As a writer who spends a significant amount of time on the road, any laptop that fits in a backpack is a clear winner. The ASUS ZenBook 14 UX431F model fits almost any bag and goes one step further by weighing far less than its contemporaries. What’s most surprising is that ASUS didn’t sacrifice performance to keep its ZenBook sleek and slim. The laptop is not perfect, although no issue is significant enough to stop me from recommending the device. Especially to travellers and students.
The first thing you notice when picking up the ASUS ZenBook 14 UX431F is its weight or lack thereof. This baby is incredibly light. Weighing just 1.45kg, the target market is clearly the student and commuter forced to drag around hardware.
The ZenBook is also incredibly slim. It measures 15.9mm when closed, and packs a 14-inch display into the body of what is typically considered a 13-inch laptop. The NanoEdge bezel display takes up 86% of the body, making the most of the space. Thanks to its slim build, the laptop is suitable for a wide variety of backpacks, shoulder bags and larger handbags.
There’s a spun-metal finish on the lid and brushed metal-finish throughout with Utopia Blue colouring. ASUS says this design is “zen-inspired.” A subtle silver trim panel appears above the keyboard for some extra style. The trim is textured but is actually smooth to the touch. A small HD webcam is embedded in the top of the frame.
The downside of the metal finish is that it’s highly reflective. The surface quickly catches the light which can disrupt the keyboard, making it harder to use for those of us who can’t touch type. The keyboard is backlit with three levels of brightness, but not even the brightest can come close to reflections from the sun.
ASUS says its ZenBook 14 UX431F passes military-grade durability, surviving drop tests and low-temperature tests. I did not attempt to prove either.
An ErgoLift hinge tilts the display to a 145-degree angle for improved visibility while also raising the keyboard. This creates a more comfortable typing position and improves airflow under the chassis for better cooling.
For connecting external devices, the left side houses the HDMI output, one USB Type A port and another USB Type C. This is also where you find the input for power and battery indicator light. The right side houses an additional USB 2.0, a 1.8mm audio combo jack for headphones and microphones and an SD card reader.
Both sides of the keyboard house upwards facing speakers certified by Harmon Kardon and the top right corner of the trackpad features a fingerprint scanner for easier access to Windows and secure content.
As an optional extra, the trackpad can light up with LEDs to double as the number pad, although the review unit did not offer this feature. From my experience, the trackpad was highly susceptible to sweat which can render it useless pending a wipe down. While this is a common occurrence amongst laptops, the ZenBook was affected more so than others with even the slightest moisture affecting its use.
There’s a lot to like about ZenBook 14’s design. Travellers will love its size, although the reflective metal finish could annoy anyone who plans on working outdoors.
Specs covering the review unit
CPU – Intel Core i5-8265U processor 1.6GHz quad-core with Turbo Boost (up to 3.9GHz) and 6MB cache
Display – 14-inch LED-backlit Full HD (1920 x 1080) 16:9 slim-bezel NanoEdge display
Memory – 8GB 2133MHz LPDDR3
Storage – 256GB PCIe x2 SSD
Graphics – Intel UHD 620
Connectivity – Dual-band 2×2 802.11ac gigabit-class Wi-Fi Bluetooth 5.0
Audio – Quad-speaker Harman Kardon-certified ASUS SonicMaster stereo with surround-sound
Battery – 47Wh, up to 10.8hrs battery life
The review unit was not equipped with the maximum hardware specifications, yet I never encountered any significant slowdown or technical hiccups while pushing the laptop beyond a typical workload or while streaming video.
With around 15 Google Chrome tabs open, the ZenBook 14 was able to stream crisp 1080p video from YouTube at the same time without running into any issues or video buffering.
The Harman Kardon certified audio sounds good, not great. Music from on-board playlists and the soundtracks of games are clear and detailed. The audio quality when streaming drops significantly, unable to reach the intended highs levels. I would recommend pairing the laptop with decent headphones while streaming.
File transfer speeds are notably quick. Downloading content from the cloud and games from a Steam library were reasonable, even over a particularly unreliable home WiFi network.
With the standard Intel UHD 620 graphics, the ZenBook 14 review unit was not built for high-end gaming. Still, I had no issues playing casual games and pushing the hardware further playing a few Indies and returning to Cuphead.
The battery life is said to last up to 10.8 hours. I raked-in an average of 6-8 hours with the brightness settings maxed out.
Users looking for more power will be pleased to know the ASUS ZenBook 14 can be equipped with higher specifications including an i7 processor, an anti-glare display, up to 16GB memory, up to 1TB storage and NVIDIA GeForce MX150 graphics.
The ASUS ZenBook 14 UX431F is a more than adequate all-rounder from the Taiwan-based tech giant. Thanks to the incredibly sleek design, it’s also one of the most portable laptops available that still offers reliable performance.
With the compact chassis and spun-metal finish, this ZenBook would look great on any desk setup although the highly reflective surface can be annoying, depending on the lighting.
The reasonable processor, ample data storage and all-day battery life should meet the needs of both business and home use. There is an optional NVIDIA graphics card, yet I’d still recommend gamers check out the ASUS Republic of Gamers line-up instead.
When the physical size of a laptop is just as important as its performance, the ASUS ZenBook 14 UX431F gets two thumbs up. Within Australia, the ZenBook can be found at Harvey Norman with prices starting at $1498.
ASUS loaned Man of Many a ZenBook 14 for review