Laptops

ASUS ZenBook 3 review

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I’ve used lots of laptops in the past year — from the pleasant $150 Starmobile Engage Aura to the monstrous $9,000 Acer Predator 21 X — but none have impressed me as much as the ASUS ZenBook 3. Let me explain why.

It’s unbelievably thin and light!

Weighs only 910g and has a thickness of just 11.9mm — more portable than the new MacBook!

And it comes with a sleek travel case

Made of soft, cushy leather

The keyboard is really shallow, but fun to type with

Comes with backlighting, too!

Its trackpad is one of the most accurate in its class

No more accidental clicks and annoying gesture control here

There’s also a lightning-fast fingerprint scanner for instant logins

Supports Windows Hello for logging in to other apps, as well

Charging and data transfers share one USB Type-C port, but…

On the bright side, charging from zero to full completes within two hours

… ASUS adds a bundled dongle to ease the pain

Provides another USB Type-C port, plus full-sized HDMI and USB ports

Don’t worry, the 3.5mm audio jack is still present

No need for wireless headphones just yet

Speaking of audio, the four-channel speakers are surprisingly loud!

The punchy sounds are courtesy of Harman Kardon. Thank you, Mr. Harman and Mr. Kardon!

Hold on, does it actually perform well?

When you see a laptop this portable, you’d normally expect a slow processor and laggy performance; that’s absolutely not the case here.

The ZenBook 3 feels like it’s on steroids thanks to its seventh-generation Intel Core i7 processor, which you’d normally find on laptops much bigger than this, as well as 16GB of memory and 512GB of fast SSD storage. There’s no separate graphics card for gaming, but all these components put together make for smooth multitasking and quick boot-ups.

My only gripe is how hot it gets while under full load. It gets so warm, I have to take it off my lap and find a table to place it on — so much for the “lap” in laptop.

People might also complain about the run-of-the-mill Full HD 1080p resolution on the 12.5-inch display. It’s not as pretty to look at as the ASUS Transformer 3 Pro’s high-resolution screen, for example, and there’s also no touchscreen to speak of. It’s otherwise good enough for watching movies and getting work done.

Can it last a whole afternoon of work and play?

Another worry I had when first using the ZenBook 3 was the possibly poor battery life. My concerns were justified by the results, but I was still satisfied by what I got.

Because of the efficiency of the processor and not-so-dense pixel resolution of the display, I managed a little over four straight hours of mixed usage, involving image editing on Photoshop, writing articles on Google Docs, and playing YouTube videos in the background.

Even though that amount of battery life is nothing to brag about, it’s just right for one long work session, and it’s far better than the measly endurance of the Transformer 3 Pro convertible. I also shouldn’t complain much; I can get so much work done in that span of time on the ZenBook 3’s speed.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The look and feel of the ZenBook 3 are enough to justify a purchase. Our unit’s royal blue color together with the spun-metal finish make this such an eye-catching notebook. Add the consistent overall performance, and you have the best Windows alternative to the new MacBook yet.

Its only serious drawbacks are potential overheating and the port limitation. Oh, and let’s not forget the price. With a starting price of $1,000 for the weaker Intel Core i5 version, and PhP 79,995 ($1,600) for the Core i7-equipped variant we have here, this isn’t an affordable notebook.

For that price, you can get yourself the fancier Transformer 3 Pro convertible we mentioned earlier, which has a higher-resolution display, detachable keyboard, and bundled stylus pen. You can also afford one of ASUS’ midrange gaming laptops at this point and do more, but that would mean sacrificing more bag and desk space.

In addition, ASUS will be rolling out a more high-end ZenBook 3 Deluxe soon. It’ll have a larger 14-inch screen, more USB Type-C ports, and a webcam supporting Windows Hello. Of course, it’s going to cost more, but you should definitely consider it before committing to the regular ZenBook 3 right away.

SEE ALSO: ASUS Transformer 3 Pro review

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Accessories

C is the key: Explaining USB Type-C

What really makes this new standard special

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For years, people have grown accustomed to using USB ports for almost all of their devices. Whether you need to charge your phone using your computer or use a controller to play games, you can always count on a USB port to be readily available for you. But 2018 was the year of change and innovation, and the USB port you know and love welcomed change in a big way.

Introducing: USB Type-C, the newest port added to the family. Its round shape brought many new uses and functionalities to your ports. But, how different is it from its much older brothers? How have companies revolutionized its use in mainstream devices?

What is this USB Type-C port?

The USB Type-C (USB-C) port is a not-so-recent discovery in the world of tech. The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) developed this USB port back in 2013, and launched it into mass production the following year. The connector is a reversible oval shape, much different from the usual rectangular shape of the previous generation. Its reversibility allows any orientation of the cable for transferring files or charging your device.

USB-IF developed USB-C following the USB 3.1 standard. Such a standard was particularly used because of its faster transfer speeds and charging capabilities. With a USB-C port, you can transfer an hour-long movie in less than 30 seconds, provided you have the appropriate connector for it.

Computer and smartphone manufacturers have incorporated the USB-C port in most of their devices. One of the early adopters of the new technology was Apple, with their redesigned 12-inch MacBook in 2015. Other computer manufacturers followed in the later years, especially with the release of the Thunderbolt 3 technology used for gaming machines.

It’s the younger, faster and more all-around sibling

USB-C has been around for the past four years, and it has gradually developed into an all-around port for users. Alongside Thunderbolt 3, the USB-C port posts the highest data transfer speed across all the available USB connections in existence. Not only that, USB-C ports these days can now connect your devices to external GPUs and displays, and charge your devices. Most USB-C ports even support fast charging for smartphones.

While the technology behind it is supported by a USB 3.1 standard, it’s still very much different from other USB ports that use the USB 3.1 protocol. For starters, the USB 3.1 standard found in USB-C ports are USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, which offer twice as much performance in data transfer as USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports. Most of the Gen 1 ports also use an older USB Type-A standard, which works for most of your gadgets and peripherals today. However, you would need more adapters for other functionalities, like displaying to a monitor.

But the USB-C port is a far cry from the old USB 2.0 and 3.0 protocols, which have been in existence for 14 years (and counting). Data transfer speeds for those two protocols are significantly slower compared to the USB-C port. An hour-long movie would ideally take around one to two minutes on a USB 2.0 port. Also, older USB protocols don’t really allow you to power up devices that need more electricity. So, charging devices on them might not be as fast.

Supercharged with Thunderbolt 3

So, you’re probably wondering what really makes a USB-C port just that fast. It’s not so much that it’s round, or that it’s new; rather, it’s the technology inside it. Late 2015 saw the arrival of the new Thunderbolt 3 standard specifically for USB-C ports. It first started out in most Windows laptops before making it to the 2016 MacBook Pro and several gaming motherboards.

What Thunderbolt 3 does for USB-C ports is to significantly increase its capacity and capabilities by a mile. We’re talking faster file transfer, heightened gaming experiences, and being able to plug in 4K displays for clearer images. Thunderbolt 3 also allows much bigger devices to be charged at a controlled rate. This is mostly evident with the MacBook Pro, several high-end Ultrabooks, and most recently, the 2018 iPad Pro.

The charging capacity brought about by Thunderbolt 3 deals with a tweak to how USB power delivery works. USB power delivery standards state that each USB standard has specific conditions that must be met to power up devices. Early versions of USB ports only allow a small amount of electricity (2.5W) for delivery, while USB-C allows for the full 100W.  Basically, you went from just powering up your mouse and keyboard to charging your entire laptop.

What’s to come for USB-C?

At this point in time, you’re already living in the future that the USB-C port hopes to achieve. Suddenly, you can simply bring a USB-C cable around, plug it into a powerbank, and you can already charge your expensive MacBook. More and more devices are starting to adopt USB-C because of its potential to enhance your tech experience as a whole.

However, people still find it difficult to switch to USB-C, and for good reason. Most devices continue to use a USB Type-A or micro-USB connector, especially gaming controllers and peripherals. Also, they can argue that the old ports are more accessible. In a not-so-distant future, using a USB-C port could potentially replace a phone’s headphone jack.

The future of USB-C is still uncertain. Companies will iron out the new technology more so it can become mainstream for the future. Let’s just hope that by the time that happens, there won’t be a USB Type-D yet.

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Laptops

Lenovo Yoga C930 Review: It could have been the best

It’s just missing one thing…

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It was during IFA 2018 when Lenovo introduced their latest premium convertible for consumers — the Yoga C930. It doesn’t have a good name, but it does offer everything a Yoga should, especially in media consumption.

Notebooks with flipping displays, like the Yoga lineup, are not just designed for typing. Most manufacturers market their convertibles to be perfect for entertainment, yet they largely fail in one aspect where they should shine — audio.

When Lenovo introduced the Yoga C930 with the rotating soundbar and Dolby Atmos, I hoped that it was not just a marketing ploy. But, is it? Let me share my thoughts about Lenovo’s newest convertible.

No fuss design

The Yoga C930 has a metal shell with a familiar aesthetic from Lenovo. My unit has a dark finish that’s aptly named Iron Gray. If you want a lighter shade, Lenovo is also offering the notebook in Mica, which is close to white. Everything about the body of the Yoga C930 screams premium; nothing here looks cheap or ugly.

To make it more special, the sides and the hinge of the Yoga C930 have a brushed finish. It’s a minor touch, but it’s highly noticeable whenever you’re checking where you should plug your peripherals. I also think that it helps hide unsightly scratches and gives the notebook a bit of shine.

While we’re at it, the available ports on the Yoga C930 are generally okay. It’s got two Thunderbolt 3 ports that fully support PowerDelivery, DisplayPort, and USB 3.1 functions. Both Thunderbolt 3 ports employ 4x lanes for PCIe, so you can connect the Yoga C930 to an external GPU, which is good because this laptop doesn’t have a dedicated graphics unit.

Apart from a couple of versatile USB-C interfaces, there’s also a classic full-size USB that we all know and love. Thankfully, Lenovo knows that this is still a widely used port and bringing a dongle just to read a thumb drive is a hassle. The 3.5mm audio port is also available when you need to plug in a pair of wired headphones.

All of the ports on the Yoga C930 are on its left side, leaving the right with just the power button. There are no volume buttons, either.

While I appreciate that Lenovo provided both USB-A and USB-C ports, I was still hoping for more; another USB-C with PowerDelivery on the right and a full-size SD card reader would do. The Yoga C930 is slim, but it’s not ultra-slim like the fan-less MacBook which got away with having one port (or maybe two if you count the headphone jack).

The Yoga C930 has a fairly large 14-inch display (13.9 inches according to Lenovo), but with minimum side bezels. Since this is made for watching videos, the aspect ratio is still stuck at 16:9.

There are two resolutions available for the Lenovo C930: Full HD or Ultra HD. The one I have here is just the Full HD variant, but it still has the key feature: Dolby Vision. The best way to fully appreciate the display is to play an HDR or Dolby Vision-enabled title. You can find some on Netflix if you’re using the highest-tier plan.

The display gets bright enough to be used outdoors and really dim when you need it to. It’s vibrant and has deep blacks even if it’s only an LCD panel.

When watching a video, I prefer to use the Yoga C930 in Tent mode. It can also be used in Stand mode with the keyboard facing down, but for some reason, Lenovo didn’t put little rubber feet to protect the keyboard when placed on a surface. You have to be cautious where you place the notebook or you risk scratching it.

The integrated soundbar of the Yoga C930 is designed to always face the user. That’s another advantage of watching videos in Tent mode; the speaker is facing upwards. I get to hear the sound directly without any muffle. I must say, the Yoga C930 has one of the clearest speakers I’ve tried on a notebook. It gets really loud, too.

It even has Dolby Atmos to enhance it further, but it’s not as immersive as advertised. To be fair though, I get to hear the stereo effect better than on other notebooks.

The device is least useful (for me) when it’s in Tablet mode. The Yoga C930 is too heavy to be a tablet, plus the 16:9 aspect ratio makes it feel like I’m reading from a really tall magazine. But, this is where the built-in pen comes in handy. The integrated stylus makes it easy for doodlers to annotate on screen.

Fast but not incredible

Let’s talk about power. The Yoga C930 I have is powered by the latest 8th-gen Intel Core i7 processor paired with 12GB DDR4 memory and a 256GB M.2 PCIe SSD. Configurations may vary in some regions, so the Yoga C930 in your stores might be more powerful or inferior.

There’s one thing that’s missing though, and it’s not an option anyone can get either: discrete graphics.

As mentioned, the Yoga C930 is not an ultraportable. It has nowhere near the portability of Dell’s XPS 13 or even Lenovo’s own Yoga Book. It’s big enough to house at least a modest NVIDIA GeForce MX150 — just like the latest ZenBook from ASUS.

My usage includes multiple tabs on Chrome, some slight editing on Photoshop, and hours of binge-watching on Netflix. I primarily used the notebook for typing and browsing, which are not heavy tasks.

So far, I had no major performance issues during my time with the Yoga C930. I didn’t bother to install games because it lacks discrete graphics.

Of course, the notebook runs Windows 10. I got the October 2018 update just last week, and it made the dark mode better. It matches the gray motif of the device.

It’s ideal for my own use

Putting all the technical specifications aside, the Yoga C930 has been a great companion.

Aside from the soundbar, I also fully appreciate the notebook’s keyboard. It’s not as great as the one on ThinkPads, but it’s good enough for me. It’s well-spaced and has a good amount of key travel.

The touchpad uses Microsoft Precision drivers and it fully supports all the gestures of Windows 10. It has a glass surface and picks up all the inputs. A responsive touchpad and a good keyboard is the combo I need for work.

There’s also something about the craftsmanship of the Yoga C930 that gives assurance that it’s a well-built device. Perhaps it’s the balance between weight and dimensions.

Lastly, the webcam has a physically cover — just like a ThinkPad’s. It’s nice to see nifty features of Lenovo’s business laptops on a consumer device. I don’t have to cover the webcam anymore with a piece of tape.

Great battery life

I am generally impressed with the longevity of the Yoga C930. Lenovo promises all-day battery life, but we all know that is somehow a stretch. Based on my usage, I get around eight to nine hours. I also experience about the same when watching Netflix non-stop.

It’ll not beat records, but I am always assured that even if I leave my charger at home, I know I can rely on the Yoga C930 to get me through a full day.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

You probably already think that this is my GadgetMatch, which I’ll not deny. I had a good time with the Yoga C930, despite its shortcomings. It’s a premium convertible that managed to meet my expectations. I’m hoping Lenovo will soon have an option with discrete graphics. For now, you can maximize the device by plugging in an external GPU.

The Yoga C930 has a starting price of US$ 1,399. It’s a bit pricier than I expected from its specs, but it’s a premium convertible that offers more versatility than regular laptops.

SEE ALSO: Lenovo IdeaPad 530S, 330S, 330: Which is right for you?

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Laptops

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx is first-ever 7nm chip in a PC

Continuing the always-on, always-connected legacy

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While the newly launched Snapdragon 855 is designed for high-end smartphones, another fresh Qualcomm release, the Snapdragon 8cx, will be found in Windows 10 devices beginning in the third quarter of 2019.

Like the Snapdragon 850 before it, the Snapdragon 8cx is powerful enough to run a full-fledged Windows PC while staying constantly connected through Wi-Fi or mobile data. What makes this system on a chip special, however, is its 7nm architecture.

Yes, it’s the first of its kind. Till now, PC manufacturers had to rely on an older fabrication process for the chipsets they installed. The 7nm platform means computers installed with the Snapdragon 8cx will be more efficient than anything else in the market.

“With performance and battery life as our design tenets, we’re bringing 7nm innovations to the PC space, allowing for smartphone-like capabilities to transform the computing experience,” said Alex Katouzian, senior vice president and general manager of mobile for Qualcomm Technologies.

In addition, it comes with the Adreno 680, Qualcomm’s most high-powered GPU to date. Coupled with the octa-core Kryo 495 CPU, any Snapdragon 8cx-powered device should be able to handle multitasking and demanding apps with ease.

Rounding up the features are Quick Charge 4+ for faster charging, support for up to two connected 4K HDR monitors, and best of all, the Snapdragon X24 modem to enable Gigabit LTE data speeds.

We’re bound to learn more about its capabilities and who’ll partner with Qualcomm to roll out this new breed of mobile PCs, so stay tuned.

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