Design and Display
While the color is a little out of the ordinary, the physical design of the ZenBook 3 is anything but. A thin aluminum chassis more than a little reminiscent of a MacBook Air – which does have some key points of differentiation upon closer inspection.
The lid is adorned by a gold ASUS logo, and flipping the notebook over we see a bottom panel that might look plain at first glance, but a closer look reveals speakers on the left and right edges.
These bottom-mounted speakers are actually not the only ones on this very thin laptop, as a second pair sit above the keyboard to complete this 4-speaker premium sound system.
Looking at the sides of the ZenBook 3 won't reveal much, as there are just two ports. On one side we have a single USB Type-C port for all of your charging and connectivity needs (not my favorite choice).
And a 3.5 mm audio combo jack is the only port on the other side. That's it. Welcome to 2017! (I have stated this before regarding smartphone design, and I will say it again now: companies would do well to differentiate rather than emulate even Apple's mistakes.)
The ZenBook 3 offers a very good 12.5-inch IPS LCD panel with rich color and excellent contrast, and ASUS is quite proud of this screen:
“ZenBook 3 introduces our very first laptop display covered with full edge-to-edge Corning Gorilla Glass 4. The ultra-slim bezel is just 7.6mm wide, giving ZenBook 3 a class-leading 82% screen-to-body ratio. More importantly, it gives you a distraction-free view of the stunning 12.5-inch Full HD screen. With its wide 178° viewing angles, superb color reproduction and crisp detail, it really does need to be seen to be believed.”
In use my only complaint was that of overall brightness, as the UX390UA – while great most of the time – didn’t cope with very bright rooms all that well. A total measured light output of 352 lux isn’t bad, but with a glass panel covering the screen this level won’t be enough to compete with direct sunlight. Still, I live in the 120 – 180 lux range for the most part, and the high contrast and saturated colors from the display were outstanding – and made lesser screens (such as my wife’s 2015 13-inch MacBook Air) look really washed out in comparison. What about color accuracy? Without performing any calibration I did a quick analysis using HCFR and my Spyder4 colorimeter (not the most professional combination, but good for a quick and dirty check):
The uncalibrated result show some added saturation into the yellows and reds, giving certain colors added richness and making the screen look a little warm (more pronounced red, less blue). This can of course be mitigated with calibration for more color-critical work, but in everyday use I found the warm, rich colors to be very pleasant. Displays often tend to veer toward a blue tint thanks to the blue-white of standard LED backlighting, and here the ZenBook 3 UX390UA panel offers something different (though what specifically is employed as a backlight – WLED or otherwise – I am not certain).
The Gorilla Glass covering this display is something not everyone will love, but I personally think IPS screens just look better under glass thanks to the added contrast this affords (as my beloved LG INFINIA LE8500 TV can attest), and here the ZenBook 3’s IPS display has a lot more “pop” than a matte IPS screen (including the Dell UltraSharp I’m staring at right now) ever can. Glare, even though the glass is treated to help prevent it, will be a problem in more extreme cases.