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

Gaming

ASUS ROG Zephyrus S is the slimmest gaming laptop available today

But doesn’t compromise performance

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Alongside the 17-inch ROG Scar II, ASUS has announced a new ROG device that they claim to be world’s slimmest gaming laptop. The ROG Zephyrus from last year was already thin by gaming laptop standards, but the new ROG Zephyrus S is 12 percent thinner with updated specs.

The ROG Zephyrus S (GX531) still has the look and feel of the original Zephyrus but it’s now only 14.95 to 15.75mm thick. Those numbers might not sound as sexy as other super-slim notebooks, but the Zephyrus S has desktop-grade gaming performance with either an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q or GTX 1060 GPU inside its chassis.

Powering the Zephyrus S is the six-core Intel Core i7-8750H processor with up to 24GB DDR4 memory. Storage options are from 256GB to 1TB M.2 NVMe SSDs.

The laptop’s display is a 15.6-inch 1080p panel with a 144Hz refresh rate, 3ms response time, and 100 percent sRGB coverage. It’s definitely not the sharpest laptop display, but it’s one of the fastest for smooth gameplay. The display has a thin-bezel design as well, so the footprint of the laptop is just a bit bigger than your typical 14-inch notebook.

ASUS uses their Active Aerodynamic System (same as with other Zephyrus laptops) which opens a vent at the bottom of the laptop when the lid is lifted, and the vent stretches across the entire back of the body. This improves airflow by 22 percent over a conventional design as per ASUS.

Another distinct trait of the Zephyrus S is the keyboard. It’s still on the front of the device, which helps with cooling, but it might not be everybody’s cup of tea. The keys have 1.2mm of travel, N-key rollover, and RGB lighting via Aura Sync over four zones.

As for I/O, it has two USB-C ports (Gen1 and Gen2), two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, HDMI 2.0 at the back, and a headphone jack.

The ASUS ROG Zephyrus S (GX531) will become available starting September in the US and in October for the UK and Asia. Pricing starts at US$ 2,099 for the GTX 1060 model, while the higher-end GTX 1070 is priced at US$ 2,199.

SEE ALSO: ASUS’ new ROG Strix Scar II is world’s most compact 17-inch gaming laptop

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Gaming

ASUS’ new ROG Strix Scar II is world’s most compact 17-inch gaming laptop

Thanks to its super-slim bezels!

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After going hands on with the ROG Strix Scar II and reviewing the Hero II in full, we wondered what else could be done to improve this second-generation lineup. Well, it looks like ASUS just gave us the answer.

Discreetly launched today, the new 17.3-inch ROG Strix Scar II (model name GL704) is the most compact gaming laptop of its kind, according to ASUS. It’s basically a supersized variant of the already-available 15.6-inch version but with an even badder screen.

It may be worth the wait, because the color-accurate 17.3-inch 1080p display is able to fit into a chassis designed for 15.7-inch panels, effectively providing it a width of less than 400mm thanks to the slim bezels.

The wide keyboard and Aura Sync RGB lighting make a return, along with the fast 144Hz refresh rate and 3ms response time of the display.

In terms of specs, it can go up to an Intel Core i7-8750H processor with 16GB of memory and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics chip. A 256GB SSD plus 1TB SSHD combo maintains the speed and fluidity of the system.

It’ll be available by the end of September in official ROG stores. Pricing begins at US$ 1,699.

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Gaming

ASUS ROG Strix Hero II review

Not limited to MOBA gamers

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ASUS had a grand appearance at Computex two months ago, mainly because the ROG Phone stole the show. But that wasn’t the only hero product the Taiwanese brand had up its sleeve.

The ROG Strix Scar II and Hero II, which are successors to the popular Strix line of gaming laptops, shared the spotlight, as well. I had the privilege of going hands-on with the Scar II and was largely impressed by its aggressive design and balanced features. Missing, however, was the Hero II.

Although the Hero II is mostly identical to the Scar II, its primary difference is the audience it caters to: MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) gamers. Those who enjoy titles such as League of Legends and Dota 2 are more inclined to go for this variant over the Scar II, which is targeted more towards fans of Overwatch and Call of Duty.

Truth be told, there isn’t much to compare aside from a set of keyboard adjustments and certain specs (the Scar II can be equipped with a GTX 1070 while the Hero II settles for a GTX 1060), and if you’ve read my initial impressions of the Scar II, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from the Hero II, which is finally in my hands.

It comes with a 15.6-inch 1080p IPS display

This panel has a 144Hz refresh rate and 100 percent sRGB color gamut

Bezels are kept to a minimum on the sides and top

This gives the display a more immersive feel

But that moves the webcam to the bottom bezel

It’s not even centered, so video calls are terribly awkward

The keyboard has good travel and RGB lighting

Four distinct buttons on top control volume, the mic, and the Gaming Center

And the QWER keys are more prominent for MOBA games

I like how each key has a slight curve to get a better feel of them

Even the bundled mouse has its own RGB lighting

Even though the trackpad is decent, you’re better off using the mouse full-time

There’s additional lighting below the trackpad

I never found this useful, but it certainly looks good

And the ROG logo’s color syncs with the rest of the laptop

This is yet another purely cosmetic yet appreciated feature

These are the ports on the left side

(L-R) Power, Ethernet, mini-DisplayPort, HDMI, 2x USB-A, USB-C, 3.5mm audio

And these are found on the right

(L-R) SD card slot, USB-A, Kensington lock

You’ll only find exhaust vents on the rear

The hinge is designed in a way that doesn’t block air flow

How well does it perform?

If there’s one thing you can rely on with this machine, it’s the hardware. From the 8th-generation Core i7-8750H processor with six cores and Hyper-Threading to the full-powered GeForce GTX 1060 graphics chip, the Hero II is equipped to compete.

And you shouldn’t expect anything less specs-wise, because you need all the power you can get to maximize the high-caliber 144Hz panel. The display, by the way, doesn’t come with NVIDIA’s proprietary G-Sync tech to prevent tearing and stutters at certain frame rates, so it’s all on the components to keep things running smoothly.

My setup also comes with 16GB of memory and a speedy 128GB SSD + 1TB SSHD, making this as complete as you’d expect out of a US$ 2,000 mobile rig.

It goes without saying that the Hero II can handle the latest AAA games on medium to high graphics settings, though hitting 144fps may be a struggle on some titles. Not that hovering between 80 to 100 frames per second is bad, but it’s a shame that you can’t make full use of the super-fast panel.

Here are a few benchmark numbers to give you a better idea:

  • Unigine Superposition (1080p Extreme, DirectX): 2097 points, 15.69fps (Average)
  • Cinebench R15: 1193 (CPU), 94.48fps (OpenGL)
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider (Very High settings, DirectX 12): 64.47fps (Average)
  • Deux Ex: Mankind (Ultra settings, DirectX 12): 34.9fps (Average)

Can it stay cool?

ASUS made sure to equip both Strix II laptops with sufficient cooling to prevent the mobile components from melting on your desk. Its system is called HyperCool Pro, and it includes two 12V fans with the ability to boost them using built-in software.

As for actual temperatures, the CPU would hit 81 degrees Celsius under the heaviest of loads. At the same time, the GPU goes as high as 71 degrees Celsius in the same conditions. While these are fine for air cooling standards, the fans do get a bit loud when being pushed too hard.

You can choose between Silent, Balanced, and Overboost for the fans — the third one is obviously the loudest. And even though the system’s fans are relatively quiet while the system is idle, I don’t appreciate the placement of the rightmost fan, which hits my mouse-using hand. Laptops normally position this to the left where hot air shoots away from the user.

On the bright side, using it on your lap is pleasant. At 2.4kg in weight, it’s not that heavy and doesn’t get warm enough to cause discomfort underneath.

Does it last long enough away from a wall?

This is probably the biggest fault of this Strix generation. For the thickness the Hero II brings to my lap, I would’ve expected much better battery endurance on a full charge.

Even without touching a single game and using the Hero II purely for surfing the web and watching a few videos on Netflix and YouTube, it rarely lasts over three hours. This is after bringing the laptop’s battery to 100 percent and lowering the screen’s brightness to 50 percent.

That’s disappointing by any laptop standard (unless you count the monsters we used in the past), although the Hero II obviously isn’t meant for non-gaming use on the go in the first place. Keep it plugged in and find another laptop to take on work trips — problem solved.

What else is there to know?

Battery life aside, the Hero II is a surprisingly good multimedia device because of the loud and clear stereo speakers. They’re positioned to the sides unlike the usual bottom-firing speakers, and have strong bass even though they output only 3.5 watts of power. Coupled with the thin bezels and color-accurate panel, watching movies on this laptop is a great alternative to just gaming on it.

This Strix also features multi-antenna Wi-Fi for better wireless internet connectivity. I tried this out in different locations with varying degrees of distance from routers, and I’ve been impressed with the range. The Hero II picks up signals flawlessly, so I don’t have to rely so heavily on the Ethernet port.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Hero II wins for two reasons alone: its super-slim bezels around the fast display and well-rounded specs. I can’t get enough of the color-accurate panel and the lack of distractions around it, while the 8th-generation processor and desktop-grade graphics provide all the power needed for competitive gaming.

There are only a few drawbacks here, namely the overbearing thickness for a midrange setup and horrible webcam placement. I also wish the fans were positioned better, but at least they keep the system well cooled.

My other critique is about the way ASUS treats this Strix generation. I honestly would’ve preferred ASUS keeping the Strix II branding sans the Hero and Scar variants. MOBA gamers play FPS (first-person shooter) games too, and vice versa.

The Hero II configuration I got to review retails for around US$ 2,000, but that can easily change with some component tweaks, such as going for a slower Core i5 processor and taking in less RAM. No matter what, however, the solid physique and sleek design come along for the ride.

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