swiping down from the top.
In addition to simple applications such as the calculator, the calendar and the media player, there is a starter for starting Steam, Chrome and Mail. You can also access the Asus Store, where you can download ScreenPad apps that appear next to the pre-installed apps like Office.
The ScreenPad offers various functions depending on what you do and which apps are installed. For example, when you watch YouTube, video controls are displayed, while the Spotify app, which unfortunately didn't want to work for me, offers similar features for the streaming music service.
However, the best integration may be possible with Microsoft Office products. Call up Word or Excel and with the ScreenPad you can save your work, change fonts and colors and much more.
Although the function is innovative and offers more functions than the touch bar of the MacBook Pro, you can hardly imagine that someone would only buy a ZenBook Pro for the ScreenPad. The biggest problem, apart from occasional glitches, is that there are still not enough apps. It would certainly be interesting to see one for social media sites or a steam app where you can scroll through all of your games / friends.
Then there is the expansion display. Basically, it turns the ScreenPad into a second monitor. It is said to support multitasking, for example by moving your emails or a Chrome window with Facebook to the small screen while using the main display for something else. The idea behind the expansion display seems solid enough, although I think the screen is a bit too small to function as Asus intended. But, admittedly, it looks super cool when used in public.
The Asus ZenBook Pro 14 is a good laptop that is great for general use, handles most games and can run professional apps. However, the TouchPad is not a killer function. You will stand out in a coffee shop, but more developers have to support it to realize its potential. On the other hand, you could argue that Apple's touchbar is a bug and even touchscreens on laptops aren't killer features for most.
For photo and video professionals, the 4K display may be worth the extra money and opting for the 15.6-inch version of the same laptop, while hardcore gamers might want something with a more powerful graphics card and select VRR. The Asus ZenBook Pro takes a nice middle ground, where the ScreenPad is an additional bonus.
The ZenBook Pro 14 does the right thing to find a good balance between each department and at a competitive price. There is currently no U.S. availability for the 14-inch model we tested, but it is readily available in the UK and other European countries. It is currently sold in the UK for GBP 1,199 (USD 1,590). In the U.S., the 15.6-inch 4K version comes with Thunderbolt, an i7-8750H CPU, and the same TouchPad is sold at Best Buy for $ 1,549. If you're looking for a good all-rounder that focuses on developers and stands out from the crowd, this could be the laptop for you.