Asus Zenbook 14X OLED review: a cool but impractical laptop

Zenbooks of this dimension are all often a fairly related deal — when you’ve used one, you’ve used all of them. Two traits try to make the Zenbook 14X OLED, slated for launch in early 2022, distinctive. The primary is its OLED show, which is among the first 90Hz OLED panels to look in mass manufacturing. (Asus’s Vivobook Professional 14 OLED, which I reviewed earlier, is one other.) The second is that the touchpad can also be a display. Like, it’s actually a tiny touchscreen. You possibly can put home windows down there and navigate them as you’ll with another touchscreen machine.

A little bit of a spoiler: each of those options are cool but not fairly as cool as they sound, particularly contemplating their influence on battery life. Finally, if the Zenbook is a bundle you’re eager about, you’re higher off going for the Vivobook Professional 14 OLED, which has the identical OLED display with an eight-core processor and a higher GPU for a couple hundred {dollars} cheaper. The Zenbook’s target market is absolutely people who need one thing out of the bizarre and are keen to pay for it.

Good Stuff

  • Touchpad can also be a touchscreen
  • 90Hz OLED show
  • Extra energy than most individuals will want
  • No warmth or fan noise
  • First rate port choice

Unhealthy Stuff

  • Horrible battery life for an ultraportable
  • Mediocre webcam
  • Audio isn’t nice

To start out with the OLED display — it’s neat. It’s 16:10, it’s 2880 x 1800, and it’s a step up within the visible expertise from a normal 1920 x 1200 panel. Colours are vivid, and blacks, the trademark of OLED expertise, are very, very black. It makes textual content simply a bit extra placing, which is enjoyable for me as somebody who reads and writes all day. It virtually maxes out our colorimeter, protecting one hundred pc of the sRGB gamut, 99 % of Adobe RGB, and one hundred pc of P3, and reaching 395 nits of brightness. Some glare is seen in a vivid workplace setting, but nothing that interferes with work.

The 90Hz refresh charge is sort of good — scrolling is noticeably smoother — but, once more, I’m unsure it’s definitely worth the battery life influence. (Extra on that in a bit).

The Asus Zenbook 14X OLED on a wooden table angled to the left. The screen displays a multicolor background with the Asus Zenbook OLED logo. The touchpad displays the Screenpad homepage.

Fairly coloration scheme.

Photograph by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Second, the touchscreen touchpad. That is a related thought to Asus’s Zenbook Duo, Zephyrus Duo 15, and different varied dual-screen laptops that the corporate’s tried. The touchpad basically capabilities as a tiny exterior show — you possibly can drag home windows forwards and backwards between it and the first panel.

Once you don’t have a window open on the touchpad and also you’re not truly utilizing it as a touchpad, it’s basically a secondary desktop with a grid of apps and shortcuts. Essentially the most helpful one, to me, is the Group button, which lets you “seize” no matter group of tabs and apps you’ve got open on the time and pull it again up later. You possibly can pull up a quantity pad and a calculator (which you too can do on the Vivobook’s screenless touchpad, although it doesn’t look as cool). There are shortcuts to open Voice Recorder, Solitaire, and the like on the first display (and you’ll add your apps and webpages of alternative). There’s a Handwriting app — scribble on it, and the phrases will seem as textual content wherever your cursor is (electronic mail, Slack message, no matter).

This expertise could be very cool, and Asus has finished a good job making its interface engaging and simple to make use of. I’ll additionally admit that I nonetheless haven’t actually discovered a use case for it. For a whereas, I attempted sticking Slack or Twitter down there to look at from time to time whereas I labored. But neither was usable on such a tiny display. This touchpad is similar dimension as many smartphones, but apps and webpages that you simply use in your smartphone are designed to be navigated on a tiny display — apps on the Zenbook are usually not. Textual content was tiny, and clicking was clumsy (and I’ve small fingers).

The Handwriting app is definitely spectacular, and the machine interpreted my horrible handwriting completely. That stated, you need to perceive that that is a text-recognition app, not a full note-taking app — you possibly can’t draw footage or diagrams and anticipate the Zenbook to breed them. (And it couldn’t acknowledge Chinese language and Korean characters I wrote, no less than not with my language set to English.) As a pure handwriting-recognition instrument, it’s enjoyable, but it does appear principally to be enjoyable — I’m unsure who truly wants one thing like this for his or her job (and folk that do can get fine Wacom tablets for beneath $100).

As I famous earlier, essentially the most compelling element for me of the touchscreen touchpad is the grouping function, particularly because the numpad and calculator capabilities can be found in loads of different Asus laptops. But I don’t assume that’s price a a number of hundred greenback premium over the Vivobook.

It additionally appeared to confuse my exterior show a bit — home windows I introduced over have been usually too huge by default and wanted to be resized manually. I’m guessing the Zenbook is contemplating the touchpad as an extension of the first display (slightly than a secondary display), and that’s in some way throwing off its sizing. Regardless, this isn’t a catastrophe, but it’s one thing I hope Asus can determine earlier than this ships.

The ports on the left side of the Zenbook 14X OLED.

Lone USB 3.2 Gen 2 Kind-A on the left.

The ports on the left side of the Asus Zenbook 14X OLED.

All the opposite portson the precise (two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C, one HDMI 2.0, one microSD reader, one audio combo jack).

The Asus Zenbook 14X OLED touchpad, displaying the Screenpad homepage.

Behold the ScreenPad, operating ScreenXpert 2.

Elsewhere, that is Zenbook by way of and thru. It’s a fine-looking machine with a good lustrous lid you could simply open with one hand and no display wobble. A warning about Zenbooks, normally, is that the lids are fingerprint magnets — my unit was consistently smudged. The construct is a bit plasticky — there’s a small quantity of flex within the display and keyboard, and I noticed one small dent within the backside of the deck after battering the machine round in my full backpack for a few days — but a step above price range fodder. There’s a darkish grey futuristic-y end. It’s 0.67 inches (16.9 mm) thick and simply over three kilos (1.4 kg) — not a featherweight but moveable sufficient.

Like many Asus laptops, this Zenbook has the Ergolift hinge — the lid folds beneath the deck and lifts the keyboard up a few levels, conveniently hiding among the backside bezels. That is imagined to make typing extra ergonomic and assist with cooling, but it was additionally a bit sharp on my lap.

The Asus Zenbook 14X OLED webcam.

It’s an HD digicam, and it’s very tiny.

There are two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports, one USB 3.2 Gen 2 Kind-A, one HDMI 2.0, one microSD reader, and one audio jack. That’s a good combine, although I want each USB-C ports weren’t on the precise aspect. The Harmon Kardon audio system sound superb but don’t get almost as a lot quantity as I’d like — I typically needed to lean far ahead to listen to my Zoom calls. The keyboard is snug with respectable journey, and there’s a fingerprint sensor within the energy button that didn’t give me any bother.

One ultimate factor to pay attention to: the webcam isn’t good. Colours are correct, but it’s grainy and a bit blurry at instances — my editor stated it seemed like somebody had smeared Vaseline over it throughout a Zoom name. I do sufficient video requires work now that this could be a concern for me. I additionally respect bodily shutters (which this one doesn’t have, although there’s a kill swap on the keyboard) the extra I hear about embarrassing Zoom incidents.

The Zenbook 14X OLED touchpad displaying the ScreenPad homepage.

You hit that tiny button within the backside left nook to show the Screenpad again into a common navigable touchpad.

Inside is a Core i7-1165G7, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage, along with an Nvidia GeForce MX450 discrete GPU. Samsung and Asus gave me a worth of $1,400 for this unit but caveated that pricing might change nearer to launch. If that occurs, I’ll replace this overview.

These specs, to place it bluntly, confuse me. The MX450 is a very entry-level GPU that I wouldn’t even advocate for esports gaming. (Neglect about hitting 90 frames per second in fashionable video games with it.) 16GB of RAM (essentially the most you may get on this machine) can even not be sufficient for a lot of skilled workloads. I’m comfortable to see 1TB of storage at this worth, but I nonetheless can’t see this being a good selection for professionals or for avid gamers — it nonetheless appears primarily slated to be a multimedia machine for individuals who like OLED screens and easy scrolling. For these people, a Zenbook 14x is e-waste — the Vivobook pairs the identical display with an RTX 3050 for (allegedly) $200 cheaper.

These specs, to place it bluntly, confuse me

That apart, the Zenbook did a superb job with my every day workload, even within the silent fan profile (known as “Whisper Mode” in Asus’ management middle) with Battery Saver on. It was typically heat but by no means sizzling, and I didn’t often hear any fan noise.

But there’s a huge tradeoff for that: battery life. I’m certain the Vivobook’s longevity isn’t helped by the truth that it’s working a 90Hz high-resolution panel and in addition operating a secondary display. Nonetheless, this Zenbook doesn’t final lengthy sufficient. I solely averaged 5 hours and 38 minutes of steady workplace use with this machine round 200 nits of brightness. That does barely beat the Dell XPS 13 OLED, but it’s lower than we’ve seen from every kind of high-resolution gadgets like Huawei’s MateBook 16 or any of Apple’s M1-equipped laptops. It means I couldn’t go a workday with out plugging the machine in. For most individuals (but particularly these purchasing for a 14-inch machine), battery life goes to be extra helpful than an MX450 and a touchscreen touchpad.

My ultimate observe is on bloatware. This machine shipped with a huge load of annoying software program preinstalled, together with a number of McAfee packages that insisted on scanning the whole lot I downloaded earlier than I might open it, and that required me to shut all my Chrome tabs and restart the pc as a way to be uninstalled. These things shouldn’t be on a laptop that prices $1,400 — it simply shouldn’t.

The Asus Zenbook 14X OLED angled to the right on a wooden table, half open.

Booo, bloatware.

The Zenbook 14X OLED is a pretty inexpensive method to pair a 90Hz OLED display with a GPU. Regardless of varied nitpicks I’ve, it really works properly sufficient as a driver. The issue is that one other laptop exists — the Vivobook Professional 14 OLED, with a very related chassis, a very related display, and a higher GPU — at a considerably cheaper price. I’m truly questioning if Asus and Samsung bought wires crossed right here as a result of it is unnecessary that the Zenbook prices a lot extra, so I’ll be protecting an eye fixed out for any modifications as we strategy the discharge.

The principle factor that would probably justify the Zenbook’s worth premium is its fancy touchpad. I actually do like that Asus is doing this touchpad. I like that there’s a firm on the market making an attempt issues like this which might be new and completely different — and that these issues truly work. I can’t let you know how refreshing it’s, as somebody whose job it’s to check a million laptops a week which might be all mainly the identical factor, to know that there’s a firm on the market making an attempt to determine the place they’ll do issues in a different way.

I actually, actually hope there’s a group of individuals on the market who has a excellent use for this touchpad of their life and who will end up in droves to pay further for this Zenbook as a result of it’s the primary laptop ever made that completely fits their wants. I’m not on this group, and I’m skeptical that it exists, but God, I hope it does.

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