Tech review: Asus ZenBook 14 bids adieu to headphone jack

The ZenBook 14 is available in two variants.
The ZenBook 14 is available in two variants.PHOTO: ASUS

Four years ago, Apple removed the 3.5mm headphone jack from the iPhone 7. Despite the initial outrage, you cannot find a headphone jack on a flagship smartphone today.

Perhaps Asus is hoping for the same result, because the Taiwanese PC maker has done the same to its ZenBook 14. It is a gutsy move as even Apple notebooks still retain the headphone jack.

The firm sent a presentation deck to reviewers to defend its decision, saying that consumers already have Bluetooth headphones for phones that can also work with the ZenBook. Asus explained that its notebook lacks the space for a headphone jack because it has a HDMI port and a USB Type-A port.

But to borrow a line from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Asus doth protest too much, methinks.

I don't buy those arguments as there appears to be sufficient room on the ZenBook 14. And I cannot imagine my wireless earbuds being able to last an entire workday on a single charge.

The bundled USB-C-to-3.5mm dongle helps to mitigate this problem, but it is yet another accessory to carry around.

The ZenBook 14 is available in two variants - the UX425 (available on Lazada) uses Intel 10th-generation processors, while the UM425 is powered by AMD's Ryzen 4000-series chips.

The Intel version has a slightly brighter 300-nit screen compared to 250 nits for the AMD model. And the Intel version has Thunderbolt 3 ports (up to 40Gbps) while the AMD model has USB Type-C ports (up to 20Gbps). Both types of ports are also used to charge the laptop.

These differences aside, the two variants have an identical chassis with a near-bezel-less 14-inch Full-HD non-touch display.

The top display bezel is slightly thicker to accommodate an infrared 3D camera that can be used for facial recognition.

While the maximum screen brightness of the AMD-powered UM425 is only 50 nits lower than the Intel-based UX425, I find the UM425's display to look duller than the UX425. Neither displays look as vibrant as other ultrabooks I have tested.

 
 

Both laptops are very portable at around 1.2kg. On paper, the Intel model is slightly lighter than the AMD version, but the difference is negligible.

The ZenBook's slim aluminium body feels a bit creaky with some flex. The chassis tapers to a thin edge at the front lip, which digs slightly into my arms when resting on the palm rest.

Despite the laptop's slim profile, its keyboard has decent key travel. However, typing on it may take some adjustment - especially when locating the Enter key - as the keyboard has an extra column of keys at the right edge for the Home, Page Up/Down and End keys.

Having tried several notebooks with a compact 3:2 aspect ratio recently, the ZenBook feels wide. This impression is further reinforced by the wider-than-usual touchpad. It is clicky with a smooth glass surface.

The touchpad also doubles up as a numeric keypad. Tap the calculator icon on its top right corner to get an illuminated numeric keypad overlay that is handy for data entry.

While there is little to differentiate between the AMD and Intel variants of the ZenBook 14 in design and features, there is quite a significant gap in performance.

The AMD-based UM425 has an eight-core Ryzen 7 4700U chip that handily beats the quad-core Intel i7-1065G7 chip in the UX425 in the PCMark 10 system benchmark.

 
 

The UM425 scored 5,150, compared to 4,324 for the UX425. Notably, the UM425 scored 32 per cent higher than the UX425 in the Digital Content Creation segment, which involves video and image rendering.

But the tables were turned in our video-loop battery life test. While the AMD-powered UM425 clocked a good result of 7hr25min, the Intel-powered UX425 was much more power efficient, lasting almost 9hr in the same test.

If you can accept the lack of a headphone jack, the Asus ZenBook 14 offers good performance and excellent battery life in a portable package. Best of all, you can choose between the AMD model, which also happens to be slightly cheaper, for performance, and the Intel version for battery stamina.

FOR

Slim and light

Useful touchpad doubles as numeric keypad

Excellent battery life

AGAINST

No headphone jack

Thin chassis has some flex

SPECS

Asus ZenBook 14 (UX425)

Price: $1,698

Processor: Intel Core i7-1065G7 (1.3GHz)

Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics

RAM: 8GB DDR4

Screen size: 14 inches, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

Connectivity: 2 x Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A port, HDMI, microSD card slot

Battery: 67 watt-hour

Asus ZenBook 14 (UM425)

Price: $1,598

Processor: AMD Ryzen 7 4700U (2GHz)

Graphics: AMD Radeon Graphics

RAM: 8GB DDR4

Screen size: 14 inches, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

Connectivity: 2 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C, USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A port, HDMI, microSD card slot

Battery: 67 watt-hour

RATING

Features: 4/5

Design: 4/5

Performance: 4.5/5

Value for money: 4/5

Battery life: 5/5

Overall: 4/5

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