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Asus ZenBook 14 UX425EA review: a standard step ahead

Asus ZenBook 14 UX425EA review: a standard step ahead

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Asus has so many ZenBook 14 models it stresses me out. There’s the UX433, a 2.6-pound slim-bezeled affair. There’s the Flip 14, an elegant convertible. There’s the UX431, a mid-tier $900 option. And there’s the UX425, which Asus quietly rolled out earlier this summer, that included a few tweaks to the traditional ZenBook design. Announced earlier this month were the UX435, with a tiny secondary display in place of the touchpad, and the UX425EA.

For the past few days, I’ve been testing the ZenBook 14 UX425EA (specifically, the UX425EA-SH74). You can’t buy it yet — Asus is eyeing a mid-October release. There’s not much that differentiates the UX425EA from the horde of ZenBooks above — it’s got the same lustrous metal lid, the fold-under hinge, and the compact build. But eyes are on this particular ZenBook for one reason: the processor. The UX425EA is one of the first production machines to contain Intel’s quad-core Core i7-1165G7 (of the 11th Gen Tiger Lake line).

The Asus logo on the bottom bezel of the Asus Zenbook 14.

You can get it in “pine grey” or “lilac mist.” This is the pine one.

I got to try the flagship Core i7-1185G7 in an Intel reference design earlier this month, and the results I saw from Intel’s new integrated graphics were excellent. So I had high expectations for the very similar 1165G7 as well, particularly on the gaming front. I went into this review with two main questions: does the 1165G7 beat its Intel predecessor (the 1065G7, which powers the most recent Dell XPS 13) and does it beat AMD’s Ryzen 7 4800U (part of Lenovo’s IdeaPad Slim 7)? The answer to both of these questions is yes — albeit not as badly as I expected.

First, a quick ZenBook 14 crash course. The appeal of this line (and the UX425 in particular) is in portability over performance. The UX425 is light for a 14-inch laptop at 2.49 pounds (1.13kg) and thin at 0.54 inches (13.72mm). Asus has managed to work the display into a chassis that doesn’t feel too much larger than that of most 13-inch rigs — there’s a 90 percent screen-to-body ratio, thanks to the thin (2.5mm) bezels on the sides of the display. (The top and bottom bezels are more visible than those of the Dell XPS 13, but they’re not terrible — 6.2mm and 10.9mm, respectively.)

Two other features help differentiate the UX425 from the field. The first is a 1W screen option, which should theoretically help to extend battery life — Asus says it consumes 63.6 percent less power than most laptop displays do.

The ZenBook’s battery results didn’t blow me away, however. Our test involved running the system through my daily workload (using around a dozen Chrome tabs, downloading, uploading, copying files, Google Sheets, Zoom calls, and other office stuff) on the Better Battery profile around 200 nits of brightness — it lasted seven hours and 20 minutes. That’s identical to the result we saw from the Dell XPS 13, but it doesn’t come close to the gargantuan life span of Lenovo’s IdeaPad Slim 7, which made it 13 and a half hours. Charging speed was also fine, but not mind-blowing — it took 58 minutes and 40 seconds to juice up to 60 percent (during light use).

The second is NumberPad 2.0. If you tap a small icon in the top right corner of the touchpad, an LED numpad appears. (This does require a surprisingly firm press — I usually had to thunk it a couple times.) This is a clever idea (how often do you see a number pad on a 14-inch laptop?) and it worked as advertised. One thing I didn’t expect is that you can still use the touchpad to navigate and click on things while the numpad is up — the ZenBook never mistook my swipe for a tap or vice versa. I could even rest my palm on the numpad while clicking around with no issue. You can also swipe down from the top left corner of the touchpad to bring up the Calculator app (regardless of whether the numpad is on or off).

The Asus Zenbook 14 half closed from above.

The chassis and lid are made of aluminum alloy.

There are a few other tidbits to note. Design-wise, the UX425 is as ZenBook as they come, with Asus’ signature concentric swirl design on the lid and a familiar aesthetic that I can best describe as “industrial chic.” Asus says the UX425 meets the MIL-STD-810G testing standard, which means it’s passed a barrage of drop tests, temperature tests, vibration tests, and altitude tests. There is a fair bit of flex in the lid, and a smidge in the keyboard, so I’m not floored by the build quality. But the chassis does feel durable enough that I’m not worried about battering the thing around.

The port selection is decent, with one weird omission. You get two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports (you can thank the 11th Gen chip for those), one USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A, one HDMI 2.0, and one microSD card reader. Notice something missing? Yep, there’s no audio jack; Asus nixed that for the UX425. If you’re fully transitioned to wireless headphones and microphones, pay this no heed — but that could reasonably be a deal-breaker for folks who still want to use wired gear. The ZenBook does ship with a dongle, but the thought of having to take up a precious USB-C port to plug headphones into a laptop just makes me sad.

The Asus Zenbook 14 keyboard and screen from above.

The display reached 349 nits in our testing.

For authentication, there’s a webcam that supports Windows Hello but no fingerprint reader. The webcam isn’t great for video calls — I wasn’t washed out in bright areas, but there were also times when my face was entirely dark even though I wasn’t in a very dark setting.

Finally, the keyboard has an extra column of keys on the far right containing Home, PgUp, PgDn, and End. There are various hotkeys, including one that turns off the webcam, one that locks the whole system, one that disables the touchpad, one that lets you take a snip screenshot, and one that brings up Asus’ command center.

This ZenBook configuration will cost $1,099. In addition to the 1165G7 with Intel’s Xe integrated graphics, it has 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage, a 67Wh battery, and a 1920 x 1080 panel screen (with the 1W power draw). There’s also an $899 model, which has 512GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. The extra storage may be worth the premium for folks who want to play games — 512GB can fill up quickly — and I’ll always recommend buying as much RAM as you can afford.

The ZenBook performed solidly throughout my workday, and pages loaded a bit faster than they have on Ice Lake systems that I’ve tested recently. The bottom of the laptop got hot at times (concentrated on the left side), but the keyboard, touchpad, and wrist rests remained cool throughout my testing — and I never heard the fans. During gaming, the CPU didn’t pass 95 degrees Celsius.

It completed an export of a five-minute, 33-second 4K video in 11 minutes and 28 seconds, which is much faster than Iris Plus systems like the Surface Laptop 3, the XPS 13 2-in-1, and the LG Gram 17. There was a significant performance difference between this system and the Core i7-1185G7 reference design, though — that device finished the same task in eight minutes.

Speaking of gaming, Intel’s biggest bet with Tiger Lake is on its Xe integrated graphics, which it claims offer up to twice the graphics performance of previous generations. While the ZenBook did beat both the 1065G7-powered XPS 13 and the 4800U-powered IdeaPad Slim 7, it didn’t give them the sound drubbing the reference design led me to expect.

The Asus Zenbook 14’s webcam up close.

Asus says the ZenBook has a new “camera algorithm” to correct exposure and color balance in selfies.

The system did fine on easy titles, averaging 200fps on League of Legends and 92fps on Rocket League’s maximum settings. (The XPS 13 averaged low 160s on the former and 70fps on the latter.) Overwatch, however, was stuttery at maxed settings, averaging 43fps on Epic and 62fps on Ultra. That’s better than the XPS and the Slim 7 but still closer to those than to the 1185G7 reference design (which averaged 59fps on Epic and 89fps on Ultra).

And, of course, this isn’t a laptop you’d buy for serious gaming. Shadow of the Tomb Raider was not playable in 1080p, averaging 29fps on the lowest settings. This is, again, better than the Ice Lake XPS 13, which averaged 17fps, and worse than the 1185G7 reference platform (I wouldn’t, of course, recommend using any of these to actually run this title).

In short, these results are an improvement over Ice Lake and Ryzen 4000. They’re a respectable step forward. But they’re also a reminder that not all Tiger Lake systems (and not all chips) are created equal — and this configuration isn’t as far ahead of Lenovo’s 4800U system as I’d hoped it would be.

At $800, I’d call this ZenBook an absolute steal. At $1,100, I’ll say it’s a fine purchase. It’s portable and functional, as ZenBooks tend to be. On the outside, there’s no category where it’s terrible and no category where it’s the best in its class (apart from the NumberPad, which is legitimately very cool but won’t be useful for everyone).

And then there’s the processor. Yes, it does deliver the best gaming performance we’ve seen from integrated graphics outside of a test design. But it’s a step forward, rather than the leap forward the 1185G7 appeared to be — and given the advantage that AMD has in multicore performance, I’m not sure that’s enough to crown Intel the new ultraportable king. Tiger Lake is certainly a more formidable competitor than Ice Lake was — but the battle isn’t over.

Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge

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